The 1870s it was evident that Indian nationalism had gathered enough momentum to appear as a major force on the Indian political scene.
The Indian National Congress, founded in December 1885, was first organised expression of the Indian national movement India scale. It had, however, many predecessors.
As we have seen in an earlier chapter, Raja Rammohun Roy was first Indian leader to start an agitation for political reforms in India. Many public associations were started in different parts of India after 1836.
All these associations were dominated by wealthy and aristocratic elements known in those days as ‘prominent persons’ and were provincial or local in character.
They worked for reform of administration, association of Indians with the administration, and spread of education, and sent long petitions, putting forward Indian demands, to the British Parliament.
The period after 1858 witnessed a gradual widening of the gulf between the educated Indians and the British Indian administration.
As educated Indians studied the character of British rule and its consequences for India, they became more and more critical of British policies in India.
The discontent gradually found expression in political activity. The existing associations no longer satisfied the politically conscious Indians.
In 1866, Dadabhai Naoroji organised the East India Association in London to discuss the Indian question and to influence British public officials to promote Indian welfare.
Later he organised branches of the Association in prominent Indian cities. Born in 1825, Dadabhai devoted his entire life to the national movement and soon came to be known as the ‘Grand Old Man of India’.
He was also India’s first economic thinker. In his writings on economics he showed that the basic cause of India’s poverty lay in the British exploitation of India and the drain of its wealth.
Dadabhai was honored by being thrice elected president of the Indian National Congress. In fact he was the first of the long line of popular nationalist leader’s of India whose very name stirred the hearts of the people.
The most important of the pre-Congress nationalist organisations was the Indian Association of Calcutta. The younger nationalists of Bengal had been gradually getting discontented with the conservative and pro-landlord policies of the British India Association.
They wanted sustained political agitation on issues of wider public interest. They found a leader in Surendranath Banerjea who was a brilliant writer and orator.
He was unjustly turned out of the Indian Civil Service as his superiors could not tolerate the presence of an independent-minded Indian in the ranks of this service.
He began his public career in 1875 by delivering brilliant addresses on nationalist topics to the students of Calcutta. Led by Surendranath an Ananda Mohan Bose, the younger nationalists of Bengal founder the Indian Association in July 1876.
The Indian Association set before, itself the aims of creating strong public opinion in the country on political questions and the unification of the Indian people under a common political programme.
In order to attract large numbers of people to its banner, it fixed a low membership fee for the poorer classes. Many branches of the Association were opened in the towns and villages of Bengal and also in many towns outside Bengal.
The younger elements were also active in other parts of India. Justice Ranade and others organised the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha in 1870.
M. Viraraghavachari, G. Subramaniya Iyer, Ananda Charlu and others formed the Madras Mahajan Sabha in 1884. Pherozeshah Mehta, K.T. Telang, Badruddin Tyabji and others formed the Bombay Presidency Association in 1885.
The time was now ripe for the formation of an all-India political organisation of nationalists who felt the need to unite politically against the common enemy foreign rule and exploitation.
The existing organisations had served a useful purpose but they were narrow in their scope and functioning. They dealt mostly with local questions and their membership and leadership were confined to a few people belonging to a single city or province. Even the Indian Association had not succeeded in becoming an all-India body.