A new era in the political life of India began with the foundation of the Indian National Congress in the year 1885. It was the culmination of the evolution of several political ideas and organisations which preceded it though the reactionary measures of Lord Lytton and the Anglo-Indian agitation over the Ilbert Bill hastened the process.
Several associations were formed by Indians to look after certain specific group interests and a few to discuss and promote general welfare of the people led to tire establishment of the congress.
A few among them were the Zamindari association formed in 1837, the Bengal British Indian society founded in 1843, the British Indian Association of Indians (1851), East India association established by Dadabhai Naoroji in London in 1856, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha by justice Renade in 1870, the madras Mahajan Sabha in 1881 and the Bombay presidency association in 1885.
But the most important of the pre-congress nationalist organisations was the Indian National Association of Calcutta led by Surendranath Banerjee and Anandamohan Bose.
It was established in July 1876 with a view to create a strong public opinion in the country on political questions and the unification of Indian people on a common political programme.
It is difficult to say as to who originated the idea of an all India congress. It has been said that the great Darbar of 1877 originated this idea. But, most probably, the Delhi Darbar suggested to Surendranath Banerjee the idea of the National conference and not that of the Indian National congress.
The view that seventeen Indians who atteneded the theosophical convention at madras conceived the idea of the congress is found in mrs. Besant’s book How India wrought for freedom. But the view is not held valid because of insufficient evidences.
Another view is that the Indian National Association formed by Mr. A.O. Hume was instrumental in cenvening the congress.
The fact is that the idea of having an all India organization had come to the minds of several Indians but nobody could give it concrete shape before Mr. A.C Hume though the model of the Indian National Congress, as an institution of All India politics, is to be traced to the calcutta national conference led by S. N. Banerjee.
There is some controversy about the object which prompted Hume to take this step. It was claimed by the first President of the Congress, W.C. Banerjee, and later by Hume’s biographer. W. Wedderburn that the final form of the congress had resulted from discussions between Hume and the then viceroy.
Lord Dufferin. They claimed that Lord Dufferin advised Hume to organise a political body which would act in much the same kind of way as the opposition party did in Britain otherwise Hume simply had conceived the idea of having an all-India body to discuss matters of social reform while prof. Sundar Raman, who attended the first session of the congress suggested that Hume’s original idea was to rouse the conscience of the people of England by carrying on a persistent agitatin in Britain. Dr. N.L. Chatterjee has given another reason which prompted Hume to establish on All India political organization.
He asserts that the congress was established, in fact as a precautionary move against an apprehended Russian invasion of India. Dr. Chatterjee finds for his view in the address of. W. Wedderburn as president of the congress.
It has also been hinted by certain writers that Hume wanted to take ‘the steam out of Surendra Nath Beaneijee’s ship by starting a parallel organization and took care to associate with it only moderate and loyal elements’. S.N. Banerjee and the leaders of Calcutta were certaibly more radicals as compared to the early leaders of the congress and Hume, therefore desired to keep the strings of the political activity in his hands and not allow it to drift under the control of more radicaleaders who could trouble the British adminstrators.
It resulted in convening of the congress without the knowledge of the calcutta leaders. Because of the same reason, probably, S.N. Banerjee was not invited of attend the first session of the congress though he had already assumed the role of an eminent leader in Indian politics.
All these opinions support the view that one of the primary objects of Hume in founding the congress was to provide an outlet-‘a safety valve’ for the British rule in India. Hume himself accepted it. He expressed. ‘A safety valve for the escape of great and growing forces generated by our own action was urgently needed”.
However, it is not certain that it was because of the advice of Lord Dufferin or fear of Russian attack or the necessity of outdoing the efforts of S.N. Banerjee. The ‘safety valve’ theory is, in fact, a small part of the truth. Lord Dufferin disowned every responsibility in founding of the congress, the view of Dr. Chatterjee that the congress was founded as a precautionary move against impending Russian invasion needs further positive evidences, and the view that the necessity of foundaing the congress arose with the view to out do efforts of S.N Banerjee and Calcutta leaders explains only a partial truth.
The fact is that Hume as well as many other english officials felt that in absence of an All India political organization, the Indian national movement, probably, would grow on violent methods and therefore, desired to provide a peaceful and constitutional outlet to the discontent of the Indians, particularly the educated among them, by founding the congress. It. of course thus meant a safety-valve. But more than that it was the urge of the politically conscious Indians to work for the political and economic advancement of their country which prompted the founding of the congress in 1885.
Even Hume was moved by motives nobler than those of the ‘safety valve.’ He possessed a sincere love for India and had a mystical faith in the destiny of the Indian race and of its future greatness and spiritual superiority. Therefore, he was genuinely interested in the welfare of the Indian people.
The Indian leaders who cooperated with Hume in starting the congress were also patriots and men of high character. They were guided by the motives of the welfare of their country. -They willingly accepted Hume’s help in funding such an organization as they did not want to arouse official hostility towards their efforts at so early a stage of political activity.
Programme, Policies, Ideology and Techniques of Political Work of Early Nationalists. The Indian National Union, formed by Hume, decided to hold a conference at Poona from 25th to 31st December, 1885 and issued circular letters to this effect to leading associations and politicians of India. On account of outbreak of cholera in Poona, the venue of the conference was shifted to Bombay.
The new political body was named the ‘Indian National Congress’. Its first session was held on December 28, 1885 and Womesh chandra Banerjee was elected as its president. The congress started with every mild objective and having complete faith in the honesty and sincerity of its-British masters.
It was not intended to be a political party like the liberal or conservative parties in England. Hume, who inspired its birth, desired its functioning on the model of the Irish Home Rule movement which sought autonomy in internal affairs but was willing to accept British control.
Hume found no inconsistency between working for national regeneration of the Indian people and accepting an enlightened imperialism from which the Indian people could benefit.
Almost all leaders of the congress in its early phase believed the same. Therefore, the congress remained strictly loyal to the British connections and its methods of agitating were purely constitutional. The early aims of the congress which appeared in its annual reports were as follows.
(1) The fusion in to one national whole of all the different and often discordant elements that constitute the population of India.
(2) The gradual regeneration along all lines mental, moral-social and political-of the nation thus evolved.
(3) The consolidation of the union between England and India by securing the modification of such of its conditions as may be unjust or injurious to the latter country.
Thus, the major tasks of the congress were to educate the people politically and to work by political means for a general improvement in their economic and political condition.
The idea of Indian nationalism was also limited of that stage. It was tied to British connections. While its techniques, the submission of memorials and petitions and the inclusion of the nationalist ideas, were equally to remain within the legal limits allowed by the constitutional frame work provided by the British.
The attitude of the congress at that time was, thus, very humble and mild. Jim Masselos writes “The general feeling was that Indians had not as yet learned or obtained all they could from the British, they would be great again and they would be independent perhaps, but this lay, according to accepted lowest common denominator congress ideology, in the distant future.”
In its first session, the congress discussed and passed nine resolutions. The more important among them were placed in the forms of demands to the government of India. They were follows:
(1) Appointment of a commission to inquire in to the working of Indian administration.
(2) Abolotion of the India council of the secretary of state for India. .
(3) Creation of Legilative councils of the north-west provinces and Avadh and the Punjab.
(4) Enhancement of the number of elected members in the central and provincial legislative councils with the right of interpellation and discussion of budgets, and the creation of a standing committee in the House of Commons to consider formal protests from majorities in the councils.
(5) Reduction of military expenditure and its equitable division between India and England.
(6) Introduction of simultaneous public service examinations in England and India and the rising of the age of candidates.
These demands of the congress remained the firm basis of its demands even in the future upto 1905, there was no fundamental departure in these aims of the congress though certainly these were further elaborated and broadened gradually.
The congress fixed its programme accordingly. Its programme, during its early phase can be studied under the following heads
1. Constitutional Reforms:
The early nationalists simply desired a larger share in the governance of the country by the Indians. They did not think of complete independence for the country. For them, it was neither feasible nor desirable. Therefore, they demanded larger number of elected representatives in the Legislative Councils both at the centre and the provinces and enhancement of their powers particularly control over public purse.
In 1904, the congress even demanded representation of Indians in the British House of Commons. It also asked for Indian representation in the India Council of London and in the executive councils at the centre and the provinces of Bombay and Madras.
They desired it because they believed that it would give the Indians the desirable training in the area of self- government and the Government would also be benefited by the advice of the Indians representatives in the councils. It was only when the reforms of 1892 failed to satisfy them and the Government exhibited its apathy towards further reforms that they claimed for swarajya or self-Government within the British empire on the model of self-governing colonies like Australia and Canada. This demand was made from the congress platform by Gokhale in 1905 and by Dadabhai Naoroji in 1906.
2. Economic Reforms:
The Indian nationalists, by that time, had become aware of the poverty of the country, its causes, the drain of wealth from the country and also its economic backwarness. The nationalists blamed the British for the destruction of Indian indigenous industries, failure of modern industry and agriculture to grow, unfavourable conditions imposed by government in matters concerning commerce and the huge drain of wealth from.
India to Britain which all had led to the extreme poverty of the Indian people. Therefore, they asked the Government to stop the Drain of Wealth from India, promote modem industries, check unfavourable balance of trade through the policy of protective tariffs, reduce the land revenue, abolish salt-tax and reduce the military expenditure, more than anything else, the economic exploitation and impoverisment of the country and the perpeturation of its economic backwardness, convinced the early nationalists that the British government was not sincere and just and therefore, they gradually lost faith in it which, ultimately, resulted in the rise of extremism within the congress.
That is why the idea of Swadeshi i.e. Boycott of British goods and use of Indian goods was propounded and practised by them. The students in Poona and in other towns of Maharashtra publicly burnt foreign clothes in 1896 and movement of swadeshi was accepted as a part of protests against the partition of Bengal in 1905.
3. Administrative and Other Reforms:
Years after years, the congress passed resolutions, protesting against the abuses and urging for reforms in the various branches of administration. The resolution for separation of the executive and Judiciary was passed by it not less than ten times between 1886 and 1906.
It discarded the reactionary policy of the government concerning the Local self government particularly the passing of the Calcutta corporation act. The early nationalists demanded trial by jury and acceptance of the right of the people to bear arms. They urged the government to undertake and develop public welfare schemes.
They asked for increased facilities for primary, technical and higher education. They sought the development of agricultural banks, better facilities for irrigation, extension of health and medical facilities and improvement in the police system. They also raised their voice against the exploitation of Indian labourers who had been working in plantations in India and also in favour of those who had gone to foreign countries like South Africa.
Malaya, the West-Indies, etc. But the most important administrative reform, the nationalist desired at that time was Indianisation of the services. The congress was insitent in its demands for holding simultaneous examinations in London and India for recruitment to the civil services and rising the maximum age for competitions.
4. Defence of Civil Rights:
The early nationalist leaders recognised the value of the freedom of press and speech, the right to organize public and political body’s and. therefore, opposed all attempts to curtail them.
Thus, during this period, the early nationalists guarded the interest of the Indians in practically all walks of life of course, having no power to coerce the government, they failed to obtain the desired results. But they never failed to record their emphatic protest against any measure likely to adversely affect the interest of the Indians.
Techniques of the Early Nationalists:
The congress, between the period 1885-1905, was dominated by the leaders who have been described as moderates. Prominent among them were Dadabhai Naoroji, Badruddin Tyabji, Pherozshah Mehta. Surendranath Banerjee, Ramesh Chandra Datt, Anand Mohan Ghose, Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
Mahadev Govind Ranade, Motilal Ghosh, Madan Mohan Malavia, G. Subramaniya Iyer, Dinshaw E. Wacha, B.G Tilak etc most of these leaders believed in constitutional agitation and even those who did not believe in it, preferred to adhere to it as a measure of expediency.
Besides many of them genuinely believed that the continuation of political connection with Britain was beneficial to India at that time and. therefore, none asked for severing those connections.