Indian National Congress and Early Nationaists

The Indian National Congress was formed in December 1885 by a group of 72 politically conscious educated Indians. Mr. A.O. Hume a retired English Indian Civil Service officer played a significant role in its formation.

Among its members were Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabji, WC Bonnerji, Surendranath Banerji, Anandamohan Bose and Romesh Chandra Dutt. This organisation was by no means the first such association of the Indian people. The English educated class in India was slowly becoming politically conscious and several political associations were being formed between 1875 and 1885.

Dwarkanath Ganguly of Calcutta, Ranade and GV Joshi of Poona, KT Telang of Bombay and G Subramaniya Iyer, Viraraghavachari of Madras were already associated with regional political associations. The names of their organizations were Indian Association, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, Bombay Presidency Association, and Madras Mahajan Sabha, respectively.

The agenda of these associations was limited and far from the ideal of complete independence. These associations were raising their voice against policies of the colonial regime that might be inimical to the interests of Indians.

The primary issues of concern taken up by the early nationalists belonging to these associations were as follows:

  • Cotton import duties to be made favourable for Indians.
  • Indianization of government services.
  • Opposition to Afghan policy of the British Government.
  • Opposition to Vernacular Press Act and control over the press.

What made the Indian National Congress (INC) different from the other associations was its attempt to provide a common political platform for the people of India which enabled it to claim that it represented the country. Although the British administrators attempted to play down the significance of the INC, it did manage to reflect the aspirations of the people.

Thus, the most important and the foremost objective of this organization was to create the consciousness among the people of belonging to a single nation. The task was daunting because of the existence of diverse cultural, linguistic and religious traditions of the land. All the different forces had to be brought together against the common adversary, the British imperialism.

At first the founders of the INC had hoped to influence the colonial government in matters that affected the well-being of the country and specially its economic upliftment. They expected that if the problems of’ the nation were brought to light through proper propaganda, the colonial government would take steps to improve matters. Thus in the initial years through lectures, writings in newspapers the nationalists put forward the main problems of the nation and ways in which they could be remedied.

The most valuable contribution of the so called ‘moderates’ or the initial members of the Congress was to formulate an economic critique. Firstly Dadabhai Naoroji and thereafter other nationalists found that instead of bringing about an industrial revolution, which the Indian intelligentsia were expecting, the British rule was making the nation poorer and was, destroying its indegenous handicraft production.

This discovery led to some disillusionment among the early nationalists who had hoped that India would be modernized as a result of British rule. The other concerns of the early Congress were as follows:

  1. The reform of Supreme and Local Legislative Councils with greater powers for Indian representatives.
  2. Indianization of the Civil Services with simultaneous examinations to be held in England and India.
  3. Changes in the forest laws that affected the Indian people.
  4. Organization of campaigns against indentured labour in Assam tea plantations.

Slowly, there came to the fore other younger leaders who realised that colonial rule would bring no positive gains for India and her people and the end of colonial rule was the only way in which India can progress. Thus, was born a new group of leaders who condemned the ‘moderates’ for their methods of appeal and petition.

Aurobindo Ghosh, Aswinikumar Dutt, Lajpat Rai, BG Tilak, were the new breed of leaders who sought to generate mass support for their goal of Swaraj and Swadeshi.