Rise of Nationalism/Indian National Congress (INC)

Evolution and Growth of Nationalism Indian National Congress

Rise of Nationalism

• The latter half of the 19th century witnessed the rise and growth of Indian Nationalism and from then onwards an organised national movement started in India.
• The year 1885 marks the beginning of a new epoch in Indian history. In that year All Indian Political Organization was set on foot under the name of the Indian National Congress.
• The Indian mind became increasingly conscious of its political position.
• Indian masses, under the National congress fought one of the longest non-violent (to some extent violent also) struggle to get their freedom on 15th August 1947.

The following causes were responsible for the origin and growth of nationalism in India:

Political Unity: For the first time, most of the regions in India were united politically and administratively under a single power (the British rule). It introduced a uniform system of law and government.
Development of Communication and Transport: The introduction of railways, telegraphs and postal services and the construction of roads and canals facilitated communication among the people. All these brought Indians nearer to each other and provided the facility to organise the national movement on an all India basis.
• English Language and Western Education: The English language played an important role in the growth of nationalism in the country. The English educated Indians, who led the national movement, developed Indian nationalism and organised it. Western education facilitated the spread of the concepts of liberty, equality, freedom and nationalism and sowed the seeds of nationalism.
• The Role of the Press: The Indian Press, both English and vernacular, had also aroused the national consciousness.
• Social and Religious Movements of the Nineteenth Century: The leaders of various organisations like the Brahmo Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, Arya Samaj, and Theosophical Society generated a feeling of regard for and pride in the motherland.
• Economic Exploitation by the British: A good deal of anti-British feeling was created by the economic policy pursued by the British government in India. The English systematically ruined the Indian trade and native industries. Therefore, economic exploitation by the British was one of the most important causes for the rise of Indian nationalism.
• Racial Discrimination: The Revolt of 1857 created a kind of permanent bitterness and suspicion between the British and the Indians. The English feeling of racial superiority grew. India as a nation and Indians as individuals were subjected to insults, humiliation and contemptuous treatment.
• Administration of Lytton: Lord Lytton arranged the Delhi Durbar at a time when the larger part of India was in the grip of famine. He passed the Vernacular Press Act which curbed the liberty of the Indian Press. His Arms Act was a means to prevent the Indians from keeping arms. All these measures created widespread discontent among the Indians.
• The Ilbert Bill controversy: The Ilbert Bill was presented in the Central Legislature during the Viceroyalty of Lord Ripon. The Bill tried to remove racial inequality between Indian and European judges in courts. This Bill was opposed by the British residents in India. Ultimately the Bill was modified.
• Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first Indian leader to start an agitation for political reforms in India.
• After 1836, there was rise of many political associations in various parts of India.
• All these associations were headed by ‘elites’ and were regional and local.
• What distinguished these new political associations from earlier religions and caste associations of the country were the secular interest that bonded together the new classes.
• 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 earliest public association in modern India was the Landholders’ Society – an association of the landlords of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, founded in 1837 with the purpose of promoting the class interests of the landlords.
• In 1843, was organised the Bengal British Indian Society to protect and promote general public interests.
• Landholders’ Society and Bengal British Indian Society were merged in 1851 to form the British India Association.
• This association was dominated by members of the landed aristocracy and its primary objective was safeguarding their class interest.
• However, the Association struck a liberal note and when the time came for the renewal of the charter of the East India Company, it sent a petition to the Parliament praying for establishment of a separate legislature of a popular character, separation of judicial and executive functions, reduction in the salaries of higher officers, abolition of salt duty, abkari and stamp duties etc.
• The prayers of the Association were partially met and the Charter Act of 1853 provided for the addition of six members to the governor-general’s council for legislative purpose.
• Similarly, the Madras Native Association and the Bombay Association were established in 1852.
• Similar, though lesser known clubs and associations, such as the Scientific Society founded by Sayyid Ahmad Khan, were established in different towns and parts of the country.
• The period after 1858 witnessed a gradual widening of the gulf between the educated Indians and the British Indian administration.
• As the educated Indians studied the character of British rule and its consequences for the Indians, they became more and more critical of British policies in India.
• The discontent gradually found expression in political activity and 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 men to promote Indian welfare. Later he organised branches of the Association in prominent Indian cities.
• Two other Associations namely National Indian Association, founded by Mary Carpenter in 1867 and Indian Society, founded by Anandmohan Bose in 1872 were also formed in London.
• Justice Ranade and others organised the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha in the 1870. The Poona Sarvajanik Sabha brought out a quarterly journal under the guidance of Justice Ranade. This journal became the intellectual guide of new India particularly on economic questions.
• The Madras Mahajan Sabha was started in 1881 and the Bombay Presidency Association in 1885. The Bombay Presidency Association was organized by the popularly called brothers in law – Mehtas, Telang and Tyabji, representing the three chief communities of Bombay town. These organisations were mainly devoted to criticism of important administrative and legislative measures.
• Sisir Kumar Ghose founded the Indian league in 1875 with the objective of “stimulating the sense of nationalism amongst the people” and of encouraging political education. Within a year of its foundation, the Indian league was superseded by the Indian Association.

The Indian Association

• The most important of the pre-Congress nationalist organization 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.
• Led by Surendranath and Anandamohan Bose, the younger nationalists of Bengal founded the Indian Association in July 1876.
• The Indian Association set before itself the aims of creating a strong public opinion in the country on political questions and the unification of the Indian people on 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.
• The first major issue it took up for agitation was the reform of the Civil Service regulations and the raising of the age limit for its examination, Surendranath Banerjee toured different parts of the country during 1877-78 in an effort to create an all-India public opinion on this question.
• The Indian Association also carried out agitation against the Arms Act and the Vernacular Press Act and in favour of protection of the tenants from oppression by the zamindars.
• During 1883-85 it organised popular demonstrations of thousands of peasants to get the Rent Bill changed in favour of the tenants.
• It also agitated for better conditions of work for the workers in the English-owned tea plantations where conditions of near-slavery prevailed.
• Many branches of the Association were opened in the towns and villages of Bengal and also in many towns outside Bengal.
• The existing organizations 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-Indian body.
• The Indian Association sponsored an all-India National Conference at Calcutta in December 1883. This Conference was attended by several leaders from outside Bengal. It adopted a programme very similar to the one adopted by the Indian National Congress with which it merged in 1886.

Indian National Congress (INC)

• The credit for organizing the first meeting of the Indian National Congress goes to a retired government servant A.O. Hume.
• He was on very good terms with Lord Ripon and shared his view that the emergence of the educated class should be accepted as a political reality and that timely steps should be taken to provide legitimate outlets to the grievances of this class and efforts be made to satisfy its ambitions.
• He got in touch with prominent Indian leaders and organised with their cooperation the first session of the Indian National Congress at Gokul Singh Tejpal Sanskrit School, Bombay in Decemeber 1885. It was presided over by W.C. Banerjee and attended by 72 delegates.

The aims and objects of the Congress described in the first session as:

• Promotion of personal intimacy and friendship amongst the countrymen,
• Eradication of all possible prejudices relating to race, creed or provinces,
• Consolidation of sentiments of national unity,
• Recording of the opinions of educated classes on pressing problems of the day, and
• Laying down lines for future course of action in public interest.
• This organization initially fought for reforms in the country, and subsequently for the freedom of India from the foreign yoke.
• The history of the Indian National Movement can be categorized in three important phases:

• The phase of 1885-1904; Phase of moderate nationalism when the Congress continued to be loyal to the British crown.
• The phase of 1905-1917; Swadeshi Movement, rise of militant nationalism and the Home Rule Movement.
• The phase of 1918-1947; Known as the Gandhian era.


• The Indian National Congress founded in 1885, provided common platform for the nationalist leaders to meet & voice their grievances & place their demands before the British government.
• The early leaders of the Indian National Congress were Dadabhai Naoroji, M.G. Ranade, Sir P.M. Mehta, G.K. Gokhale, W.C. Banerjee & S.N. Banerjee.
• They were staunch believers in liberalism and Moderate politics.
• They came from the upper strata and were the product of western education.
• The moderates had a fascination for British Parliamentary institutions.
• They were reformers and believed in the British justice.
• They wanted a balanced and lucid presentation of their needs before the Englishmen and their parliament.
• They used the methods of constitutional agitation.
• They believed that their main task was to educate the people in modern politics & arouse national consciousness, create a united public opinion on political questions.
• They hold public meetings; they passed resolutions setting forth popular demands, and sent petitions to the British authorities in India and to the parliament in England.
• The moderates believed that the British were unaware of the real conditions of India.
• They therefore made all efforts to enlighten the British public opinion through memorials, petitions and political propaganda in England.
• The Moderates considered the coming of the British as beneficial and providential.
• They wanted to use the British in their attempts to reform contemporary Indian society.
• The early nationalist leaders did not expect the Congress to function as a political party.
• A.O. Hume wanted it to function on the model of the Irish Home Rule League, which sought autonomy in internal affairs under the British suzerainty. Thus, the Western concept of self-government, was the political goal of the moderates. This goal was to be achieved through a gradual process.

Opinion Against Economic Exploitation

• The Moderates linked the poverty in India to the economic exploitation of the country by the British.
• Dadabhi Naoroji pointed out the root cause of India’s poverty & traced it to the drain of India’s wealth.
• The Moderates suggested the development of modern industry as a remedy for the eradication of poverty.
• They popularized the concept of swadeshi as a means of promoting Indian industries.
• They carried on agitation for the reduction in land revenue and asked for a radical change in the existing pattern of taxation & expenditure.
• They urged the government to provide cheap credit to the peasants through agricultural banks and to make available large scale irrigation facilities.
• They demanded improvement in the condition of plantation laborers, abolition of salt tax & other taxes.
• They were critical of the high government expenditure on the army that was employed in Asia & Africa.

Administrative Reforms

• The Moderates demanded for increasing Indianization of administrative services; criticized the oppressive & tyrannical behavior of the police & government officials towards the common people and demanded the separation of the executive from the judiciary.
• They opposed the official policy of disarming the people.
• They emphasized the need for the spread of education, extension of medical facilities to the people, improvement of the public system and demanded freedom of speech & abolition of press censorship.

Constitutional Reforms

• They were also extremely cautious, lest the Government suppress their activities. From 1885 to 1892 they demanded the expansion and reform of the Legislative councils.
• The British Government was forced by their agitation to pass the Indian Councils Act of 1892. By this Act the number of members of the imperial Legislative Council as well as the provincial councils was increased. Some of these members could be elected indirectly by Indians, but the officials’ majority remained.
• The nationalists were totally dissatisfied with the Act of 1892 and declared it to be a hoax.
• By the beginning of the 20th century, the nationalist leaders advanced further and put forward the claim for swarajya of 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.


• The Moderates lacked confidence in the masses.
• They came from the cities and were sympathetic towards the people of the country side but could not keep close contact with them.
• They did not realize that a prolonged struggle against imperialism could be waged through a mass movement only.
• The Moderates apprehended that if they led a mass movement, the British Government would easily break the Congress. The Moderates, therefore, did not organize a mass movement on a large scale.


• The Moderates were the most progressive in Indian society at that time and they were true patriots.
• They desired all-round progress and modernization of India and wished the betterment of the Indian society.
• The Moderates succeeded in creating a wide political awakening in India and arousing among the Indians the feeling of belonging to one common nation.
• They popularized the ideas of democracy & civil liberty.
• They also trained a large number of political workers in the art of modern politics.
• In spite of their loyalty to the British crown, they exposed the true character of the British imperialism in India and blamed British rule for the poverty of the Indian people.

THE EXTREMIST (1905-1920)

• The younger group of nationalists in the Indian national Congress, led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal; was known as the Extremist Congress.
• This group was extremely critical of the ideology and methodology of the Moderate leadership.
• They believed in radical programmes for the attainment of their demands.
• According to the extremists the Moderates with their elitist background did not succeed in making any effective impact on the masses.

Reasons for the Rise of Extremists

• The failure of the Moderates to win any notable success other than the expansion of the legislative councils by the Indian Councils Act (1892).
• The famine and plague of 1896-97 which affected the whole country and the suffering of the masses.
• The economic conditions of the people became worse.
• The ill-treatment of Indians in South Africa on the basis of colour.
• The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 in which Japan defeated the European power Russia. This encouraged Indians to fight against the European nation, Britain.
• Other then above mentioned causes the viceroyalty of Curzon & his reactionary policies contributed to the rise of extremist movement.
• Curzon considered that the main objective of his mission was to strengthen the roots of the British empire in India
• He curtailed the number of Indians in the Calcutta Corporation & increased the official control over the Indian universities in the name of educational reforms.
• He spent Indian money lavishly on foreign missions, the Delhi Durbar and the Tibetan expedition.
• Curzon’s highhanded action forcing the partition of Bengal against the will of the people, earned unpopularity & alienated the educated classes from the British rule.

Course of Action

• Consequently, the extremist leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Aurobindo Ghosh advocated stronger agitation and mass action.
• The extremists differed in ideology and action from the moderates. They rejected prayer and petition method of moderates.
• The new leadership sought to create a passionate love for liberty, accompanied by a spirit of sacrifice and readyness to suffer for the cause of country.
• They advocated boycott of foreign goods, use of swadesi goods, national education and passive resistance.
• They had deep faith in mass and they planned to achieve swaraj through mass action.
• The leaders of this wing gave up the soft approach of appeals and petitions.
• Instead, they made radical demands and adopted strong ways of political agitation.
• They had no faith in good intentions of the British government. The extremist aimed at achiveing ‘swaraj’ that meant complete independence from British rule.
• They considered that the demand of the moderate leaders for Swaraj was for colonial self government.
• Tilak remarked, ‘Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it’.
• Aurobindo Ghosh said “political freedom is the life breath of a nation”.
• The most outstanding leader among the Extremists was Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He started a school & founded two newspapers, the Maratha in English and the Kesari in Marathi. Both the newspapers, by their fearless criticism of the government attained great popularity.
• In 1890, Tilak opposed the Age of Consent Bill, on the ground that a foreign government had no right to interfere with Hindu religion and social matters and in 1893, also sponsored the cow-protection movement.
• Tilak reorganized the festival of Ganapati, and started the Shivaji festival to revive the spirit of adventure & liberate the country from foreign domination.
• Tilak advised the peasants to withhold payment of land revenues when their crops failed because of draught or famine. He called for Swadeshi and boycott of British goods.


• The differences between the Moderates & the Extremists were that the moderates were against the idea of boycott as a general political weapon, though they welcomed swadeshi.
• G.K. Gokhale recommended the use of the word swadeshi to describe the anti partition movement.
• These differences centred round two main points, namely the political goal and the method to achieve it.
• As regards the goal, Tilak summed up his idea in one sentence ‘Swaraj is my birth right and I will have it’.
• The Extremists interpreted Swaraj to mean complete autonomy without any dependence on the British rule. But G.K. Gokhale, did not expect that. He said that there was no alternative to British rule, for a long time to come.
• The differences between the Moderates and the Extremists had become irreconcilable and in 1906 the Calcutta Congress proposed the name of Tilak for the Presidents of the Congress. However, the moderates opposed this proposal.
• A split was avoided by choosing Dadabhai Naoroji; under his president ship four compromise resolutions on Swadeshi, boycott, national education, and self-government demands were passed.
• In 1907, the annual session of the Congress proposed to be held at Nagpur, which was considered as the Extremist stronghold. However, due to the Moderates, the venue was shifted to Surat.
• The final showdown between the two factions in the Congress was staged at Surat. The Extremists wanted Lala Lajpat Rai as the president of the Congress. However, the Moderates chose Rashbehari Ghose as the president.
• The Surat Congress of 1907 ended in a split between the Moderates and the extremists led by Gokhale and Tilak respectively.