For India, the making of national identity was a long process whose roots can be drawn from the ancient era. India as a whole had been ruled by emperors like Ashoka and Samudragupta in ancient times and Akbar to Aurangzeb in Medieval times. But, it was only in the 19th Century that the concept of a national identity and national consciousness emerged.
This growth was intimately connected to the anti-colonial movement. The social, economic and political factors had inspired the people to define and achieve their national identity. People began discovering their unity in the process of their struggle against colonialism.
The sense of being oppressed under colonial rule provided a shared bond that tied different groups together. Each class and group felt the effects of colonialism differently. Their experiences were varied, and their notions of freedom were not always the same. Several other causes also contributed towards the rise and growth of Nationalism.
One set of laws of British Government across several regions led to political and administrative unity. This strengthened the concept of citizenship and one nation among Indians.
The economic exploitation by the British agitated other people to unite and react against British Government’s control over their lives and resources. The social and religious reform movements of the 19th century also contributed to the feeling of Nationalism.
The intellectual and spiritual side of Nationalism was voiced by persons like Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Aurobindo Ghosh. Bankim Chandra’s hymn to the Motherland, ‘Vande Matram’ became the rallying cry of patriotic nationalists. It inspired generations to supreme self-sacrifice. Simultaneously, it created a fear in the minds of the British. The impact was so strong that the British had to ban the song.
Similarly, Swami Vivekananda’s message to the people, “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached”, appealed to the Indians. It acted as a potent force in the course of Indian Nationalism.
Around this time many organisations were being formed which raised their voices against British rule. Most of these organisations were regional in nature. Some of these organisations were very active such as Bengal Indian Association, Bengal Presidency Association, Pune Public Meeting, etc.
However it was felt that if these regional organisations could work jointly it would help the Indian masses to raise their voices against the British Rule. This led to the formation of Indian National Congress in the year 1885.