Solution: Daily Problem Practice [Modern India: Week 25]- 2 April
Q. “The Congress was not found in a day. It was the result of various events and political awakening that had begun in the 1870s.” Illustrate. [20 Marks]
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 notbeen 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. SubramaniyaIyer, P. AnandaCharlu and others — formed the Madras Mahajan Sabha in1884. In Bombay, the more militant intellectuals like K.T. Telangand Pherozeshah Mehta broke away from older leaders likeDadabhaiFramji and Dinshaw Petit on political grounds andformed the Bombay Presidency Association in 1885.
- Among theolder associations only the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha carried on as before. But, then, it was already in the hands of nationalistintellectuals.
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.
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