The Surat Split 1907 – Background, Fallout And Consequences

Background Of Surat Split 1907

Surat Split
The Surat Split 1907

The Surat Split of 1907 marked a turning point in the history of Indian National Congress in particular and India’s freedom struggle in general. The genesis of the Surat Split 1907 can be traced in the government’s decision of Partition of Bengal  and the Swadeshi and Boycott movement that ensued after that. Thus the background of the Surat Split can be seen as:

  • In the Benaras session of 1905 presided over by G K Gokhle, resolution for Swadeshi and Boycott movement for Bengal was passed.
  • The extremist faction led by Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal however wanted to take the movement outside Bengal. They also wanted to extend the boycott of foreign goods to every form of association and cooperation with the government.
  • The moderates on the other hand were not interested in taking the movement outside Bengal and were totally opposed to the idea of extending the boycott to the government.
  • In the 1906 session of the Indian National Congress held at Calcutta, matters came to the head on the issue of presidentship as extremists insisted on someone from their camp to be the president.
  • The split was avoided for the time being by appointing the grand old man of Indian freedom struggle Dada Bhai Naoroji as the president. Naoroji was a widely respected man across the board.
  • To pacify the extremists four resolutions were passed on Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education and Self-Government.
  • The four resolutions were interpreted by the two camps in their own ways. In the entire 1907, both camps fought with each other. 
  • In the entire year of 1907, the extremists and the moderates considered each other as enemies.

{Also Read : How to read Bipin Chandra India’s Struggle For Independence}

Extremists Vs Moderates

  • The extremists started believing that the freedom struggle had begun. According to them the moderates were a drag on the movement.
  • Aurobindo Ghosh even advocated that the time had come to part ways with the moderates. According to him moderates should be pushed out of the leadership of the Congress or split the organization if that is not possible.
  • Moderates on the other hand led by Pherozeshah Mehta were no less determined to part ways with the extremists. According to the moderates, remaining with the extremists was to enter dangerous waters. They felt such an association would shatter the Congress which was carefully nurtured in the past 2 decades and also attract the wrath of the government.
  • The 1907 session of the Indian National Congress was to be held in Nagpur. But the moderates shifted the venue to Surat. Since Surat was in the Bombay presidency, Tilak would be therefore ineligible to be the president. Congress had a rule that the President of the annual session had to be someone from an outside province.

The Surat Split – Finally

  • On 26th December 1907, on the banks of river Tapti at Surat the Congress session was held.
  • The extremist camp was excited by the rumors that moderates were intending to scuttle the four Calcutta resolutions.
  • The moderates on the other hand were ferocious about the venom spewed on them by the extremists in the last three days at the meetings held in Surat.
  • On 26th December 1907, when the delegates met, the atmosphere was surcharged with anger, hostility and excitement.
  • Both sides came to the session with an intention of confrontation rather than talks for further line of action against the British.
  • The extremists wanted an assurance that the four Calcutta resolutions would be passed.
  • When the session started within no time the 1600 delegates who attended the session were shouting and hurling blows and chairs at each other.
  • A shoe was hurled on the dias which hit Pherozshah Mehta and Surendranath Bannerjee. 
  • The police, which were already stationed at the venue, stepped in and cleared the hall.
  • The meeting was over and the only victorious party in the entire fiasco was the British.
  • Tilak and other leaders on the dias helplessly watched the drama like mute spectators.

Aftermath Of The Surat Session

  • The events at Surat took everyone including Tilak by surprise. Tilak and the extremist faction had not bargained for this. Tilak personally viewed Congress as a national fact having a great future with endless possibilities.
  • Tilak wrote a letter of regret to his opponents and urged that his camp was ready to accept Rash Behari Ghosh as the president. He also offered cooperation for the unity of the Congress.
  • Pherozshah Mehta led moderate camp was against any further association with the extremists.
  • Meanwhile the government got a golden opportunity to launch an all out repression against the extremists.
  • All newspapers published by extremist leaders like Tilak’s ‘Kesari’ and ‘Maratha’ were banned.
  • Tilak was arrested and sentenced for 6 years in Mandalay Jail. Other extremist leaders like Aurobindo Ghosh, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal disappeared from the scene.
  • The moderates harped on a mistaken belief that a new Congress would be created. In Pherozshah Mehta’s words ‘a resuscitated, reincarnated and renovated Congress’.

Surat Split – Causes

  • By  the beginning of the 1st decade of the 20th century, the moderates had a plethora of failures which emboldened the extremists to grow strong and become popular among the masses.
  • One of the fundamental failures of the moderates was that they could not keep up with the pace of the events that were unfolding. They failed to realize that their own achievements had made their politics obsolete.
  • The British had a firm belief that since the moderates lacked support of the masses, the Congress could be easily finished.
  • The British had been suspicious of Congress right since its inception. In the beginning of the first decade of the 20th century, they were determined to crush it. Lord Curzon had declared in 1900: “The Congress is tottering to its fall, and one of my greatest ambitions while in India is to assist it to a peaceful demise”.
  • The government used the ‘repression-conciliation-suppression’ strategy to engineer a split or if possible finish the Congress.
  • When Viceroy Minto and Secretary of State Morley offered reforms in the Legislative Councils in 1906, many moderate leaders started discussions with the government even when a vigorous movement was going on against the moderates.
  • The moderates did not realize that the government was negotiating with them not because of their inherent strength but because of the fear of extremists.
  • The extremists on the other hand did not realize that the moderates were their natural outer defense in terms of civil liberties and they did not have the required strength either to face the might of colonial rule.

Repression-Conciliation-Suppression Strategy That Led To The Surat Split

 Until the year 1900, the government believed that Congress could be easily finished as it lacked support of the masses. But when the Swadeshi and Boycott Movement was started as a reaction to the decision of Partition of Bengal, the British adopted a new strategy to deal with the Congress and eventually finish it. 

This strategy was called the Repression-Conciliation-Suppressionor the ‘Carrot and Stick’  strategy.  The strategy can be seen as:

  • Repression: In the first phase the extremists were to be mildly repressed in order to frighten the moderates.
  • Conciliation: In the second phase, Instead of sneering at the moderates, they were to be rallied by offering them a bait of reforms in the Legislative Councils. Also offering further concessions if the moderates disassociated themselves with the extremists. This was basically to isolate the extremists.
  • Suppression: Once the moderates fell into the well laid trap, the extremists were to be suppressed by using the full might of the state. The moderates then would be ignored as they lacked any public support and sympathy.
  • Unfortunately neither the moderates nor the extremists understood this policy and ultimately fell in the trap.

Surat Split – Consequences

  • The national movement after 1908 finally declined and the only victorious party was the British.
  • The youth who were rendered leaderless with the disappearance of the extremist leaders whom they revered, took to revolutionary terrorism.
  • The Indian National Congress became dormant for a considerable time.
  • Tilak was released in 1914. He picked up the threads of nationalism but by this time the Congress was an organization in disarray. Tilak’s priority was now to get readmitted in the Congress at any cost. With the passing away of Pherozshah Mehta and Gokhle in 1915, the opposition for the entry of extremists was gone.
  • The real impetus to activities of Congress started by the Home Rule League Movement and later by the movements led by Gandhi.

Ideological Differences Between Moderates And Extremist

1. Their social base consisted of zamindars and upper middle classes in towns. 1. They essentially belonged to educated middle and lower middle classes in towns.
2. They drew inspiration from western liberal thought and European History.      2.  Indian history, cultural heritage and     traditional symbols etc. inspired the extremists.
3. They strongly believed in Britain’s providential mission in India.      3.  Extremists rejected the providential theory and termed it illusory.
4. Believed that it is in India’s interest to have political connections with Britain.      4. Believed that such connections shall perpetuate misery and exploitation of Indians. 
5. Professed loyalty to the British Crown.      5. Firmly believed that the British Crown was unworthy of any loyalty.
6. Believed that masses are not ready for political participation and the movement should be confined to middle class intelligentsia.      6. Believed that mass had immense capacities to make sacrifices therefore they should be mobilized.
Demanded Constitutional reforms and share for Indians in administration.      7. Demanded Swaraj.
7. Insisted on constitutional methods only involving petitions, prayers and propaganda.       8. Believed in extra constitutional methods like boycott, non-cooperation, passive resistance.
8. Did not believe in mass mobilization as the masses were illiterate and poor. Thus would not understand concepts such as nationalism and patriotism.      9. Believed that once the right chords are struck, masses would voluntarily participate.


The Surat split was an offshoot of internal rivalries and the master strategy of the British. The Indian National Congress in  the later years learnt a lesson from it that no matter what the internal differences are, the leaders should always refrain from taking them on the brink of a split. Many such occasions came in the next few decades but a split was carefully avoided. In the early 1920s after the withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation movement, the Motilal Nehru led faction known as pro-changers (or Swarajists) wanted to enter the Councils, the provisions for which were made in the Indian Councils Act 1919. The no-changers on the other hand were against the Council entry program. Both were bickering against each other and the situation was ripe for a split. Gandhiji played a crucial role in avoiding it.

See Also

Swadeshi Movement

Partition Of Bengal 1905 – Background, Fallout, Impact and Annulment

Morley Minto Reforms

Government Of India Act 1919


What is the reason of Surat Split?

There are multiple reasons for the Surat Split in Congress that occurred in 1907. The two main reasons were: 1. Rivalries between moderates and extremists came to a point of no return. 2. The British used the strategy of carrot and stick to engineer a split which was ultimately successful.

What was the effect of Surat Split?

The main effect of the Surat Split 1907 was that the Congress entered into a phase of  passivity. Moreover the youth who were followers of the extremist camp took to revolutionary terrorism as their mentors suddenly disappeared. 

Who was the Governor General during Surat Split?

Lord Minto was the Viceroy at the time of the Surat Split. Before coming to India he was posted in Canada. He was instrumental in framing of the famous Morley Minto Reforms or the Indian Councils Act 1909.

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