While Surendranath Banerjea was busy in organizing the conference at Calcutta, a retired British official- Allan Octavian Hume, convened a meeting at Bombay. In this, he received the cooperation of the important Indian leaders. The meeting was held at the Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College from 18-31 December 1885. This became the Indian National Congress. It was presided over by Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee and attended by seventy-two delegates representing all parts of India. The Congress was attended by such eminent leaders as Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, S Subramania Iyer, Dinshaw Wacha, Kashinath Trimbak Telang, P Ananda Charlu, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, M Veeraraghavachariar, G Subramania Iyer, N G Chandavarkar and Rahmatullah Sayani.
The Indian National Congress was founded by A O Hume with a selfish motive. He wanted to create a forum which was under the supervision of the British and which should let the British government know the demands of the Indian people. He wanted to prevent another nationwide outbreak like the one that took place in AD 1857.
The Congress had very modest beginnings. It held its sessions all over India once a year, usually in the month of December. In its early years, many Englishmen were associated with it. Some of them were men like George Yule, William Weddeerburn, Alfred Webb and Henry Cotton. In its early years, the main objectives of the Congress were:
1. To bring together leaders from all parts of the country.
2. To remove prejudices of race, religion and region.
3. To discuss problems relating to India.
4. To chalk out an action plan to get concessions from the British.
The Moderate Phase (AD 1885-1905)
During the first twenty years of the Congress, the moderate nationalists or the Moderates, as they were called, dominated the party. Some of the moderate leaders were Surendranath Banerjea, Dinshaw Wacha, Pherozseshah Mehta and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. The Moderates believed in sending petitions and resolutions to the British government asking for:
1. Freedom of speech and expression.
2. Expansion of welfare programmes.
3. Promotion of education.
4. Reduction of land revenue.
5. Recruitment of Indians to high posts in the administration.
6. More powers for the Legislative Councils and more Indian members in these Councils.
7. Holding the Civil Services exams in India as well.
8. Change in the economic priorities of the government so as to benefit Indian industries.
9. Reduction of government expenditure on administration.
10. End of the drain of India’s wealth to Britain.
Most of the Moderates came from the English speaking upper classes of society. They believed in constitutional methods for getting their demands accepted. They believed that since their demands were moderate, they would be accepted by the government. They hoped that by peaceful methods of persuasion, they would be able to get their demands accepted.
British Attitude towards the Congress
Initially, British attitude towards the Congress was favourable. Some British officials even attended Congress sessions. However, very soon it changed and the British turned hostile towards it. They began to openly criticize the Congress. They realized that instead of becoming a means of containing the anger of the masses, it had become the focus of Indian nationalism. In order to break the Congress unity, they also started practicing the policy of Divide and Rule. Muslims began to be dissuaded from participating in the activities of the Congress. These tactics of opposition, however, failed the national movement continued to grow powerful.
New Trends in the Congress
The closing years of the nineteenth century AD was a period of great misery for the Indians. Famines struck in large parts of India causing lakhs of deaths. The repressive policies of the government also intensified. And the failure of the Moderates to do anything constructive brought forth new trends within the Congress.
A new leadership arose within the ranks of the Congress. Three of these new leaders were Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai. These leaders felt that the moderate ways of the Congress were inefficient and impractical to achieve anything. They called for strong political action such as strikes and boycotts. Through nationalist publications and popular festivals, they tried to spread political awakening and patriotic feelings among the people. Bal Gangadhar Tilak called for the attainment of Swaraj. He declared- “Swaraj is my birthright and I must have it”. The newspapers, Kesari, became the mouthpiece of the new group of leaders. Soon, this newly emergent trend came to dominate the Congress and with it the national movement.
In the first twenty years of its existence, the greatest achievement of the Congress was that it created a platform from where people could speak with one voice. In the beginning, it was an organization of the educated and the privileged members of society. But gradually, the middle classes, the farmers and the workers also became a part of it and the national movement.