Contribution of Early Nationalists, Methods of Work of Early Nationalists and Evaluation

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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 Indianization 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.

Why Hume?

  • 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.