The early leaders of the congress, the moderates, were the first to develop an economic critique of colonialism. This was the most important contribution to the development of the national movement in India.
The ideology of the Moderates
The moderates had faith in British justice and goodwill. They were called moderates as they adopted peaceful and constitutional methods for achieving demands. They were loyal to the British and looked to them for inspiration. They confined their activities to political class only.
Disillusionment of the Moderates
Indian intellectuals in the early 19th century had a positive attitude towards the British rule hoping it would modernize India. Later they were disillusioned by the rule as progress in new areas was slow but overall the country was regressing and underdeveloping. This change of image led to a deeper probe into the reality of British rule and its impact on people.
Study of the Impact of Colonial Rule
Amongst the economist who studies Dadabhai Nauroji was the most prominent. He was the grand old man of India. He spent his entire life and wealth forming a national movement. He was the first Indian to become a member of the British House of Commons. He popularized the drain theory in his book “Poverty and un-British Rule in India”. He also founded the Bombay Association in 1852 and East Indian Association.
Justice MG Ranade was his contemporary and taught an entire generation of Indians the importance of industrial development. RC Dutt examined minutely the entire economic impact of colonial rule from 1757. GV Joshi, G Subramanium iyer, GK Gokhale, PC Ray were the others.
They understood that British imperialism was leading to the subordination of the Indian economy by the British economy. They agitated against the British policies that aimed to turn India into a supplier of raw materials and consumer of British manufactured goods.
Industrialization was believed to be the answer to all problems of poverty. So the economists tried to look into foreign trade, railways, currency, tariffs, and labor legislation as they affected industrialization.
They also firmly believed that Indian capital and not foreign capital was the great need of India for industrialization. Foreign capital would only exploit India further and suppress Indian capital.
Drain theory was also the focal point of the economic critique. It said that a large part of Indian capital would go into salaries and pensions of British officers, charges for maintaining an army, and home charges [charges needed to maintain the administration, army, war expense, pensions to returned officers, and expenses in maintaining the colony]. The drain theory was easily understood even by common peasants and thus became the staple of nationalist political agitations during the Gandhian era.
Impact of their work
The work of the economists and the moderates eroded the people’s belief in the benevolence of British rule. The nationalist raised that the development of India would happen only when the political power would be in the Indian hands.
The moderate leaders who till now professed loyalty to British rule began sowing seeds of disaffection and discontent and even sedition. This period 1875-1905 became a period for growing national consciousness and the seed time for the modern Indian national movement.
At the end of 1905, even prominent leaders like Dadabhai Nauroji asserted self-government or Swaraj as the main political demand. Due to the firm foundation laid by the economic critique the later nationalist could launch powerful mass agitations and movements. They didn’t waver in their anti-imperial efforts due to this firm foundation.
Role of the masses in the Congress working – Moderate Phase
- The moderate phase of the national movement had a narrow social base and the masses played a passive role.
- This was because the early nationalists lacked political faith in the masses; they felt that there were numerous’ divisions and subdivisions in the Indian society, and the generally ignorant had conservative ideas and thoughts.
- These heterogeneous elements had first to be welded into a nation before their entry into the political sphere. But they failed to realize that it was only during the freedom struggle and political participation that these diverse elements were to come together.
- Because of the lack of mass participation, the Moderates could not take militant political positions against the authorities. The later nationalists differed from the Moderates precisely on this point. Still, the early nationalists represented the emerging Indian nation against colonial interests.