Moderate phase:early nationalists,Freedom of Press and Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Contribution of early nationalists

  • Early nationalists believed that a direct struggle for the political emancipation of the country was not yet on the agenda of history. On agenda was:
    • Creation of public interest in political questions and the organization of public opinion
    • Popular demands had to be formulated on a country-wide basis
    • National unity had to be created. Indian nationhood had to be carefully promoted.
  • Early national leaders did not organize mass movement against the British. But they did carry out an ideological struggle against them. (Important from a Gramscian perspective)
  • Economic critique of imperialism
    • Economic critique of imperialism was the most important contribution of the early nationalists
    • They recognized that the essence of British economic imperialism lay in the subordination of the Indian economy to the British economy
    • They complained of India’s growing poverty and economic backwardness and the failure of modern industry and agriculture to grow
    • They wanted the government to promote modern industries through tariff protection and direct government aid
    • Popularized the idea of swadeshi and the boycott of British goods
    • They propounded the ‘drain of wealth’ theory and demanded that this drain be stopped
    • Demanded reduction of taxes and land revenue
    • Condemned the high military expenditure
  • Constitutional reforms
    • They were extremely cautious. From 1885 to 1892 they demanded the expansion and reform of the Legislative Councils
    • Due to their demands, the British passed the Indian Councils Act of 1892
    • They failed to broaden the base of their democratic demands. Did not demand the right to vote for the masses or for women
  • Administrative and other reforms
    • They demanded Indianisation of the higher grades of the administrative services.
    • They had economic political reasons for this. Economically, appointment of British only to ICS made Indian administration costly because they were paid very high. Politically, appointment of Indians would make the administration more responsive to Indian needs
    • Demanded separation of the judicial from executive powers so that the people might get some protection from the arbitrary acts of the police and the bureaucracy.
    • Urged the government to undertake and develop welfare activities and education
  • Defense of Civil Rights

Methods of work of early nationalists

  • Dominated by moderates till 1905
  • Method of moderates: Constitutional agitation within the four walls of the law, and slow, orderly political progress. Their work had two pronged direction:
    • To build a strong public opinion in India to arouse the political consciousness and national spirit of the people, and to educate and unite them on political questions
    • They wanted to persuade the British government and British public opinion to introduce reforms along directions laid down by the nationalists.
  • In 1889, a British Committee of the INC was founded. In 1890 this committee started a journal called India.

What about the role of the masses?

  • The basic weakness of the early national movement lay in its narrow social base.
  • The leaders lacked political faith in the masses.
  • Hence, masses were assigned a passive role in the early phase of the national movement.


  • The basic objectives of the early nationalist leaders were to lay the foundations of a secular and democratic national movement, to politicize and politically educate the people, to form the headquarters of the movement, that is, to form an all-India leadership group, and to develop and propagate an anti-colonial nationalist ideology.
  • Very few of the reforms for which the nationalists agitated were introduced by the government
  • It succeeded in creating a wide national awakening and arousing the feeling of nationhood. It made the people conscious of the bonds of common political, economic and social interests and the existence of a common enemy in imperialism
  • They exposed the true character of the British rule through their economic critique.
  • All this was to become a base for the national movement in the later period.



  • The leaders assumed that the rulers would be less suspicious and less likely to attack a potentially subversive organization if its chief organizer was a retired British civil servant.
  • Gokhale himself stated explicitly in 1913 that if any Indian had started such a movement the officials wouldn’t have let it happen.


  • First, the Indian intellectuals co-operated with the British in the hope that British would help modernize India.
  • However, the reality of social development in India failed to conform to their hopes.
  • Three people who carried out the economic analysis of British India:
    • Dadabhai Naoroji: the grand old man of India. Born in 1825, he became a successful businessman but devoted his entire life and wealth to the creation of national movement in India
    • Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade: He taught an entire generation of Indians the value of modern industrial development.
    • Romesh Chandra Dutt: a retired ICS officer, published The Economic History of India at the beginning of the 20th century in which he examined in minute detail the entire economic record of colonial rule since 1757.
  • They concluded that colonialism was the main obstacle to India’s economic development.
  • Three aspects of domination of British: trade, industry, finance
  • The problem of poverty was seen as a problem of national development. This approach made poverty a broad national issue and helped to unite, instead of divide, different regions and sections of Indian society.
  • The early nationalists accepted that the complete economic transformation of the country on the basis of modern technology and capitalist enterprise was the primary goal of their economic policies.
  • Because their whole-ted devotion to the cause of industrialization, the early nationalists looked upon all other issues such as foreign trade, railways, tariffs, finance and labour legislations in relation to this paramount aspect. (and hence the obsession of Nehru with industrialization)
  • However great the need of India for industrialization, it had to be based on Indian capital and not foreign capital.
  • The early nationalists saw foreign capital as an unmitigated evil which did not develop a country but exploited and impoverished it.
  • Expenditure on railways could be seen as Indian subsidy to British industries.
  • A major obstacle in the process of industrial development was the policy of free trade
  • High expenditure on the army
  • Drain theory was the focal point of nationalist critique of colonialism.
    • A large part of India’a capital and wealth was being transferred or drained to Britain in the form of salaries and pensions of British civil and military officials working in India, interest on loans taken by the Indian government, profits of British capitalists in India, and the Home Charges or expenses of the Indian Government in Britain.
    • This drain amounted to one-half of government revenues, more than the entire land revenue collection, and over one-third of India’s total savings.
    • The Drain theory was put forward by Dadabhai Naoroji. He declared that the drain was the basic cause of India’s poverty.
    • Through the drain theory, the exploitative character of the British rule was made visible.
    • The drain theory possessed the merit of being easily grasped and understood by a nation of peasants. No idea could arouse people more than the thought that they were being taxed so that others in far off lands might live in comfort.
    • This agitation on economic issues contributed to the undermining of the ideological hegemony of the alien rulers over Indian minds.
    • The nationalist economic agitation undermined the moral foundations inculcated by the British that foreign rule is beneficial for India.

 Freedom of Press

  • On 29th January 1780, the Hickey’s Bengal Gazette or the Calcutta General Advertizer was published. It was the first English newspaper to be printed in the Indian sub-continent.
  • The press was the chief instrument of forming a nationalist ideology


  • The resolutions and proceedings of the Congress were propagated through press. Trivia: nearly one third of the founding fathers of congress in 1885 were journalists.


  • Main news papers and editors


  • The Hindu and Swadesamitran: G Subramaniya Iyer
  • Kesari and Mahratta: BG Tilak
  • Bengalee: S N Banerjea
  • Amrita Bazar Patrika: Sisir Kumar Ghosh and Motilal Ghosh
  • Sudharak: GK Gokhale
  • Indian Mirror: N N Sen
  • Voice of India: Dadabhai Naoroji
  • Hindustani and Advocate: GP Varma
  • Tribune and Akhbar-i-Am in Punjab
  • Indu Prakash, Dnyan Prakahs, Kal and Gujarati in Bombay
  • Som Prakash, Banganivasi and Sadharani in Bengal


  • Newspaper was not confined to the literates. It would reach the villages and would be read by a reader to tens of others.
  • Reading and discussing newspaper became a form of political participation.
  • Nearly all the major political controversies of the day were conducted through the Press.
  • ‘Oppose, oppose, oppose’ was the motto of the Indian press.
  • The section 124A of the IPC was such as to punish a person who evoked feelings of disaffection to the government.
  • The Indian journalists remained outside 124A by adopting methods such as quoting the socialist and anti-imperialist newspapers of England or letters from radical British citizens
  • The increasing influence of the newspapers led the government to pass the Vernacular Press Act of 1978, directed only against Indian language newspapers.
    • It was passed very secretively
    • The act provided for the confiscation of the printing press, paper and other materials of a newspaper if the government believed that it was publishing seditious materials and had flouted an official warning.
    • Due to the agitations, it was repealed in 1881 by Lord Ripon.
  • SN Banerjee was the first Indian to go to jail in performance of his duty as a journalist.


B G Tilak


  • The man who is most frequently associated with the struggle for the freedom of Press during the nationalist movement is Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • In 1881, along with G G Agarkar, he founded the newspapers Kesari and Mahratta.
  • In 1893, he started the practice of using the traditional religious Ganapati festival to propagate nationalist ideas through patriotic songs and speeches.
  • In 1896, he started the Shivaji festival to stimulate nationalism among young Maharashtrians.
  • He brought peasants and farmers into the national movement.
  • He organized a no-tax campaign in Maharashtra in 1896-97
  • Plague in Poona in 1897.
  • Popular resentment against the official plague measures resulted in the assassination of Rand, the Chairman of the Plague Committee in Poona, and Lt. Ayerst by the Chaphekar brothers on 27 June 1898.
  • Since 1894, anger had been rising against the government due to the tariff, currency and famine policy.
  • Tilak was arrested and sentenced to 18 month rigorous imprisonment in 1897. This led to country wide protests and Tilak was given the title of Lokmanya.
  • Tilak was again arrested and tried on 24 June 1908 on the charge of sedition under article 124A. He was sentenced to 6 years of transportation. This led to nationwide protests and closing down of markets for a week. Later, in 1922 Gandhi was tried on the same act and he said that he is proud to be associated with Tilak’s name.




  • The Indian Councils Act of 1861 enlarged the Governor-General’s Executive Council for the purpose of making laws.
  • The GG could add 6-12 members to the Executive Council. This came to be known as the Imperial Legislative Council. It didn’t have any powers.
  • ‘Despotism controlled from home’ was the fundamental feature of British rule in India.
  • The Indians nominated to the council were not representative of the nationalist movement.
  • Despite the early nationalists believing that India should eventually become self-governing, they moved very cautiously in putting forward political demands regarding the structure of the state, for they were afraid of the Government declaring their activities seditious and disloyal and suppressing them.
  • Till 1892, they only demanded reforms in the council.



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