THE BIRTH OF INDIAN NATIONALISM AND THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS
- As the British extended their empire over India, there was a feeling of resentment amongst the people which was very sullen. It was based on their perception that the new rulers were responsible for their economic hardship. They also felt that they were being looked down upon in their own country and their way of life was being threatening the opportunities available to them for advancement was insufficient.
- The lower strata of social and economic hierarchy expressed their resentment by sporadic uprisings. These were often directed against the immediate exploiters, i.e., the zamindars, the sabukars and the tax collectors but broadly speaking, these were against the British system. The intensity of discontent against foreign rule became visible through these uprisings. In fact, the great revolt of 1857 itself in a way sprang up as an outburst of accumulated discontent of masses in different part of the country.
Background and Causes of the Birth of Indian Nationalism and Foundation of the INC:
(1)Failure of the Revolt (1857) and the emergence of Middle Class
- The failure of this revolt revealed the inadequacy of the traditional method of protest. It also showed the old aristocratic classes could not be the saviours of Indian society and therefore the English educated Indian middle class seem to be the hope of the future.
- This class was conscious of the benefits of the British connection.Initially, these groups adopted a very positive approach towards the colonial rule. They early realized that since India had come under the rule of the most advanced country in the world, she would be highly benefited with such connection. India would be turned into a major industrial power with its immense natural and human resources. It was also familiar with European liberal ideas of the period and at the same time it had the sense of pride in the country glorious past and gradually developed the connection that foreign domination was inherently opposed to the fulfilment if legitimate hopes and aspirations of the Indian people.
- Hence, the foundations of the Indian national movement were laid by the emerging group of the modern intelligentsia.
- “Neo-social classes” which included the middle class like the Indian traders and business communities, land lords, money lenders, educated Indians recruited in lower posts etc. Each group though had different interest yet they realized that their interests could not be protected under the British rule.
- These groups had taken a leading role in developing a sense of patriotism among the people. The consciousness of this neo-social class found expression in the formation of a number of associations prior to the founding of All India National Congress. Ultimately the Indian National Congress emerged as a platform for the organisation of national movement.
- In the beginning, the middle class agitation was confined to ventilating of some specific political and economic grievances and demand because the educated Indians believed for some time that their grievances would be redressed by the benevolent rulers, if they could drew their attention to them. However, this stage was to be left behind after some time.
(2)Political and Administrative Unity:
- One of the significant results of the British conquest of India was the establishment of a centralized state. It brought about a political and administrative unification of the country. The pre- British India was divided into numerous feudal states frequently struggling among themselves to extend their boundaries. The British authority established a centralized state structure in India with a uniform reign of law. They enacted and codified laws which were applicable to every citizen of the state. These laws were enforced by a hierarchically graded system of tribunals.
- The public services brought about the administrative unification of the country. The establishment of uniform currency system, common administration, common laws and judicial structure contributed to India’s unification which ultimately helped the rise of national consciousness.
(3)English language and Western Education:
- Introduction of western education was another important factor which paved the way for the growth of nationalism.
- Three main agencies were responsible for the spread of modem education in India. They were the foreign Christian missionaries, the British Government and the progressive Indians.
- The British Government was the principal agent of disseminating modern liberal and technical education in India. It established a network of schools and colleges in India which turned out a number of educated Indians well versed in modern knowledge. The introduction of modern education in India was primarily motivated by the political, administrative and economic needs of Britain in India. The British government assigned various key posts of the administrative machinery to the English and filled the subordinate posts with educated Indians.
- The old system of education was only perpetuating superstition and orthodoxy. English education was treated as the treasures of scientific and democratic thought of the west. English educated Indians like Raja Ram Mohan, Vivekananda, Gokhale, Dadabhai Naroji, Feroz Shah Mehta, Surendra Nath Banerjee etc. who led the social, religious and political movements in India were all English educated.
- English language became the medium of communication among the educated Indians by which they could develop close contacts with one another. They also came in contact with western ideas, culture and institutions through the medium of English language. It helped to build up a democratic and rationalist outlook. Ideas of nationalism, democracy, liberty, equality, socialism etc. could be infiltrated to India. The philosophical ideas of Milton, J.S. Mill, Thomas Paine, John Locke, Rousseau, Mazzini, Garibaldi etc. helped the growth of national consciousness.
- Exchange of views on different subjects of social, political and economic interest could be possible on a national scale. These educated Indians were instrumental in the political awakening and organisation of political movements in India.
(4)Development of Transport and Means of Communication:
- Modern means of transport helps in the consolidation of people into modern nations. In India too, the establishment of railways, construction of roads, canals and organisation of postal, telegraph and wireless services all over India contributed in forging the people into a nation. Of course, all these facilities were developed in the interest of the British industries and for political, administrative and military reasons.
- However, these modern means of communications helped the growth of political and cultural life on a national scale. It promoted the organisation and functioning of a number of political organisations like Indian National Congress, All India Kishan Sabha, Youth League, All India Trade Union Congress etc.. Railways made it possible for the people of different towns, villages, districts and provinces to meet, to exchange views and to decide upon programmes for the nationalist movements. Without the modern means of transport, no national conferences could have been held.
(5)Emergence of Modern Press:
- As a powerful social institution, the press facilitates the exchange of thought on a mass scale within a short time. The introduction of the printing press in India was an event of revolutionary significance.
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the founder of nationalist press in India. His ‘Sambad Kaumudi’ in Bengali published in 1821 and ‘Mirat-UL-Akbar’ in Persian published in 1822, were the first publications with a distinct nationalist and democratic progressive orientation.
- British policies were blamed for deteriorating the economic conditions of the people. The need to use Swadeshi goods was also emphasized. These ideas found expression in some drama performances also and one of the well known plays which became popular around 1860 was titled Nildarpan, which was written Dina Bandhu Mitra in Bengali which highlighted the plight of the indigo peasants. (The atrocities committed by Indigo planters).
- Another example is given by Bankim Chatterjee, who wrote historical novels highlighting the tyranny of colonial rule. His novel Anandmath released in 1882, contain his immortal song Bande Mataram (composed in 1875).
- Similar patriotic feeling can also be seen in liberation in other languages. Harish Chandra, who is regarded as the father of modern Hindi in his plays, poems and journalistic writings put forward a plea for rising swadeshi things. Similar trends were also seen in Marathi literature where there was tremendous increase in the journalistic publication from 3 (1818-1827) to 3,284 (1885-1896).
- The news papers and journals played a creditable role I building up public opinion in favour of Indian national interest and against the inequalities of the colonial administration. Some of the well-known English language papers were Amrit Bazaar Patrika, Hindu Patriot and Som Prakash were published from Calcutta, Indu Prakash and Native Opinion from Bombay and The Hindu from Madras.
- Some important newspapers published in Hindi were Hinduatan, Bharat Mitra, Jagat Mitra and lot of other publication in other languages like Urdu.
- Among others, The Bengali, The Bombay Chronicle, The Tribune, The Indian Mirror, The Pioneer, The Madras Mail, The Maratha, The Keshari etc. had played important role in exposing the failure of the British Government in providing welfare measures to the people.
- Among the news agencies, The Free Press News Service played the most important role in distributing news from the nationalist standpoint.
- The national movement was possible due to the facility of political education and propaganda provided by the press. With its help, the Indian nationalist groups were able to popularize among the people the ideas of representative government. The press also brought the news of the international world which made the people conscious of their own position in India.
- The Nationalists in India were very much eager to protect the independence of the press. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first fighter who filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Calcutta along with some enlightened nationalist Indians such as Dwarkanath Tagore, Harchandra Ghose, Chandra Kumar Tagore, Prasanna Kumar Tagore etc. for this purpose. The struggle for the freedom of the press has been an integral part of the national movement in India.
- The worst feature of the British rule in India was the economic exploitation of all classes. Britishers came to India as traders and their primary motive was how to gain financial benefit. The industrial revolution in Britain necessitated the import of raw materials from different foreign countries and to search extensive market for its goods out side. India provided both to them.
- The British government maintained its civil service and military force at the cost of India. Attempt was made to destroy the indigenous Indian industries to expand the public demand for British industrial goods. While heavy import duties were put on Indian goods to restrict their entry into British market, there was free trade policy for the transactions of the raw materials or British goods in India.
- Leaders like Dadabhai Naroji, Mahadev Gobinda Ranade, G.K. Gokhale etc. analyzed the economic impact of colonial rule in India. Economic exploitation to such a high extent had great repercussion on the growth of Indian nationalism and the people agitated against the foreign government.
(7)Revival of Glorious Indian Heritage:
- When Indians were developing a sense of inferiority complex being exploited under the colonial rule, the glorious heritage of India was revived by some western scholars like Max Muller, William Jones, Charles Wilkins etc. They translated some Sanskrit texts into English and attempted to prove the supremacy of ancient Indian culture, its heritage and philosophy. Some Indian scholars like R.G. Bhandarkar, H.P. Shastri etc. also helped in reviving the past glory of India. All these helped in regenerating a sense of self confidence and patriotism among the people.
(8)Impact of International Events:
- Several movements and events in foreign countries also helped in awakening national consciousness. The Declaration of Independence by U.S.A. in 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, the unification of Italy and Germany in 1870, defeat of Russia by Japan in 1904 etc. inspired the Indians. They became confident that it would be possible to fight against the mighty British authority for their right of self-determination. World events thus, motivated Indians and promoted the rise of nationalism.
(9)Social and Religious Reform Movements:
- The various social and religious reform movements which took place in India during the British rule were nothing but expression of the rising national consciousness of the people. The new educated class who imbibed the liberal western culture, recognized the need of reforming social institutions and religious outlooks as these were regarded as obstacles to national advance. A number of organisations like Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Rama Krishna Mission, Theosophical society etc. helped in bringing movements of reformation and renaissance in India.
- These movements aimed to eliminate privilege from the social and religious fields, to democratize social and religious institutions of the country and to promote individual liberty and social equality. They sought to establish equal rights of all individuals irrespective of their caste or sex. In this way, the national democratic awakening found expression in all fields of national life. In politics, it gave birth to the movement of administrative reform, self-government, Home Rule and finally independence.
(10)Repressive policies and Racial Arrogance of the British:
- The racial arrogance and the rude behaviour of the Britishers towards the Indians had played a significant role in making them conscious of their condition. The British Government did not allow the educated Indians to avail any opportunity to serve in higher administrative posts. The age limit for Indian Civil Service examination was reduced from twenty one to nineteen years and the examination was held in Britain. This change actually intended to debar the Indians from entering the civil services.
- Enactment of a number of laws further created widespread discontent among the Indians.
- This amendment exposed the policy of racial discrimination of the British Government. Lord Curzon not only adopted certain unpleasant measures to hurt the self-respect of the Indians, he even ordered for the partition of Bengal to suppress the rising Indian nationalism. The partition order created widespread resentment among the people. The use of ‘Swadeshi’ goods and boycott of foreign goods were adopted as effective techniques for expressing the resentment of the people. The resentment of the Indians against the repressive policies and racial arrogance of the British authorities helped in strengthening Indian nationalism.
(11)The Ilbert Bill controversy:
- During the period of Lord Ripon as Viceroy, the Ilbert Bill was passed. It empowered the Indian judges to try the Europeans. It created hue and cry among the Europeans and their pressure led to reform the bill inserting a clause that an Indian would try a European in the presence of an European witness. This clearly exposed the malafide intention of the British authority and clearly projected their racial antagonism.
(12)The atrocities of Lord Lytton:
- The administration of Lord Lytton discharged venom in the minds of Indian people. In 1877, he celebrated a ceremony at Delhi Durbar when Queen Victoria assumed the title Kaiser-e Hind (the Empress of India) when the country was famine-stricken.
- Abolition of import tax on foreign cotton cloth harmed the Indian textile industry. He imposed heavy tax on the people of India and spent a large chunk of money in the Afghan war. During his time, the Arms Act(1878)was passed which prohibited the Indians from keeping arms without licence. His Vernacular Press Act(1878) infuriated Indians.The Vernacular Press Act curbed the liberty of the Indian press.
- In 1879m to discharge Indian middle classes from entering into the civil servicesm he reduced upper age limit from 21 to 19 and also introduced statutary civil services (reserving 1/6 of total number of posts for Indian Princely Families and landed aristocracy)
(13)Liberal and Progressive Policies of Lord Ripon:
- His progressive policies gave hope to Indians and they started expecting more.
- In 1881, the first Indian Factory Act was passed regulating working hours for women and children.
- In 1882, The statutory Civil services were abolished and Indian Famine Code was introduced.(First Famine Commission was appointed under Sir Richard Stratchy in 1878).
- In 1882, Vernacular Press Act was abolished.
- In 1882, he provided for compulsory grants to the autonomous bodies and so he is called father of modern self governance.
- In 1883, he tried to give equality before law by introducing Ilbert Bill.
(14)Formation of Associations(Explained in previous chapter)
- Signs of political awakening and feeling of oneness was growing day by day and the beginning of organized political activities in India can be dated back to the days of Land Holder’s Society in 1837. It was an association of land holders of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. Its principle objective was to guard class interest.
- In 1843, another society was formed known as ‘Bengal British India Society’. Its objective was wider, i.e., to protect general public interest. Other association such as ‘The Land Holders Society’, represented the aristocracy of wealth and the Bengal British India Society, represented the aristocracy of intelligence.
- In 1852, other associations such as ‘Bombay Association’ and ‘Madras Association’ were formed.
- All these associations had one thing in common. They were dominated by wealthy landed aristocracy or gentry. The three presidency associations sent political suggesting changes in EIC Charter. These suggestions give a fair amount of idea of the attitude of the politically conscious classes in India at that time. The petitioners wanted that Indians should be appointed to the legislative bodies. The second one was that Company’s monopoly of salt and indigo should be abolished and the state should give aid to indigenous industries. It was also stated that the local government should have greater power and that Indians have bigger share in the administration of their own country. Improvement of the condition of the peasants was also suggested.
- During the 1860s and 70s ideas of nationalism and patriotism were very much in the air and a number of political associations got established in different parts of the country to propagate the cause of reform in various sphere of administration and to promote political consciousness amount various section of the Indian people.
- The most important was ‘Poona Sarwajanic Sabha’ established by M.G.Ranade, G.V. Joshi and S.H. Chiphankar and his associates in 1870. This sabha brought out a journal from 1878 which did a lot for arousing political consciousness and political propaganda in England.
- Some Indian students like Feroz Shah Metha, Dadabhai Naroji, Bhadruddin founded the ‘East India Association’ in December, 1866.
- The second half century saw the emergence of national body and the need of national platform began to be keenly felt all over the country. In 1876, the Indian Association was formed Calcutta. Its aim included developing a strong public opinion to promote Hindu-Muslim friendship, establishing contacts with masses and generating wider awareness amongst the Indian people. These were certainly ingredients for a broad based nationalist movement and these were based on a conception of united India.
- Many political societies were founded in other places such as ‘Madras Mahajan Sabha’, ‘The Bombay Presidency Association’, ‘The Allahabad People Association’, ‘The Indian Association of Lahore’. Many of these bodies had branches in the Mufasid towns and it was after 1885 that these became the regional arms of the Congress.
The Origin of the Indian National Congress:
- Many Indians were planning to establish an all India organization of nationalist political workers. But the credit for organizing the first meeting of the Indian National Congress goes to A.O. Hume, who was a retired English Civil Servant. and who had chosen to stay back in India after the retirement. It was Hume who toured across the sub-continent talked to prominent political leaders in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta and persuaded them to meet at a national conference that was initially supposed to meet at Poona. He was on a very good term with Lord Ripon, who was the viceroy of India at that time.
- He was of the view that the emergence of educated class should be accepted as a political reality and that timely steps should be taken to provide the right channel to the expression of the grievances of this class. He believed that efforts must be made to satisfy the ambitions of this class.
- Lord Rippon also shared with his views. A.O. Hume strenuously consolidated the network of contacts, which he established. In Mumbai, he met and discussed with the leaders, who were influential in the presidency, the program of political action to be adopted by the educated Indians.
- On 1 March 1883, A.O. Hume addressed students of Calcutta University urging them to form an association for the mental, moral, social, and political regeneration of the people of India.
- One of the main aims of Hume is facilitating the establishment of the National Congress to offer an outlet “a safety valve” to the rising popular dissatisfaction against the British rule. As Hume put it: “A safety valve for the escape of great and growing forces generated by our own action was urgently needed and no more efficacious safety valve than our Congress Movement could possibly be devised.”
- The “safety valve” theory is, however, a small part of the truth or even false (discussed in layer part). More than anything else, the National Congress represented the urge of the politically conscious Indians to set up a national organization to work for their political and economic advancement. As already noted, national movement was growing in the country as a result of the working of powerful forces.
- As for the question of the role of A.O. Hume, if the founders of the Congress were such capable and patriotic men of high character, why did they need Hume to act as the chief organizerof the Congress? The Indian leaders, who cooperated with Hume in starting this National Congress, were patriotic men of high character, who willingly accepted Hume’s help as they did not want to arouse official hostility towards their efforts at such an early stage of political activity.Considering the size of the Indian subcontinent, there were very few political persons in the early 1880s and the tradition of open opposition to the rulers was not yet firmly entrenched.
- The efforts of A.O. Hume yielded results and he organized the first session of the Indian National Congress at Bombay in the hall of Gokuldas Taj pal Sanskrit College On 20th December (Monday), 1885. It was presided over by Womesh Chandra Banerjee of Bengal and attended by 72 delegates. W.C. Banerjee was one of the first ever Indian barristers and one of the foremost legal luminaries of the day, his election established a healthy precedent that the president should be chosen from a province other than the one in which the Congress was being held.
- The foundation of the Congress was the natural culmination of the political work of the previous
years: By 1885, a stage had been reached in the political development of India when certain basic tasks or objectives had to be laid down and struggled for. Moreover these objectives were
correlated and could only be fulfilled by the coming together of political workers in a single organization formed on an all- India basis. The men who met in Bombay on 28 December 1885 were inspired by these objectives and hoped to initiate the process of achieving them. The success or failure and the future character of the Congress would be determined not by who founded it but by the extent to which these objectives were achieved in the initial years.
- With the foundation of the National Congress in 1885, the struggle for India’s freedom from foreign rule was launched in a small but organized manner. The national movement was to grow and the country and its people were to know no rest till freedom was won.
Nature and Character of the early INC (Phase of moderate leaders – 1885-1905):
- From the beginning the INC tried to eliminate 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 congress 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 regional barriers and misunderstandings.
- The first INC in 1885 was attended by 72 non-official Indian representatives, and they included the people apparently from various walks of life, or belonging to ‘most classes’, as claimed by the official report of the Congress. There were lawyers, merchants and bankers, landowners, medical men, journalists, educationists, religious teachers and reformers.
- Indian National Congress in its early career was never a radical organization, as the culture of the opposition to the government had not yet taken roots. So they were cautious reformers seeking to alleviate certain unpleasant aspects of what Surendranath Banerjee described as the “un-British rule” in India and their method was sending prayers, petitions and memoranda.
- W.C. Banerjee, the president of the first Congress, made it clear at the very outset that it was not “a nest of conspirators and disloyalties”, they were thoroughly loyal and consistent well-wishers of the British Government. This explains why the founder of the Indian National Congress had to involve A.O Hume in their project.
- Gokhale wrote in 1913 that any attempt by the Indians to form an all India organization would immediately attract the unfriendly attention of the authorities. He further wrote that, “If the founder of the Congress had not been a great Englishman, the authorities would have at once found some way or the other to suppress the movement”. Thus, “if Hume and other English liberals hoped to use Congress as a safety-valve, the Congress leaders hoped to use Hume as a lightning conductor”.
- In this way, the Congress movement started in India as a limited elitist politics for limited reforms. But nevertheless, it represented a new and modern trend in Indian political tradition. Despite its limitations, it sought to forge an overarching national unity and raised a very important political demand: the basis of the government should be widened and the people should have their proper and legitimate share in it. It was from her that the mainstream of Indian nationalist politics began to flow.
- The Indian National Congress was completely under the control of moderate leaders during 1885-1905. In the initial years, the Congress leaders did not want the Congress to function as political party .They simply sought autonomy in internal affairs under the British suzerainty. They expressed their immense faith in the sincerity of the British government.
- They wanted that the Congress should work within the constitutional limits. The Congress proceedings were organized in the most orderly and efficient manner. A strict parliamentary procedure was observed in moving, discussing, and passing the resolutions.
- During the early years, the moderates pleaded for introduction of policies, which would transform India economically, socially, and politically. The moderates appealed for self-rule for India. They favoured gradual reforms and their demands also remained moderate.
- The means chosen by them to achieve the ends were very well within the constitutional limits. In the initial phase, the educated middle class dominated the National Congress. Early Congressmen had an absolute faith in the effectiveness of peaceful and constitutional agitation.
- The holding of the annual session of the Congress was a significant method of its propaganda. The Congress leaders had trust in the essential sense of justice and kindness of the British nation. But, they were all under illusion that the British rule in India would be beneficial. So, their aim was to educate Indian public and make it conscious of its rights.
- The National Congress took pride in the British connection and regarded the British government not as an antagonist, but as an ally. The Moderate Congress leaders were aware of the fact that India was a nation in the making. They had consistently worked for the development and consolidation of the idea of national unity irrespective of region, religion, or caste.
- They made a modest beginning in this direction by promoting close contacts and friendly relations among the people from different parts of the country. The economic and political demands of the moderates were structured with a view to unify the Indian people on the basis of a common political program.
- From the beginning, the Congress was conceived not as a party but as a movement. Except for agreement on the very broad objectives, it did not require any particular political or ideological commitment from its activists. It also did not try to limit its following to any social class or group. As a movement, it incorporated different political trends, ideologies and social classes and groups so long as the commitment to democratic and secular nationalism was there.
Objectives of the early Indian National Congress 1885:
- To promote the feeling of national unity; to weld India into a nation; to help create an Indian people; development and consolidation of feeling of national unity irrespective of race, caste, religion and provinces, to meet the imperialist charge that Indians were not a people or nation but a mere grouping of hundreds of diverse races, languages, castes and religions.
- To create a national political platform or programme on which all Indians could agree and which could serve as the basis for all-India political activity
- Politicization of the people and the creation of public interest in political questions and the training and organization of public opinion in the country.
- The creation of an all-India political leadership. Such a leadership on a country-wide level did not exist in the 1880s. Allied to this was the need to train a common band of political workers or cadre to carry on political work.
- Recording of the opinions of educated classes on pressing problems. Laying down lines for future course of action in public interest.
- In 1888, it was decided that no resolution would be passed if it was objected to by an overwhelming majority of Hindu or Muslim.
- A majority clause figured in a resolution adopted in 1889 demanding reform in the legislative councils.
- All objectives of moderates as described earlier in this chapter.
- Social Reforms were not part of the agenda. Congress was to be a political body to represent political aspirations of the Indian people as a whole and not a platform to discuss social reform.This was mainly due to aim to creation of political unity in India.
- Early Congress mainly believed in bourgeoise path of socio-economic political development.
Social Composition of Early Congress Leadership:
- It had uneven representation and total exclusion of non-elite groups of Indian society.
- The Composition of the delegates at the first congress reflected the changing patterns of organised political life in India, the western educated professional groups gradually taking the lead over the landed aristocrats.
- There were lawyers, merchants, bankers, landowners, medical men, journalists, educationaists, religious teachers and reformers.About 18.99% of the delegates who attended the congress sessions between 1892 and 1909 were landlords; the rest were lawyers (39.32%), traders (15.10%), journalists (3.18%), doctors (2.94%), teachers (3.16%) and other professionals (17.31%).
- They predominantly belonged to the high caste Hindu communities and this pattern continued for two decades.
- Bearing the exception of Bombay politician, Badruddian Tyabji, mostly were Hindus. Between 1892 and 1909, nearly 90% of delegates who attended congress sessions were Hindus and only 6.5 % were Muslims. Among Hindus, 40% were Brahmins and rest were upper caste Hindus.
The Safety-valve thesis relating to the birth of the Congress:
- Hume’s involvement in the formation of INC gave rise to a lot of controversy regarding the origins of Congress. The safety-valve theory or the conspiracy theory, which was deduced from this simple fact, was for a long time subscribed to by all shades of historians, in the right, left and center. It was even accepted by some of the stalwarts of nationalist movement. In recent researches, however, it has been thoroughly discredited.
- The theory (safety-valve) originated from William Wedderburn’s biography of Hume published in 1913. Wedderburn, another civil servant, wrote that in 1878, Hume had come across seven volumes of secret reports at Simla which showed that there had been seething discontent among the lower classes and a conspiracy to overthrow British rule by force. He became disturbed, met Lord Dufferin and together they decided to establish an organization with educated Indians. This would serve as a safety valve by opening up a line of communication between the rulers and the ruled and would thus prevent a mass revolution. The congress was in this way the creation of British rule.
- This safety-valve theory was believed by the earlier nationalist historians; the imperialist historians used it to discredit Congress and the Marxist historians developed a conspiracy theory from this.
- In his Young India published in 1916, the Extremist leader Lala Lajpat Rai used the safety-valve theory to attack the Moderates in the Congress. Having discussed the theory at length and suggested that the Congress ‘was a product of Lord Dufferin’s brain,’ he argued that ‘the Congress was started more with the object of saving the British Empire from danger than with that of winning political liberty for India.
- More than a quarter century later, R. Palme Dutt’s authoritative work India Today made the myth of the safety-valve a staple of left-wing opinion. R.P Dutt, for example, wrote that Congress was born through a conspiracy to forestall a popular uprising in India and the Indian bourgeoisie leaders were a party to it.
- In 1939, M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS chief, had also found the safety-valve theory handy in attacking the Congress for its secularism and, therefore, anti-nationalism. In his pamphlet “We” Golwalkar complained that Hindu national consciousness had been destroyed by those claiming to be ‘nationalists’ .
- The liberal C.F. Andrews and Girija Mukherji fully accepted the safety-valve theory in their work, “The Rise and Growth of the Congress in India” published in 1938. They were happy with it because it had helped avoid ‘useless bloodshed.’
In the 1950s, these safety-valve or conspiracies theories were proved to be wrong because:
- First of all, those seven volumes of secret reports have not been traced in any of the archives either in India or London.
- Historians argue that given the structure of British information system in the 1870s, it was highly unlikely that so many volumes of secret reports have existed.
- Hume was Secretary to the Department of Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce. How could the Secretary of these departments get access to Home Department files or CID reports? Also he was then in Simla while Home Department files were kept in Delhi; they were not sent to Simla.
- If Congress was founded out of the fear of an outbreak, why did Hume and British officialdom wait for seven long years? (Report in 1878 and congress in 1885)
- Wedderburn writes that a warning of the threatened danger came to Hume ‘from a religious Guru of Tibet.’ According to Wedderburn’s biography of Hume, in 1878, the evidence of the seven volumes was shown to Hume by the Gurus who had sent reports by thousands of Chelas. Though Hume was in fact student of Eastern Religions and impressed by Gurus, but why should Hume believe that these reports ‘must necessarily be true?’
- Further proof offered for the safety-valve theory was based on W.C. Bannerjee’s statement in 1898 in Indian Politics that the Congress, ‘as it was originally started and as it has since been carried on, is in reality the work of Dufferin.’ He stated that Hume had, in 1884, thought of bringing together leading political Indians once a year “to discuss social matters” and did not “desire that politics should form part of their discussion.” But Dufferin asked Hume to do the opposite and start a body to discuss politics so that the Government could keep itself informed of Indian opinion.”
- Clearly, either W.C. Bannerjee’s memory was failing or he was trying to protect the National Congress from the wrath of the late 19th century imperialist reaction, for contemporary evidence clearly indicated the opposite. All the discussions Hume had with Indian leaders regarding the holding of an annual conference referred to a political gathering.
- Neither Dufferin and his fellow-liberal Governors of Bombay and Madras nor his conservative officials were sympathetic to the Congress. It was not only in 1888 that Dufferin attacked the Congress in a vicious manner by writing that he would consider ‘in what way the happy despatch may be best applied to the Congress,’ for ‘we cannot allow the Congress to continue to exist.”
- Dufferin openly castigate Congress for its dubious motives. He criticized it for representing a “microscopic minority” and this statement if anything else, explodes the safety valves or conspiracy theory. In fact, from the end of May 1885, Dufferin had grown cool to Hume and began to keep him at an arm’s length.
- Historians now more or less agree that the story of seven volumes of secret report was a fiction created by a friendly biographer Wedderburn to portray Hume as British patriot who wanted to save the British Empire from an impending crisis.
- The fact that Hume played a crucial role in the foundation of the Congress, however, remains, although this role might have been grossly exaggerated in the safety valve or conspiracy theories. But even if Hume had not taken any initiative, in India in the 1870s and 1880s, the formation of national organization was clearly in the air.
- In reality, Hume was a political liberal, who had clear idea about growing discontent among Indians. So he visualised an all India organisation which would represent Indian interest and act as an opposition.
- During May June 1886, Duffrin described Hume as “Cleverish, a little cracked, excessively vain and indifferent to truth” , his main fault being that he was one of the chief stimulus of Home Rule Movement.
- To conclude, it is high time that the safety-valve theory of the genesis of the Congress was confined to the care of the mahatmas from whom perhaps it originated.
British Attitude Towards Early Congress:
- Initially the official attitude towards Congress was of neutrality and indifference if not favourable.In this spirit, Dufferin gave a garden party to delegates attendinng second Congress session in Calcutta(1886). Governor of Madras gave facilities to the organisers in 3rd session of Madras in 1887.
- The 1888 Allahabad Session of INC was presided by George Yule, who became first Englishman to do so.
- But soon it became apparent(by 1887) that INC would not be confined to limited role, British became hostile. British could not tolerate the political awareness spreading among common people.
- Third session of Madras in 1887 was presided by Badaruddin Tyabji. The word Self Governance was mentioned. In 1887, Dufferin attacked the Congress in a public speech and ridiculed it as representing only a microscopic minority of the people and Congress demands as a big jump into the unknown.Earlier in 1886 he wrote about the role of national press: There can be no doubt there is generated in the mind of those who read those papers a sincere conviction that we are all of us enemies of mankind in general and India in particular.
- In 1890, Government employees were forbidden from participating or attending Congress meetings.
- George Hamilton, Secretary of State for India accused Congress for possessing seditious and doubled sided character. In 1900, he complained to Dadabhai Naroji that: You announce yourself as a sincere supporter of the British rule, but you denounce the conditions and consequences which are inseparable from the maintenance of that rule. Earlier in 1897, he wrote to Viceroy Elgin: The solidarity, which is growing of native opinion and races and religions in antagonism to our rule frightens me as regards of the future.
- Despite its moderate methods and its emphasis on loyalty to British crown, the INC failed to secure any substantial concession from the government.
- Realising that the growing unity of the Indian people posed a major threat to their rule, the British authorities also pushed further the policy of divide and rule. They encouraged Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan (Aligarh Movement), Raja Shiva Prasad of Benaras, and other pro- British individuals to start anti- Congress movement.
- The British attitude became even more hostile to the Congress under Lord Curzon. He said that the Congress was tottering to its fall and one of my greatest ambitions while in India was to assist it to a peaceful demise.The government under Curzon wanted to weaken the nationalist elements in general and Congress in particular by driving the wedge amongst the leader in the name of religion and communalise the Indian politics by partitioning Bengal in 1905, on communal grounds.
- While just after Revolt of 1857, British had repressed the Muslim upper classes and favoured in Hindu middle and upper classes, after 1870 they made an attempt to turn upper and middle class Muslim against the national movement.They exploited the controversy around Hindi and Urdu to promote communal feelings. Cow protection movement by orthodox Hindus was also used. Kimberley, the Secretary of State for India wrote to Landsdowne, the Viceroy in 1893 that movement makes all combinations of Hindu and Muslims impossible and so cuts at the root of the Congress agitation for formation of united Indian people.
- An effort was made to turn traditional feudal class against the new intelligentsia, province against province, caste against caste etc.
- To create split in the nationalist rank, British adopted more friendly approach towards either the conservatives or moderate sections. The moderate sections were appeased by making many concessions like passing Indian Council Act of 1892, increasing maximum age of recruitment in Civil Services etc.
- By Education Act of 1903, strict control on university education was applied as British thought that spread of education is causing nationalism.
- The leaders belonging to the older associations like British Indian Association were sought to be appeased and turned against the radical Congress leaders.
- After Swadeshi Movement of Bengal, British adopted a new policy of “Repression-Conciliation-Suppression” under which they repressed the militant leadership first, then tried to win over the moderates and finally tried to suppress militant leadership completely and then they ignored moderates. Moderates and extremists both fell into this trap. Earlier British had felt that moderate led Congress will be easily finished because it was weak and without popular base. But after Bengal Movement policy was changed.