Politics of Association before Congress

Politics of Association before Congress

  • The political associations in the early half of the nineteenth century were dominated by wealthy and aristocratic elements, local or regional in character, and through long petitions to the British Parliament demanded
    • Administrative reforms,
    • Association of Indians with the administration, and
    • Spread of education.
  • The second half of the 19th century witnessed the growth of national political consciousness and foundation and growth of an organised national movement.
    • During this period the modern Indian intelligentsia created political associations to spread political education and to initiate political work in the country.
    • This work was to be based on new political ideas, new intellectual perception of reality, new social, economic and political objectives, new forces of struggle and resistance and new techniques of political organisation.
    • The task as difficult as Indians were unfamiliar with modern political work. Even the notion that people could organise politically in opposition to their rulers was a novel one.
    • Consequently the work of these early associations and of the early political workers proceeded rather slowly and it took more than half a century to bring the common people within the fold of modern politics.
  • The political associations of the second half of the nineteenth century came to be increasingly dominated by the educated middle class—the lawyers, journalists, doctors, teachers, etc. and they had a wider perspective and a larger agenda.
  • The failure of 1857 revolt made it clear that traditional political resistance to British rule under the leadership of the landed upper classes could no longer succeed and resistance to colonial rule must flow through different channel.
    • On the other hand the character of British rule and policies underwent a major change after 1858. It became more reactionary.
    • Indian intellectuals gradually became more critical of British policies and began to grasp the exploitive charater of British rule.
  • Understanding of Indian intelligentsia took long time to develop but process once begun, based on as it was on modern thought, probed deeper into the real nature of imperialism and was ultimately transformed into modern political activity.
  • The political conscious Indians realised that existing political associations were too narrowly conceived to be useful in the changed circumstances. For example British Indian Association had increasingly identified itself with the interests of the Zamindars and consequently with the ruling power.
  • The openly reactionary and anti-Indian measures introduced under Lytton’s viceroyalty from 1876 to 1880 quickened the pace of Indian nationalistic activity.

Political Associations in Bengal:

  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy was one of the first Indian leaders to start an agitation for political reforms. He fought for the freedom of press, trial by jury, separation of executive and judiciary, appointment of indian to higher offices, protection of ryots from Zamindari oppression and development of Indian trade and industry. He took keen interest in International affairs and supported cause of liberty, democracy and nationalism.The Bangabhasha Prakasika Sabha was formed in 1836 by associates of Raja Rammohan Roy.

British Indian Association: (Landholders’ Society+ British India Society)

  • The Zamindari Association, more popularly known as the ‘Bengal Landholders’ Society’, was founded in 1836  by Dwarkanath Tagore, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Radhakanta Deb to safeguard the interests of the landlords.
    • Although limited in its objectives, the Landholders’ Society marked the beginning of an organised political activity and use of methods of constitutional agitation tor the redressal of grievances.
  • The British India Society was set up in 1843 in England primarily as a result of the efforts of William Adam, who had come to India and befriended Ram Mohan Roy.
    • On his return to England he took up India’s cause. Its objective was “the collection and dissemination of information relating to the actual condition of the people of British India and to employ such other means of peaceful and lawful character as may appear calculated to secure the welfare, extend the just rights and advance the interests of all classes of our fellow subjects”.
  • In 1851, both the Landholders’ Society and the Bengal British India Society merged into the British Indian Association. It sent a petition to the British Parliament demanding inclusion of some of its suggestions in the renewed Charter of the Company, such as:
    • Establishment of a separate legislature of a popular character
    • Separation of executive from judicial functions
    • Reduction in salaries of higher officers
    • Abolition of salt duty, abkari and stamp duties.
  • These were partially accepted when the Charter Act of 1853 provided for the addition of six members to the governor- general’s council for legislative purposes.
  • During the early years the activities of the association consisted mainly of submissions of petitions to the Government and to the British Parliament on grievances.
    • There was an inherent trust in the good intentions of the rulers. The association sought to take up issues on behalf of all sections of society but occasionally it made conscious efforts to protect the right of the landed aristocracy.
  • Constructive policy they had none and seldom, if ever, they laid down any programme of systematic action for the political advancement of the country. It had failed to cover the country with a network of branches.
  • In 1857 the Association supported the East India Company in the Sepoy Mutiny, calling for stern punishment for the rebels.

East India Association:

  • The East India Association was organised by Dadabhai Naoroji (Grand Old Man of India) in 1867 in London to discuss the Indian question and influence public men in England to promote Indian welfare. Later, branches of the association were started in prominent Indian cities.
  • It was one of the predecessor organizations of the Indian National Congress in 1867. The idea was to present the correct information about India to the British Public and voice Indian Grievances.
  • The Association was instrumental in counter-acting the propaganda by the Ethnological Society of London which, in its session in 1866, had tried to prove the inferiority of the Asians to the Europeans.
    • This Association soon won the support of eminent Englishmen and was able to exercise considerable influence in the British Parliament.
  • In 1869, this organization opened branches in Bombay, Kolkata and Madras. It became defunct in 1880s.

Indian League and Indian Association of Calcutta (Indian National Association):

  • The Indian League was started in 1875 by Sisir Kumar Ghosh with the object of “stimulating the sense of nationalism amongst the people” and of encouraging political education.
    • [Sisir Kumar Ghosh (1840–1911) was a noted Indian journalist, founder of the Amrita Bazar Patrika, a noted Bengali language newspaper in 1868. He lived most of the time in Santiniketan, West Bengal, where he was a Professor of English.]
  • The Indian Association of Calcutta (Indian National Association) superseded the Indian League and was founded in 1876 by younger nationalists of Bengal led by Surendranath Banerjee and Ananda Mohan Bose, who were getting discontented with the conservative and pro-landlord policies of the British Indian Association.
    • Ananda Mohan Bose, was a member of Brahmo Dharma.The young members of Brahmo Samaj differed with Keshab Chandra Sen regarding matters like child marriage, running of the organisation and various other matters.
    • As a result, on May 15, 1878 he, along with Shibnath Shastri, Sib Chandra Deb, Umesh Chandra Dutta and others founded the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. He was elected its first president.
  • The Indian Association of Calcutta was the most important of pre- Congress associations and aimed to:
    • Reform in Civil Services Examinations. The Association sent Surendranath Banerjee as a special delegate to other part of the country for support of this agitation and he became first Indian to gain all India popularity.
    • Create a strong public opinion on political questions
    • Unify Indian people on a common political programme
    • Promoting by every legitimate means the political, intellectual and material advancement of the people
  • Branches of the association were opened in other towns and cities of Bengal and even outside Bengal. The membership fee was kept low in order to attract the poorer sections to the association.
  • The Indian National Association was the first avowed nationalist organization founded in British India .The Association attracted educated Indians and civic leaders from all parts of the country. It later merged with the Indian National Congress.

Political Associations in Bombay:

  • In 1852 the Bombay Native Association was founded by Jagannath Shankar Seth as the first political party.
  • The Poona Sarvajanik Sabha was founded in 1870 by Mahadeo Govind Ranade, GV Joshi and others, with the object of serving as a bridge between the government and the people. The Sabha carried active political education fo the next 30 years.
  • The Bombay Presidency Association was started by Badruddin Tyabji, Pherozshah Mehta and K.T. Telang in 1885.

Political Associations in Madras:

  • In 1852, Madras Native association was formed as the first poltical party in Madras Presidency,
  • The Madras Mahajan Sabha was founded in 1884 by M. Viraraghavachari, B. Subramaniya Aiyer and P. Ananda- charlu.
  • The East Indian Association was organised by Dadabhai Naoroji in 1866-67 in London. Later he organised branches of the Association in prominent Indian cities.

Q. To what extent was the emergence of the Congress in 1885 the culmination of a process of political awakening that had its beginning in the 1870s?


  • Indian National Congress was founded in December 1885 by seventy-two political workers. It was the first organized expression of Indian nationalism on an all-India scale. A.O. Hume, a retired English ICS officer, played an important role in its formation.
  • The foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 was not a sudden event, or a historical accident. It was the culmination of a process of several events and political awakening that had its beginnings in the 1860s and 1870s and took a major leap forward in the late 1870s and early 1880s.
  • The Indians had gained experience, as well as confidence, from the large number of agitations they had organized on national issues:
    • Protests against missionary interventions and against the Lex Loci Act of 1850 were voiced from different parts of India simultaneously.
    • In 1867 there was a nationwide agitation against the proposed income tax and in support of a demand for balanced budget.
    • Since 1875, there had been a continuous campaign around cotton import duties which Indians wanted to stay in the interests of the Indian textile industry.
    • Then in 1877-80 a massive campaign was organised around the demand for lndianisation of the civil services and against Lord Lytton’s expensive Afghan adventures, the cost of which had to be met from Indian revenues.
    • The Indian press and associations also organised an orchestrated campaign against the notorious Vernacular Press Act of 1878.
    • The Indians had also opposed the effort to disarm them through the Arms Act.
    • In 1881-82 they organised a protest against Plantation Labour and Inland Emigration Act, which condemned the plantation labourers to serfdom.
    • A major nation-wide agitation was launched again in 1883 in favour of the Ilbert Bill, which would enable Indian magistrates to try Europeans.
      • This Bill was successfully thwarted by the Europeans and had shaken the educated Indians’ faith in the righteousness of British rule.
    • In July 1883 a massive all-India effort was made to raise a National Fund which would be used to promote political agitation in India as well as England.
    • In 1885, Indians fought for the right to join the volunteer corps restricted to Europeans, and then organized an appeal to British voters to vote for those candidates who were friendly towards India.
      • Several Indians were sent to Britain to put the Indian case before British voters through public speeches, and other means.
  • The Indians had been quick to draw the political lesson.
    • Their efforts had failed because they had not been coordinated on an all-India basis.
    • On the other hand, the Europeans had acted in a concerted manner. This convinced the regional leaders about the need for an all-India organisation.
    • While informal contacts between leaders from various cities were not lacking in any period, attempts to establish a formal forum were also made a number of times.
    • The earliest of such endeavours to forge all-India links was in 1851 when the British India Association of Calcutta tried to open branches in other two presidencies with a view to send a joint petition to British parliament on the eve of the renewal of the Company’s Charter.
  • The new political thrust in the years between 1875 and 1885 was the creation of the younger, more radical nationalist intellectuals most of whom entered politics during this period. They established new associations, having found that the older associations were too narrowly conceived in terms of their programmes and political activity as well as social bases.
    • For example, the British Indian Association of Bengal had increasingly identified itself with the interests of the zamindars and, thus, gradually lost its anti-British edge.
    • The Bombay Association and Madras Native Association had become reactionary and moribund.
    • And so, the younger nationalists of Bengal, led by Surendranath Banerjea and Anand Mohan Bose, founded the Indian Association in 1876.
    • On the occasion of the Delhi Durbar in 1877, the Indian journalists who were invited to this extravaganza took the opportunity to form a Native Press Association.
      • They elected S.N. Banerjea, the leader of the Indian Association and the editor of Bengalee, as its first secretary and resolved to meet once or twice every year to discuss issues related to press and the country.
    • In Madras in 1884, through the private initiative of a member of the Theosophical Society, delegates from different parts of India met on the sideline of the society’s annual convention, to discuss the necessity of a national organisation.
    • Younger men of Madras— M. Viraraghavachariar, G. Subramaniya Iyer, P. Ananda Charlu and others — formed the Madras Mahajan Sabha in 1884.
      • In Bombay, the more militant intellectuals like K.T. Telang and Pherozeshah Mehta broke away from older leaders like Dadabhai Framji and Dinshaw Petit on political grounds and formed the Bombay Presidency Association in 1885.
    • Among the older associations only the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha carried on as before. But, then, it was already in the hands of nationalist intellectuals.
  • By 1885, the formation of an all-India political organization had become an objective necessity, and the necessity was being recognized by nationalists all over the country. This acquired a greater sense of urgency especially from 1883 and there was intense political activity.
    • The Indian Mirror of Calcutta was carrying on a continuous campaign on the question.
    • The Indian Association had already in December 1883 organized an All-India National Conference in Calcutta and given a call for another one in December 1885.
  • So, the foundation of the Congress was the natural culmination of the political work of the previous years and the emergence of a national body was clearly on the cards, although mutual jealousies that thwarted such attempts in 1851 had not been completely removed either.
    • There was still the need for a mediator who could bring all these regional leaders together under one organisational umbrella.
    • Hume was ideally suited for this role, as his supra-regional identity made him acceptable to all the regional leaders. He was also acceptable for his known liberal political opinions.
  • The year 1885 marked a turning point in this process, for that was the year the political Indians, the modem intellectuals interested in politics, who no longer saw themselves as spokesmen of narrow group interests, but as representatives of national interest vis-a-vis foreign rule.
    • The Indian National Congress, which was thus born in December 1885, tried from the very beginning to eliminate such regional differences.
    • The first Congress declared that one of its major objectives would be the “development and consolidation of those sentiments of national unity”.
    • The decision to hold the Congress session every year in different parts of the country and to choose the president from a region other than the one where the session was being held, was meant to break the regional barriers and misunderstandings.

Leave a Reply