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Background of the Surat Split

SURAT SPLIT:- The years from 1885-1905 were known as the period of the moderates because they dominated the Indian National Congress. 

The Moderates used petitions, prayers, meetings, leaflets, pamphlets, memorandums, and delegations to present their demands to the British government.

Their only notable achievements were the expansion of the legislative council by the Indian Councils Act of 1892

This created dissatisfaction among the people

The 1907 INC meeting was to be held in Nagpur. The Extremists wanted leaders were not released till that date. Some of the new extremists came into being with the same policy as prior extremists. The Moderates supported Rash Bihari Ghosh. Gopal Krishna Gokhale moved the meeting place from Nagpur to Surat fearing that in Nagpur, Bal Gangadhar Tilak would win. The partition of Bengal drove the rise of extremism in INC.

An INC meeting was shifted from Nagpur to Surat. Since Surat was in the home province of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, he could not preside over the meeting. But what outraged the extremists was that he was not even given permission to speak. This led to conflict between the two factions and the meeting being canceled.

The Moderates and the Extremists patched up their differences for a year, but in 1907 the two groups permanently split.

Points regarding the Surat Split

The dream of a ‘Surat Split’ was already conceived by Curzon when he made the statement ‘Congress was tottering to its fall and one of the biggest ambitions in my life is to give it a peaceful demise.

The Surat split was a big jolt to the Indian National Congress. In fact, the difference between the moderates and the extremists presented an opportunity for the British.

The moderates were quite reluctant to pass the motion on the demand for Swaraj. The Arya-samaj notion of Swaraj and Swadeshi was the hallmark of the program of the extremists.

In the initial days, there were many Congress leaders who opposed the notion of Swaraj, the demand for Swaraj, and extremist politics, but at the beginning of the 20th Century, some of the veteran Congress leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, and G.K. Gokhale, had the word, ‘Swaraj’ in their minds.

For Example,

In 1905 (Banaras Session of the INC): Gokhale was the President and for the first time, he had a discussion over ‘Swaraj’.

In 1906, Dadabhai Naoroji (who was the President of the INC session at Calcutta), in his Presidential address, used the word Swaraj. Thus, the word, ‘Swaraj’ wasn’t untouchable to them, but they were reluctant to pass the resolution over ‘Swaraj’.

In 1907, Surat Session; The two main objectives placed by the extremists were:
  • Demand for the resolution of Swaraj
  • Lala Lajpat Rai to be made the President of the INC

These two demands were not acceptable to the moderates

Thus, instead of Lala Lajpat Rai, the moderates supported the idea of Rash Behari Ghosh as the President. This was the first time that there was to be an election in the INC for Presidentship. In between the election, the extremists were expelled from the INC, and the moderates had complete command over the affairs of the INC. Rash Behari Ghosh became the President of the Surat session.

The Surat split was a victory of the British policy of Divide and Rule, and after a long time, the British believed that they were in control of the affairs of the moderates over the INC.

In 1909: Separate electorates were granted to the Muslim community during a time when the Congress was at its lowest ebb. The most critical and vocal elements were not a part of the INC. Thus, the British had taken absolute advantage of the INC.


However, there are some reservations over the split of the INC at Surat:

  1. This was because the extremists did not form a separate organization at first. They were merely indifferent to the activities of the Congress. And when they were expelled from the INC, the British Government was looking for an opportunity to settle scores with the extremists.
  2. Thus Bal Gangadhar Tilak was imprisoned for 6 years (on the pretext that it was an ‘offense to preach nationalism’). Lala Lajpat Rai was expelled from Punjab, and Bipin Chandra Pal had overnight turned ‘moderate’.

Thus, extremist views no longer remained active in the field of Indian politics

This again encouraged the British to pursue the aggressive policy of Divide and Rule. Thus the ‘Surat split’ need not be know a ‘split’, as the extremists merely remained indifferent to the INC, and did not form a separate organization.

In 1916, they reunited with the Congress in the Lucknow session, thus there was only an ideological difference between the extremists and the moderates and not a division as such. The extremists only remained outside the fold of the INC and did not participate in its activities.

      Difference between Moderates and Extremists

Social base—zamindars and upper middle classes in towns.Social base educated middle classes in towns and the lower middle class
Ideological inspiration— western liberal thought and European history.Ideological inspiration—Indian history, cultural heritage, and Hindu traditional symbols.
Believed in England’s providential mission in India.Rejected ‘providential mission theory’ as an illusion.
Believed political connections with Britain to be in India’s social, political, and cultural interests.Had immense faith in the capacity of the masses to participate and make sacrifices.
Professed loyalty to the British CrownBelieved that political connections with Britain would perpetuate British exploitation of India.
Believed that the movement should be limited to middle-class intelligentsia; masses not yet ready for participation in political work.Believed that the British Crown was unworthy of claiming Indian loyalty.
Demanded constitutional reforms and sharing for Indians in services.Did not hesitate to use extraconstitutional methods like boycotts and passive resistance to achieve their objectives.
Insisted on the use of constitutional methods only.Had immense faith in the capacity of the masses to participate and make sacrifices.
They were patriots and did not play the role of a comprador (person who acts as an agent for foreign organizations) class.Demanded swaraj as the panacea for Indian ills. They were patriots who made sacrifices for the sake of the country.

Previous Year Prelims Question

Q. The `Swadeshi’ and ‘Boycott’ were adopted as methods of struggle for the first time during the (UPSC CSE 2016)
  1. agitation against the Partition of Bengal
  2. Home Rule Movement
  3. Non-Cooperation Movement
  4. visit of the Simon Commission to India

Ans. A Swadeshi Boycott started against Partition of Bengal in 1905

Q. Satya Shodhak Samaj organized (UPSC CSE 2016)
  1. a movement for the upliftment of tribals in Bihar
  2. a temple-entry movement in Gujarat
  3. an anti-caste movement in Maharashtra
  4. a peasant movement in Punjab

Ans. C Jyotiba Phule had set up this organization to begin an anti-caste movement in Maharashtra.

Q. The Montague-Chelmsford Proposals were related to (UPSC CSE 2016)
  1. social reforms
  2. educational reforms
  3. reforms in police administration
  4. constitutional reforms

Ans. D They’re related to Constitutional reforms.

Q. Consider the following : 
  1. Calcutta Unitarian Committee
  2. Tabernacle of New Dispensation
  3. Indian Reform Association
Keshab Chandra Sen is analogous with the establishment of which of the above? (UPSC CSE 2016)
  1. 1 and 3 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Ans. B In 1881, Keshab Chandra Sen established Naba Bidhan ( New Dispensation) meaning new universalist religion after having differences within Brahmo Samaj. He was also part of the Indian reform association to legalize Brahmo marriage and to fix the minimum age of marriage.

Q. What was the main reason for the split in the Indian National Congress at Surat in 1907? (UPSC CSE 2016)

A.  Introduction of communalism into Indian politics by Lord Minto

B. Extremists’ lack of faith in the capacity of the moderates to negotiate with the British Government

C. Foundation of Muslim League

D. Aurobindo Ghosh’s inability to be elected as the President of the Indian National Congress

Ans. B In 1907, the extremists want to either Tilak or Lajpat Rai to be president. So when Rasbehari Ghose was announces as president, the extremist resorted to violence. Hence Surat Split happened.

Q. Which one of the following movements has contributed to a split in the Indian National Congress resulting in the emergence of ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists. (UPSC CSE 2015)

  1. Swadeshi Movement
  2. Quit India Movement
  3. Non-Cooperation Movement
  4. Civil Disobedient Movement

Ans.  A Surat split was due to disagreements between Moderates and extremists regarding the methods for protest against the partition of Bengal (in the Swadeshi Movement).

Q. The Government of India Act of 1919 is clearly defined (UPSC CSE 2015)
  1. the separation of power between the judiciary and the legislature
  2. the jurisdiction of the central and provincial governments
  3. the powers of the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy
  4. None of the above

Ans. B It relaxed central control over the provinces by demarcating and separating the central and provincial subjects. The central and provincial legislatures were authorized to make laws on their respective list of subjects. However, the structure of government continued to be centralized and unitary. It further divided the provincial subjects into two parts—transferred and reserved which is what we know as diarchy.

Read Also: Facts and Importance of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movement

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