Solution: Weekly Problem Practice For History Optional- 2022 [Modern India: Week 4]

Solution: Weekly Problem Practice For History Optional- 2022 [Modern India: Week 4]

Q.1 The social base of the early Congress was unmistakably narrow. It had uneven representation and total exclusion of non-elite groups of Indian society.” Critically analyse. [10 Marks]


  • 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.
  • Geographically, within the overall ascendancy of the presidencies, Bengal was gradually slipping from its leadership position, which was being taken over by Bombay, surging ahead of all other regions. The first meeting of the Indian National Congress in 1885 was attended by seventy-two non-official Indian representatives and they included people apparently from various walks of life, or belonging to “most classes”, as claimed by the official report of the Congress.
    • If we look at their regional distribution, thirty-eight came from Bombay Presidency, twenty-one from Madras, but only four from Bengal, as the Indian Association had convened its own national conference in Calcutta almost at the same time and the Bengal leaders were told of the Bombay conference only at the very last moment.
    • Apart from the presidencies, seven representatives came from the four principal towns of North-Western Provinces and Awadh and one each from the three towns of Punjab.
    • It was in other words, despite lofty claims, a gathering of professionals, some landlords and businessmen, representing primarily the three presidencies of British India.
  • 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. Delegates for the sessions being overwhelmingly from the educated and professional sections of the Hindu community.
  • 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.
  • However, the organisation increasingly assumed a representative character.
    • The number of registered Muslim delegates rose from the paltry figure of two in 1885 to
      • 33 in 1886,
      • 81 in 1887,
      • 221 in 1888,
      • 254 in 1889.
    • The Congress even resolved in 1887-88 not to debate social or religious matters for ensuring the support of religious minorities.
  • Six-tenths of Muslim delegates to Congress sessions from 1886 to 1901 were from Lucknow alone.
  • The number of delegates, representing the country’s four corners, rose from 72 in 1885 at Bombay, to
    • 436 in 1886 at Calcutta,
    • 607 in 1887 at Madras,
    • 1,248 in 1888 at Allahabad and
    • 1,889 in Bombay.
  • Owing to the efforts of Dwarkanath Ganguly, six women delegated were present at the 1889 Congress session in Bombay (10 registered lady delegates) including social reformer Pandita Ramabai, Rabindranath Tagore’s sister Swarnakumari Devi and Calcutta University’s first lady graduate Kadambini Ganguly. The two from Bengal were Dwarkanath’s wife Kadambini and Swarnakumari Debi, wife of Janakinath Ghosal.
    • The presence of both women was closely connected with the extent of their husbands’ links with Congress politics.
    • Orthodox opinion objected to even to this limited participation, and ridiculed Dwarkanath for insisting on the right of women to be represented in Congress to express their views and on their right to be elected members of the Legislative Council.
    • In 1890 Calcutta Session, Kadambini Ganguly addressed the Congress Session. Her contributions at these sessions were more symbolic than substantial- in Calcutta she made a motion to thank the Chairman.
  • The 1889 session was attended by 41 ‘simple’ cultivators and two working artisans.
  • Carefully ‘sheltering’ diverse social concerns, the Congress sessions proved to be the melting point of all …interconnections.
  • This limitation of participation did not fluster the members of the Congress, as they complacently claimed to represent the whole nation; but it obviously put some constraints on their programmes.

Q.2 Delineate the character of the Deccan Revolt of 1875 and the adverse circumstances which led to the Revolt. [10 Marks]


A major agrarian outbreak occurred in the Poona and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra in 1875, called Deccan Revolt.

Circumstances which led to the Deccan Uprising:

  • Here, as part of the Ryotwari system, land revenue was settled directly with the peasant who was also recognized as the owner of his land.
    • Like the peasants in other Ryotwari areas, the Deccan peasant also found it difficult to pay land revenue without getting into the clutches of the moneylender and increasingly losing his land.
    • This led to growing tension between the peasants and the moneylenders most of whom were outsiders — Marwaris or Gujaratis.
  • During the early 1860s, the American Civil War had led to a rise in cotton exports which had pushed up prices.
    • As cotton prices soared, export merchants in Bombay were keen to secure as much cotton as possible to meet the British demand. So they gave advances to urban sahukars who in turn extended credit to those rural moneylenders who promised to secure the produce.
    • The end of the Civil War in 1864 brought about an acute depression in cotton exports and a crash in prices as cotton production in America revived. Ryots went into deeper debt.
  • Simultaneously, in 1867, ‘the Government raised land revenue by nearly 50 per cent on grounds of extension of cultivation and rise in agricultural prices.
    • The situation was worsened by a succession of bad harvests.
    • The Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, the new association of the middle-class intellectuals, now intervened and presented in 1873 a “Report” or a case for a revision of the revenue rates.
      • It also sent volunteers to the villages to arouse the Kunbi peasants against the new rates.
  • To pay the land revenue under these conditions, the peasants had to go to the moneylender who took the opportunity to further tighten his grip on the peasant and his land.
    • What infuriated them was not simply that they had got deeper and deeper into debt, or that they were utterly dependent on the moneylender for survival, but that moneylenders were being insensitive to their plight.
      • In one of the many cases investigated by the Deccan Riots Commission, the moneylender had charged over Rs 2,000 as interest on a loan of Rs 100.
  • The peasant began to turn against the perceived cause of his misery, the moneylender. Only a spark was needed to kindle the fire.

Specific character of revolt:

  • Everywhere the Gujarati and Marwari moneylenders were attacked not simply because they were “outsiders”, but because they were thought to be more avaricious.
    • They also lived in the villages and therefore were more exposed to such attacks, unlike the Brahman moneylenders who usually resided in better-protected cities.
  • There was very little violence against the person of the sahukars; only their debt bonds were seized and destroyed.
    • Moreover, violence was resorted to only if there was resistance in handing over these legal documents.
    • This very feature distinguishes these riots from the average genre of “grain riots” engineered by poverty-stricken peasants.
  • In most places, the ‘riots’ were demonstrations of popular feeling and of the peasants’ newly acquired unity and strength. Though moneylenders’ houses and shops were looted and burnt in Supa, this did not occur in other places.
  • The rioters had clearly identified their target, an instrument of oppression and dominance, and thus seemed to have been quite aware of the new institutional framework of power relations within which they had of late found themselves locked in.
  • This uprising also involved social boycott of moneylender and any villager who didn’t socially boycott the moneylender.
  • Once again, the modern nationalist intelligentsia of Maharashtra supported the peasants’ cause.
    • Already, in 1873- 74, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, led by Justice Ranade, had organized a successful campaign among the peasants, as well as at Poona and Bombay against the land revenue settlement of 1867. This agitation had generated a mentality of resistance among the peasants which contributed to the rise of peasant protest in 1875.
    • The Sabha as well as many of the nationalist newspapers also supported the D.A.R. Bill (Deccan Agriculturists’ Relief Bill)
  • The Deccan disturbances had very limited objectives. There was an absence of anti-colonial consciousness.
    • It was, therefore, possible for the colonial regime to extend them a certain protection against the moneylenders through the Deccan Agriculturists’ Relief Act of 1879 by British Parliament on the recommendation of the Deccan Riots Commission. Now the peasants could not be arrested and sent to jail if they failed to pay their debts.

Q.3 “There was nothing in the militant movements of the rural masses that was not political.”- In the light of the given statement of Ranajit Guha, discuss the subaltern perspective of the peasant and tribal movement of early colonial period. [10 Marks]


The term ‘subaltern’ was coined by Antonio Gramsci. The term subaltern implies people of inferior rank for his/her various attributes such as economic condition, race, ethnicity, gender, caste, sexual orientation and people are marginalised for such attributes. Thus subaltern perspective is the way to understand society from the below. The dominant historiography or writing of history and study however excludes them from their concerns. Subaltern perspective looks into those who are neglected and marginalized and contrasts it with the elite perspective

  • Peasant and tribal uprisings of the early colonial period have been looked at in different ways.
    • The British administration considered them as problems of law and order; the rebels were portrayed as primitive savages resisting civilisation.
    • The nationalists later on tried to appropriate the peasant and tribal histories for the purposes of anti-colonial struggle and projected them as the pre-history of modern nationalism.
    • Others has regarded the peasant rebellions as “pre-political“, because of their lack of organisation, programme and ideology.
  • Subaltern perspective:
    • Ranajit Guha has argued that “there was nothing in the militant movements of the rural masses that was not political”. In fact rebellions were not apolitical acts; they constituted political action that demonstrated, although in different ways, the political consciousness of the peasantry.
      • As Ranajit Guha has shown, they exhibited, first of all, a clear awareness of the relations of power in rural society and a determination to overturn that structure of authority.
      • The rebels were quite conscious of the political sources of oppression, and this was demonstrated in their targets of attack-the zamindars‘ houses, their grain stocks, the moneylenders, the merchants and ultimately the state machinery of the British, which came forward to protect these local agents of oppression.
      • The rebellions were political action, different from crime, because they were open and public.
        • The Santhals gave ample warning in advance; the Rangpur leaders imposed a levy for insurrection on the peasantry.
        • There were public conferences, assemblies, and planning which definitely spoke of a programme.
        • There were grand ceremonies of rebel marches.
    • As for the leadership of these peasant rebellions, it came from the ranks of the rebels themselves.
      • Since the leaders belonged to the same cultural world of the peasants and tribals whom they led, they could provide more effective leadership.
      • The mobilisation took place along community lines, an exception being the Rangpur uprising.
      • The colonial rural societies experienced varying degrees of tension between class, caste, ethnic and religious groups, which were articulated in a violent condition of oppression and poverty in the countryside.
      • Religion in many cases provided the bond of unity among the poorer classes and the leaders were the holy men who promised a new millennium to be achieved through supernatural means.
    • In pre-capitalist societies, where class-consciousness was ill developed and class ideology absent, religion provided an ideology for rebellion.
      • The holy leaders referred to the loss of a moral world and thus expressed the anxieties of the peasants in religious idioms.
      • Religion thus provided legitimacy to their movements.
      • In such revolutionary messianism, the charismatic leaders were thought to be endowed with magical power; their empowering was thus an act of God.
      • The rebellion was therefore divinely ordained and legitimised through reference to a higher authority. This provided both an ideology as well as motivation for peasant action.
    • These peasant rebellions also differed from modern nationalism.
      • The spread of the rebellion depended on the rebels’ own perception of space and ethnic boundary; it was most effective within the geographical area within which that community lived and worked.
      • The Santhals’ battle, for example, was for their ‘fatherland’; but sometimes ethnic ties extended across the territorial boundaries, as in Kol insurrection we find the Kols of different regions rose in revolt simultaneously.
    • The rebels’ own perception of time played a significant role as well.
      • There is often an evocation of history in the conception of a “Golden Age” in a distant past.
      • An urge for the restoration of that imagined golden past provided an ideology for peasant action, the Faraizi and Santhal rebellions being prime examples of that.
  • These revolts were not always directly anti-colonial movements, but were all related to the policies and conditions of colonial rule.

Q.4 “Constructive Swadeshi characterised by atmashakti (self-reliance) propelled the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal.” Explain. [10 Marks] 


The Swadeshi Movement (1905) was started to oppose the British decision of partition of Bengal. The decision was taken by Lord Curzon for administrative convenience, but this was seen as an attempt to divide people on religious lines and to weaken the nationalist movement in Bengal.

The Swadeshi Movement was two edged weapon-

  • Boycott of British goods, particularly cotton goods and institutions, intended to bring pressure upon the British manufacturers and workers- and through them upon the British Government. Boycott was hoped to dispel illusion of British power.
  • Constructive Swadeshi, intended to promote indigenous industries or swadeshi alternatives for foreign goods and institutions. The constructive swadeshi programme gave thrust to self-reliance- reassertion of national pride and a new confidence. It was a non-political constructive swadeshi with strong emphasis on self-development endeavours. Rabindranath Tagore emerged as the main ideologue of the constructive swadeshi.
  • The Boycott was the negative and the Swadeshi was the positive aspect of the same idea.

Constructive Swadeshi:

  • Constructive Swadeshi included amateurish attempts to manufacture daily necessities, national education, arbitration courts and village organisation.
  • Economic dimension of Constructive Swadeshi:
    • It was from the 1890s that attempts were made to organise swadeshi sales through exhibition and shops. The Bengal Chemical was started as a swadeshi enterprise in 1893 and then another factory was started in 1901 to manufacture porcelain.
    • The Swadeshi spirit inspired J.N. Tata who founded the Tata Iron and Steel. Prafull Chandra Ray set up the Bengal Chemicals Factory.
    • People preferred coarser and dearer Swadeshi goods to finer and cheaper foreign commodities. Group of volunteers worked untiringly to supply to goods door to door.
    • Textile mills, national banks, tobacco and soap factories, tanneries, chemical works, insurance companies etc. were set up to emphasise the positive aspects of Swadeshi program.
    • In his “Swadeshi Samaj” address, delivered in 1904, Rabindranath Tagore outlined the constructive programme of self-help or atmasakti, and after July 1905 this became the creed of the whole of Bengal, with swadeshi enterprises like textile mills and handlooms, match and soap factories and tanneries coming up everywhere.
  • Social and Cultural dimensions of Constructive Swadeshi:
    • National education movement:
      • It had started with Bhagabat Chatuspathi (1895) of Satischandra Mukherjee, the Dawn Society (1902-7), the Saraswat Ayatan of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (1902) and the Santiniketan Ashram of Rabindranath Tagore (1901).
      • National education movement moved forward with the establishment of national schools and the founding of the Bengal National College and School in August 1906.
      • National Council of Education (Jatiya Siksha Parishad) was inaugurated on 14th August 1906. Under its aegis, a number of National Schools were founded at various places.
        • Taraknath Patil had set up the Society for the promotion of Technical Education which founded the Bengal Technical Institute.
        • The Jadavpur Engineering College was established by the National Council of Education.
    • Arbitration courts:
      • The Swadesh-Bandhab Samiti in the district of Bakarganj settled 523 disputes through its eighty-nine arbitration committees by August 1906.
    • Science:
      • J.C. Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray and others pioneered original research that was praised the world over.
    • Literature and Art:
      • The soulful songs and poems of Rabindranath composed in this time, instilled into the people patritic zeal and lofty sense of idealism.
      • Ramsay MacDonald, visiting Bengal during this period, wrote that Bengal was creating India by song and worship.
      • The plays and songs of Dwijendralal Roy, Rajnikanta en and others all permeated by a deep nationalist sentiment, helped increase ardent, emotional faith in the country’s future and unity.
      • Abanindranath Tagore broke the domination of Victorian naturalism over India art and sought inspiration from rich indegenous traditions of Mughal, Rajput and Ajanata paintings.
      • Nand Lal Bose was the first recipient of a scholarship offered by Indian Society of Oriental Art founded in 1907. ©


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