The most important part of political work by early nationalist was their economic critique of imperialism. They clearly grasped that the essence of British colonialism lay in subordination of Indian economy to British interests.
The early nationalists vehemently opposed the British attempt to develop India as a supplier of raw materials, market for British goods and a field for investment of foreign capitals. They opposed all forms of economic exploitation like trade, industry and finance.
They constantly wrote and spoke against British role in India’s growing poverty. Naoroji’s ‘Drain of Wealth’ theory exposed British economic exploitation of India. He pointed out the degradation of India’s resources, destablisation of productivity, unemployment and poverty and consequent famines as result of British economic policies.
The early nationalists, in every economic sphere, advocated the lessening and even severance of India’s economic dependence of Britain. They opposed large-scale import of foreign capital and suppression of India Capital in railways and plantations. They popularised all India agitation against abandonment of tariff duties on imports (1875-1880) and imposition of cotton exercise duties (1894-1896). This agitation played a major role in arousing country wide national feeling and in educating the people against British rule in India.
Thus, economic criticism of British policies mirrored the early nationalism in India. Swadeshi and Boycott propagated by early nationalist became effective weapons of political struggle in the later part of mass movements.