The Surat Split

The struggle between various trends within the nationalist articulation of freedom struggle was fought out, and culminated in the Surat split of December, 1907. Rash Behari Ghosh was the president of the Surat Congress session in 1907, although he was vehemently opposed by Tilak and his colleagues. Congress leaders split in to two groups i.e. moderates and extremists at the Surat in 1907. The Rift between these two sections became clearly visible at the Banaras Session of Congress (1905) when some nationalist-led by Tilak denounced the method of the moderates and suggested passive resistance. They also advocated the boycott of British goods and government institutions.

Causes of The Surat Split

  • Bengal partition of 1905 apparently enabled the Extremists to criticize the Moderate strategies and the partition further promoted the extremist ideology.
  • The Moderate method of constitutional agitation, expressed in three Ps (petition, prayer and protest), remained largely an academic exercise that seemed to have exhausted potentials with the emergence of extremist ideology and revolutionary tendencies which asked direct action against the British.
  • In Surat Session of Congress, the two main objectives placed by the extremists were: Lala Lajpat Rai to be made the President of the INC and Demand for the resolution of Swaraj. These two demands were not accepted by the moderates, and instead of Lala Lajpat Rai, the moderates supported Rash Behari Ghosh as the President.
Lal-Bal-Pal and a new era of Extremist dominance which resulted into Surat Split of 1907
  • The Extremist ideology in Indian National Movement created a leadership trio of Lal-Bal-Pal (Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal), who were the critiques of the Moderates.
  • Nationalist vocabulary of Indian National Movement was altered by these 3 leaders (Lal-Bal-Pal) as they incorporated the new concepts of boycott, swadeshi, and national education in the Indian National Movement.
  • In Punjab, Maharashtra and Bengal the Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal respectively were so popular, that the Moderates did not entertain much credibility in these areas.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  • He was apparently the most prominent militant leader of Extremist phase of Indian freedom struggle.
  • Tilak articulated his nationalist ideas in both Kesari (in Marathi) and Maratha (in English), long before his active involvement in the Congress and to inspire the youth by drawing upon the patriotism of Shivaji, he introduced the Shivaji festival in 1896.
  • In 1896, Tilak successfully organized campaign for boycott of foreign clothes in Maharashtra and protested against the imposition of taxes on cotton this led to his prominence in the National Politics.
  • He advocated for no-tax campaign in areas of Maharashtra, which were adversely affected by the 1896-7 famine and through the campaign itself he tried to expand the base of the Congress by incorporating the peasants, a segment of society which was left by the Moderates.
  • Tilak demanded immediate self rule or swaraj which was according to him was the government constituted by the Indians themselves which could rule in accordance to the wishes of the people or their representatives, at the same time his concept of Swaraj did not include complete independence.

Results of the Surat Split

  • The efforts by the eminent person like Ravindra Nath Tagore to bring Extremist and Moderates together in the aftermath of the Surat split, were in vain and further in the 1908 Allahabad convention, the adoption of resolutions by the Moderates for permanently disqualifying the Extremist section of the Congress led to the significant decline of nationalism in India.
  • The moderates after the Surat Split in 1907 demanded colonial self-government, as against the extremist demand of complete independence.
  • The constitutional politics of the moderates had failed to impress the British government and that was amply reflected in the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909.
  • As a result, the moderate leaders had lost touch with the younger generation of nationalists who wanted to see the results and this was also the major cause of emergence of revolutionaries.
  • The British Government followed the policy of divide and Rule' and in order to curb and isolate the militant nationalists and suppress them they tried to win over moderate nationalist opinion.
  • Extremism was confined mainly to Bengal, Maharashtra and Punjab, where outbreak of terrorism allowed the government to unleash repression.
  • With extremist leaders like Tilak in prison, the moderate-dominated Congress was immersed in total inactivity.
  • In 1909 the Separate electorates were granted to the Muslims and congress was at its low. The most critical and vocal elements were not a part of the INC. Thus the British had taken absolute advantage over the INC.
British policy of Divide and Rule, saw a major victory in form of Surat Split and the British believed that they were in control of the affairs of the INC after significant period of time. While the leadership of the Congress remained in the hands of the Moderates for some time more, as the Extremists worked separately till 1916. Later both groups reunited at Lucknow session of Congress in 1916 due to the efforts of the leaders of Home Rule movement.

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