History & Background
The Moderates, also known as 'Early Nationalists,' were a group of political figures that initiated India's first organised national movement. They dominated the affairs of the Indian National Congress from 1885 - 1909.
The British groundwork for the establishment of an all-India organisation had been laid in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The final shape was given by AO Hume, a retired English civil servant who rallied major intellectuals of the time. This was the beginning of the moderate phase. Their politics was very limited in terms of goals and methods.
Moderates were conscious of the exploitative nature of the british rule but wanted its reform, not expulsion.
As Dadabhai Naoroji, one of the early stalwarts of politics put it in 1870s,”In my believe a greater calamity would not befall India than for England to go away and leave her to herself”
Moderates never visualised a clinical separation from the British Empire, what they wanted was only limited self-government within the imperial framework. They shared an Intrinsic faith in the English democratic liberal political tradition.
Faith in Constitutionalism: Their method has been called PPP – Prayers, Petition and Protest.
The constitutional method is also known as the institutional method: the state can provide various institutions such as the legislature, local government, and a free and fair judicial system to reflect the people's demands, involvement/participation, and redress of grievances.
Moderates as the name suggest had moderate means and end.
Why Adopted Moderate Means?
Most intellectuals believed that British rule in India was a blessing in disguise as they thought Britishers would help in promoting the liberal ideas and could actually lay the foundation stone for modern India.
Believing Britishers to be the flag bearers of liberalism they expected them to be rational enough to understand demands and didn’t intend to use extremism.
Most of them got Western education and were impressed by the values of liberalism.
MG Ranade thanked Britishers for introducing rule of law, expressed that British rule in India is divine intervention to eradicate events of misrule in the past.
Surendranath Banerjee appealed to the British to introduce the institutions which are truly British in character so that Indians can rejoice in permanent union with the British.
Dadabhai Naoroji held that Britishers are justice-loving people, Indians have to communicate their demands to the British in a reasonable manner.
Indians needed time to prepare for self-government; in the meantime, the absolute trust could be placed in the British parliament and people. Their complaint was only against "un-British rule" in India perpetrated by the viceroy, his executive council, and the Anglo-Indian bureaucracy, a flaw that could be reformed or corrected with gentle persuasion.
Moderates passed resolutions and held meetings; With an inherent faith in the providential nature of British rule in India, they hoped that one day they would be recognised as partners, rather than subordinates, in the affairs of the empire, and be granted full British citizenship rights.
When it came to reforming the administrative system, the moderates' first demand was for the Indianisation of services. They contended that an Indianized civil service would be more responsive to Indian needs. It would halt the flow of funds that was expatriated annually through the payment of European officers' salaries and pensions.
Another thorny issue in this area was military spending. The British Indian army was used in imperial wars all over the world, putting a significant strain on Indian finances.
The moderates demanded that the British government share this military expenditure equally; that Indians be accepted as volunteers into the army; and that an increasing number of them be appointed to higher ranks.
Call for an increase in expenditure on welfare (i.e., health, sanitation), education—especially elementary and technical—irrigation works and improvement of agriculture, agricultural banks for cultivators, etc.
The extension of the jury trial.
The Arms Act should be repealed.
Complaint against over-assessment of land revenue and demand for the Permanent Settlement to be extended.
Demand that the salt tax be repealed.
A campaign to end the exploitation of indentured labour in Assam's tea gardens.
According to Tilak, employing constitutional methods in the face of foreign bureaucracy is political suicide. All of the demands were a plea for racial equality and civil rights, and they may have reflected a concern for the lower orders, albeit of a limited nature. But it is needless to mention that none of the demands was even considered by the colonial administration.
The moderates were not enthusiastic about including the masses because they did not believe in their strength and saw them as having little potential due to their lack of understanding of the colonial rule.
Moderates believed that before entering the political sphere, these heterogeneous elements needed to be welded together into a nation. However, they failed to recognise that these dive elements could only come together during a freedom struggle and with political participation.
At times they failed to rise above the sectarian interest, demanded extension of permanent settlement only in the interest of zamindars and also opposed cadastral survey.
Most moderate demands were never accepted, so moderates did not farewell. Despite these setbacks, the moderates made the most significant contribution by offering an economic critique of colonialism.
They were successful in raising political consciousness among Indians in general. They educated people about politics and popularised modern ideas. They laid the groundwork for a more militant, mass-based national movement in the years that followed.
By arousing political consciousness, they sowed the seeds of a national liberation struggle.