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The Origin and Growth of the Indian National Congress!

Many Indians were planning to establish an all India organization of nationalist political
workers. But the credit for organizing the first meeting of the Indian National Congress
goes to A.O. Hume, who was a retired English Civil Servant.
He was of the view that the emergence of educated class should be accepted as a political
reality and that timely steps should be taken to provide the right channel to the expression
of the grievances of this class. He believed that efforts must be made to satisfy the
ambitions of this class.
Lord Rippon also shared with his views. A.O. Hume strenuously consolidated the
network of contacts, which he established. In Mumbai, he met and discussed with the
leaders, who were influential in the presidency, the program of political action to be
adopted by the educated Indians. On 1 March 1883, A.O. Hume addressed students of
Calcutta University urging them to form an association for the mental, moral, social, and
political regeneration of the people of India.
One of the main aims of Hume is facilitating the establishment of the National Congress
to offer an outlet “a safety valve” to the rising popular dissatisfaction against the British
rule. As Hume put it: “A safety valve for the escape of great and growing
The “safety valve” theory is, however, a small part of the truth. More than anything else,
the National Congress represented the urge of the politically conscious Indians to set up a
national organization to work for their political and economic advancement. As already
noted, national movement was growing in the country as a result of the working of
powerful forces.
The Indian leaders, who cooperated with Hume in starting this National Congress, were
patriotic men of high character, who willingly accepted Hume’s help as they did not want
to arouse official hostility towards their efforts at such an early stage of political activity.
The efforts of A.O. Hume yielded results and he organized the first session of the Indian
National Congress at Bombay in December, 1885. It was presided over by Womesh
Chandra Banerjee of Bengal and attended by 72 delegates. W.C. Banerjee was one of the
first ever Indian barristers and one of the foremost legal luminaries of the day, his
election established a healthy precedent that the president should be chosen from a
province other than the one in which the Congress was being held.
Thus, with the foundation of the National Congress in 1885, the struggle for India’s
freedom from foreign rule was launched in a small but organized manner. The national
movement was to grow and the country and its people were to know no rest till freedom
was won.
Moderates were the group of congressmen who dominated the affairs of the Congress
from 1885 to 1905. They belonged to a class which was Indian in blood and colour, but
British in tastes, opinions, morals and intellect. They were the supporters of British
institutions. They believed that what India needed was a balanced and lucid presentation
of her needs before the Englishmen and their Parliament and their demands were bound
to be satisfied. They had faith in the British sense of justice and fair-play. India's
connection with the West through England was considered to be a boon and not a curse.

The Moderates believed in loyalty to the British crown. This fact is clearly brought out by
the statements made from time to time by the Moderate leaders. The Moderates relied
upon the solemn pledges given by the British Government to the people of India from
time to time and the Queen's Proclamation of 1858 was one of them.
The Indian National Congress was completely under the control of moderate leaders
during 1885-1905. In the initial years, the Congress leaders did not want the Congress to
function as political party .They simply sought autonomy in internal affairs under the
British suzerainty. They expressed their immense faith in the sincerity of the British gov-
They wanted that the Congress should work within the constitutional limits. The
Congress proceedings were organized in the most orderly and efficient manner. A strict
parliamentary procedure was observed in moving, discussing, and passing the
During the early years, the moderates pleaded for introduction of policies, which would
transform India economically, socially, and politically. The moderates appealed for self-
rule for India. They favored gradual reforms and their demands also remained moderate.
The means chosen by them to achieve the ends were very well within the constitutional
limits. In the initial phase, the educated middle class dominated the National Congress.
Early Congressmen had an absolute faith in the effectiveness of peaceful and
constitutional agitation.
The holding of the annual session of the Congress was a significant method of its
propaganda. The Congress leaders had trust in the essential sense of justice and kindness
of the British nation. But, they were all under illusion that the British rule in India would
be beneficial. So, their aim was to educate Indian public and make it conscious of its
The National Congress took pride in the British connection and regarded the British
government not as an antagonist, but as an ally. The Moderate Congress leaders were
aware of the fact that India was a nation in the making. They had consistently worked for
the development and consolidation of the idea of national unity irrespective of region,
religion, or caste.
They made a modest beginning in this direction by promoting close contacts and friendly
relations among the people from different parts of the country. The economic and
political demands of the moderates were structured with a view to unify the Indian people
on the basis of a common political program.
The Rise of Extremism:
The closing decade of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth century
witnessed the emergence of a new and younger group within the Indian National
Congress, which was sharply critical of the ideology and the methods of the old
These “angry young men” advocated the adoption of Swaraj as the goal of the Congress
to be achieved by more self-reliant and independent methods. The new group came to be
called the Extremist party in contrast to the older one, which began to be referred to as
the Moderate party.
From 1905 onwards, the moderate leaders rapidly lost their influence over the National
Congress. Gradually, over the years, the trend of militant nationalism (also known as
Extremism) grew in the country. Extremism on the Indian national scene did not spring
up all of a sudden in the first decade of the twentieth century.
In fact, it had been growing slowly since the revolt of 1857, but was invisible. The
nationalist ideas behind the revolt of 1857, according to the extremists, were Swadharma
and Swaraj. Attachment to rationalism and western ideals almost alienated the moderates
from the masses in India. That is why despite their high idealism, they failed to create a
solid mass base for their movement.
The refusal to meet the political and economic demands by the government and its
repressive measures against the growing national movement shook the faith of an
increasing number of Indians in the ideology and technique of liberal nationalism. The
militant nationalists drew inspiration from India’s past, invoked the great Episodes in the
history of the Indian people, and tried to instill national pride and self-respect among the
Indian people.
They opposed the idealizing of the Western culture by the liberals and considered it
cultural capitulation to the British rulers. The militant nationalist leaders emphasized that
it would only bring about an inferiority complex among the Indians and repress their
national pride and self-confidence so vital to the struggle for freedom.
The militant nationalists revived the memories of the Vedic past of the Hindus, the great
phase of the regimes of Asoka and Chandragupta, the heroic deeds of Rana Pratap and
Shivaji, the epic patriotism of Rani Laxmibai. They propounded that the Indian people
were endowed with a special spiritual consciousness.
The leading extremists such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal,
Aurobindo Ghose were all products of English education and were immensely influenced
by Western thought, literature, and personalities. In their attempt to reconstruct the Indian
society, they wanted to refer to India’s past as much as possible.
Though all of them were highly educated and greatly influenced by English literature and
political ideas, and institutions, they drew heavily from the traditional culture and
civilization of India rather than from the West. All of them felt the necessity for changing
the outlook of Indians in the light of the advancement made by the West in the fields of
science and technology and also the need for reforming the society and the religion.
The political mendicancy of the moderates received a big jolt and led to the growth and
ascendancy of political extremism. Till Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the political scene of
India, the extremists dominated the Indian National Congress. The Hindu renaissance of
the nineteenth century was the mother of the Indian nationalist movement.
The rise of the extremism in the national movement was a reaction against the attempts of
the Western reformists to reconstruct India in the image of the West. They were greatly
influenced by the growth and development of spiritual nationalism in India.
The philosophy of political extremism, which was greatly influenced by the writings of
Bankim Chandra and his spiritual nationalism, was a reaction against the policy of
extreme softness that was followed by the moderates towards the British government in
For Sri Aurobindo, nationalism was not a mere political or economic cry; it was rather the
innermost hunger of his whole soul for the rebirth in him and through men like him, the
whole India, the ancient culture of the Hindustan and its pristine purity and nobility.
Indian nationalism was given a spiritual orientation by the nationalists at a highly
opportune and critical period in the history of India.
The Split in the Surat Congress, 1907:
In 1907, a split occurred in the Congress between the Moderates and the Extremists. The
split was inevitable as the Moderates, though steadily disillusioned with the British
Government, did not accept the ideology and the methods of the new nationalists.
However, there appeared a change in the outlook of the Moderate leaders. It was evident
in the presidential address of Gokhale at the Banaras session in 1905, where he
condemned the partition of Bengal and supported the Swadeshi movement. Thus, the
Indian National Congress supported the Swadeshi and Boycott movement of Bengal.
There was much public debate and disagreement between the Moderates and Extremists.
While the latter wanted to extend the mass movement to Bengal as well as to the other
parts of the country, the Moderates wanted to confine the movement to Bengal and even
there to limit it to Swadeshi and Boycott.
In 1906, the Moderate leaders opposed Tilak’s candidature for the Presidentship of the
Indian National Congress. Finally, Dadabhai Naoroji was elevated to the chair. Dadabhai
electrified the nationalist ranks by openly declaring in his presidential.
Address that the goal of the Indian National Movement was “Self-government” or
“Swaraj”, like that of the United Kingdom or the colonies. But the differences dividing
the two wings of the nationalist movement could not keep pace with events. They were
not able to see that their outlook and methods, which had served a real purpose in the
past, were no longer adequate.
They failed to advance to the new stage of the national movement. The militant
nationalists, on the other hand, were not willing to be held back. The split between the
two came at the Surat session of the National Congress in December, 1907. The moderate
leaders having captured the machinery of the Congress excluded the militant elements
from it.
But, in the long run, the split did not prove useful to either party. The Moderate leaders
lost touch with the younger generation of nationalists. The British Government played the
game of “Divide and Rule” and tried to win over moderate nationalist opinion so that the
militant nationalists could be isolated and suppressed.
To placate the moderate nationalists, it announced constitutional concessions through the
Indian Councils Act of 1909, which are known as the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. In
1911, the Government also announced the cancellation of the partition of Bengal.
Western and Eastern Bengals were to be reunited, while a new province consisting of
Bihar and Orissa was to be created. At the same time the seat of the Central Government
was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
The partition of Bengal and the launch of “Swadeshi” and the “boycott of foreign goods”
movement in 1906 heightened and brought about a split between the Moderates and
Extremists. The launch of the Home Rule Movement in 1916 by Tilak and Annie Besant
furthered the spirit of freedom among the people in India.
The suppression of the Home Rule Movement had only resulted in furthering the cause of
the struggle, for freedom in India. The Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress
in 1916 brought the Moderates and Extremists together and it also marked the unity of
Hindus and Muslims. Now India was ready for the next phase of national movement
under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Nationalist Movement under Gandhiji:
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi took control of the national movement in 1919. With this,
the third and significant phase of Indian nationalism began and which continued till
independence. Gandhian philosophy emphasized the strategy of Satyagraha and Ahimsa
in fighting against the British. In his struggle against the racist authorities of South
Africa, Gandhi evolved the technique of Satyagraha based on truth and nonviolence.
Gandhi showed the people a new way of fighting injustice without violence, for what one
believed to be right and he called this “Satyagraha.” The Swadeshi program of Gandhi
was based on the belief that political freedom was closely liked, with social and
economic changes and it meant the use of things belonging to one’s own country partic-
ularly stressing the replacement of foreign machine-made goods with Indian handmade
cloth. Gandhian philosophy consisted non-violent resistance and, when applied to the
Indian scene, it served to bring millions of people into the National movement.
The Rowlatt Act was met with a wide protest from the different sections of Indian
society. As a reaction, the British government resorted to lathi charges and firings in
many places. It eventually resulted in the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre that was the reflec-
tion of General Dyer’s unexampled brutality and deliberately calculated massacre. The
Khilafat Movement was a protest against the injustices done to Turkey after the World
War I. In fact, it became a part of the Indian National Movement.
The Congress leaders joined the Khilafat agitation and helped in organizing the same
throughout the country and it was the first countrywide popular movement. Under the
leadership of Gandhi, the Congress in a special session at Calcutta in 1920 adopted the
new program of nonviolent non-cooperation movement. The aims of the non-cooperation
movement were to redress the wrongs done to Punjab and Turkey, and the attainment of
It involved the surrender of the titles and honorary offices and resignations from
nominated posts in the local bodies. The participants of the non-cooperation movement
were not to attend Government Levies. Durbars and other official and semi-official
functions held by the Government officials or in their honor.
They were to withdraw their children gradually from the schools and colleges and
establish national schools and colleges. They were to boycott gradually the British courts
and establish private arbitration courts. Ahimsa or non-violence was to be strictly
observed by the participants of the non-cooperation movement and they were not to give
up Satya or truth under any circumstances.
The Non-Cooperation Movement spread among the masses and to the countryside. The
peasantry of UP., Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Malabar (Northern Kerala) responded to the
non-cooperation movement. The tragedy of Chauri Chaura and Gandhi s imprisonment
put an end to the non-cooperation movement itself for some time.
An unfortunate development after the calling-off of the non-cooperation movement was
the growth of communal tension and the occurrence of communal riots. The growth of
communal tendencies hindered the nationalist movement. These sidetracked the attention
of people from the need for complete independence from foreign rule.
The civil disobedience movement began with the famous Dandi March on 12 March
1930. In this place, Gandhi and his followers made salt in violation of the salt laws. This
act was a symbol of the Indians refusal to live under the British-made laws and also under
the British rule.
The Civil Disobedience Movement was reflected in the activities of hartals,
demonstrations, and the campaign to boycott foreign goods and the refusal to pay taxes.
The Indians showed their resistance to the British rule in the form of passive resistance. A
remarkable characteristic of the movement was the extensive involvement of women.
They took an active part in picketing shops, selling foreign cloth or liquor.
They marched shoulder to shoulder with the men in the processions. Gandhi was arrested
and the movement continued for two years and the repression of the government was
more severe than it had been before. In May 1934, the entire Civil Disobedience
Movement was called off. The resistance involved millions of people in the country,
young and old, men and women, and people belonging to all regions and communities.
Even though the Congress condemned the Government of India Act, 1935, it decided to
participate in the elections to the provincial legislatures that were to take place in 1937.
The elections were held in 1937. The parties that participated in the elections were the
Congress, the Muslim League, and others. The North-West Frontier Province, United
Provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, Madras, and Bombay were the seven prov-
inces wherein the Congress formed its ministries. The Congress ministries soon after
coming to power took some important measures such as the release of political prisoners
and the lifting of ban on the newspapers.
The widespread dissatisfaction against the British in India resulted in launching of the
Quit India movement. “Quit India”, the pithiest call to action resounded throughout the
country. The British government used the police and the army to suppress the Movement.
The Quit India Movement or the August Revolution marked a new era in the history of
Indian National Movement. Though the Quit India Movement was a short-lived one, it
exhibited the depth that nationalist feeling had reached in the country. Besides, it also
revealed the great capacity for struggle and sacrifice that the people rendered.
It also served as an eye-opener to the British Government about India’s attitude to British
imperialism. It was a revelation to the British that they cannot dominate over India for
long. It was a landmark in India’s struggle against British imperialism.