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OCTOBER 25, 2012

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The Congress split in December 1907 at its Surat session. Simultaneously, revolutionary terrorism appeared in Bengal. And the two events were not unconnected.


There was great public debate and disagreement among the Moderates and the Extremists in the years 1905-07, even while working together against the Bengal Partition. The Extremists believed that the battle for freedom had begun as the people had been awakened. They felt that it was the time for the big push and that, the Modearates were a big drag on them. Most of them felt that the time had come to part company with the Extremists. Most Moderates led by Pherozeshah Mehta were equally determined on  a split. They feared suprression by the British if they continued with the Extremists ways. Major spokesmen for the Moderates were Gokhale,  Pherozshah Mehta while Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandar were its main protagonists on the Extremists side. The British themselves wanted to weaken the Congress by making it split. Nothing could be more auspicious for them.  The chain of events logically led to the split of the Congress in Surat in 1907.



Both the groups failed to gauge its consequences and thus misjudged its importance. Each group had its own misconceptions against the other and regarded it as its worst enemy. The British had won, at least temporarily. Most Moderates withdrew, having lost the respect of the Indian youth, who had expected them to deliver the goods. And the vast majority of politically conscious Indians extended their support to Tilak and other Extremists. After 1908, the national movement suffered  a decline.



However, the end of 1907 saw the emergence of another strand in the fabric of the nationalist movement. Young men of Bengal took recourse to individual heroism and revolutionary terrorism (the term has been used without any negative implications and for want of a better term). This rise of revolutionary terrorism wa due to can be the inability of both the groups Moderates to provide an effective political programme to the youth who felt restless once their energies had been roused. That is when they took to assassinating unpopular British officials copying the methods of Russian and Irish nationalists. Such assassinations, they felt, would strike terror among the rulers and arouse the masses’ patriotism. All that was required was young people ready to make the supreme sacrifice at the altar of nationalism.



Expectedly,  it appealed to the idealism of the youth and many such young men joined them. Many examples of such individual heroic acts can be cited.  In 1904, VD Savarkar organized a secret society of revolutionaries called the Abhinav Bharat. In 1907, an unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. In April 1908, Prafful Chaki and Khudiram Bose threw a bomb at a carriage, which they believed, was carrying Kingsford, the unpopular judge at Muzaffarpur. Unfortunately, they killed two English ladies instead. Prafful Chaki shot himself dead while Khudiram Bose was hanged to death. Two other notable examples are Madan Lal Dhingra who killed Curzon-Wylie in London and Ras Behari Bose and Sachindra Nath Sanyal who attempted to kill Lord Hardinge.


Some revolutionaries established centres abroad also. Notable among such revolutionaries were Shyamji Krishanverma, VD Savarkar and Hardyal in London and Madame Bhikaji Cama and Ajit Singh in Europe.


Revolutionary terrorism
gradually petered out. Lacking a mass base, despite individual heroism, the revolutionaries in secret groups, could not withstand opposition by the strong colonial state. But despite their small numbers and ultimate failures, they greatly contributed to nationalism. As a historian has put it,” they gave us back the pride of our manhood”.




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