Right from 1757 when the foundation stone of the British Empire India was laid at Plassey with the victory of Clive, the people of this country had been weathering many storms of foreign attacks and internal dissensions.
The misfortune imposed on the Indians by the British conquest was far greater than any of their previous misfortunes. The British rule in India began with treachery and intrigues. Discontent first burst out among the poorer and working class people like tribal and the peasants. In many cases these poor people were given leadership mainly by disposed chieftains and land holder.
The actual era of resistance to the British regime in India began with Mir Kasim, the Nawab of Bengal, who first raised his voice and then sword to suppress the high-handedness of the officers of the Company in the matter of trade and commerce. He abolished all internal trade duties in Bengal business promulgating a Farman. The result was the Battle of Buxar of 1764. Although defeated, Kasim endeavored to organise forces against the British as long as he was alive. In the South, the forces of nationalism were kept alive by Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan.
Their anti-British struggle was carried on by their distant successors even in 20th century. Apart from this indigenous ruling class, the toiling poor also kept the resistance alive against the British paramountacy in various parts of India. The uprisings of the Chuars, Bheels, Kols, Santals, Jats and numerous other tribal groups are glaring examples of such anti-British movements.
British policies encouraged an influx of Zamindars, their representatives and money lenders into the tribal areas. These sections of the people exploited the tribals with the backing of the British. Vats sections of the tribal people were reduced landless laborers and bonded serfs. In course of time the tribals were reduced to such abject poverty, that they had no other alternative than to rise in arms.
The rising of Santals in 1855 and the indigo cultivators in 1859 and the Maratha peasants threatened the British imperialism in India. Between 1757 and 1857 a large portion of these revolts was led by petty rulers, tribal chiefs in hill regions and local landed military officers called pillagers in south India. They were supported by peasants and soldiers. The main object of these revolts was complete annihilation or expulsion of the British in India.
The Revolt of 1857 was a turning point in the freedom struggle in India. Though it was crushed by the British, the anger against alien domination began to grow rapidly. Although the British suppressed the revolt, the spirit of freedom could not be suppressed.
Instead the Indians were further inspired to carry on their struggle. It was since the Revolt of 1857 that the educated middle class people began to emerge in society with prestige and power and their role dawned the fulfillment of the further nationalist aspiration in the country.
Educated Indians were totally unaware of their glorious past. A few European Scholars like Sir William Jones, Maxmuller, Colebrooke, Monier Williams, Winternitz, Keith and Wilson and some Indian scholars like Ram Mohan Roy and Rajendra Lal Mitra unfurled before the educated Indians the rich heritage of India. This revelation of India’s past roused the feeling of self confidence, patriotism and nationalism among the people of India.
Influence of foreign national movements
Educated Indians were highly inspired by the success of freedom movements in foreign countries. The ideas and events associated with the American Revolution and the French Revolution of the 18th century and the success of the Italian freedom movement and the Greek War of Independence during the 19th century A.D. profoundly impressed the English educated Indians.
According to R.C. Majumdar, “The strong current of nationalist ideas which passed over the whole of Europe during the 19th century, must have stimulated the growth of nationalism in India”.
All these above factors had the cumulative effect in generating a strong current of nationalism throughout India during the early part of the 20th century.