Bipan Chandra characterizes the freedom struck or the national movement or the national liberation movement as,
“…undoubtedly one of the biggest mass movements modern society has ever seen. It was a movement which galvanized millions of people of all classes and ideologies into political action and brought to its knees a mighty colonial empire”.
Indian national movement is as relevant and significant as the modern revolutions which had the motto of altering the existing political and social structure and to establish a new politico-socio-economic system based on equality, social justice, rule of law and democratic outlook.
The importance of the Indian national movement lies in the fact that it was the only available historical example where semi-democratic traditional and mostly illiterate social groups were motivated by an urge to free themselves from the colonial exploitation by writing and forging a common agenda forgetting their age-old social, economic and cultural moorings. Undoubtedly, the Indian national movement is the best example of mobilization of all segments of population having divergent political and ideological interests with a common goal of liberation or freedom from the foreign yoke.
The objective of this national movement was not the single point of replacing the colonial rule of the British but a total transformation of the socio-politico-economic cultural mosaic of India with new values as engines of the driving force. The new values that inspired, influenced and provided the necessary moral strength and courage were democratic, civil libertarian and secular outlook based on a self-reliant, egalitarian social order and an independent foreign policy.
As such the national movement of India had an ideology that is the most suitable for a multicultural, multi-linguistic and multi-layered pluralistic society of India. The fathers of this national movement are fully aware that ‘India, was the nation in making’ and hence they followed a strategy that could unite people based on the concept of ‘unity in diversity’.
Though, since time immemorial Indians living the different parts of India are aware of their ‘geographical fundamental unity’ as expressed in their daily prayer and cultural unity through pilgrimage centres and worship of rivers, mountains and nature, the most prevalent deep-rooted feeling was devotion to the head of the clan, the guru and the local ruler but not to the concept of a nation based on one religion, one culture, one language and territorial and geographical boundaries as we perceive nationalism today.
As such it is to be admitted with a sense of hurt pride that the concept of nationalism was of modern phenomena. It was perceived by different scholars in different ways. Encyclopedia Britannica describes nationalism “as a state of mind in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is to the nation state”.
Palmer and Perkins explain it as a desire “to exalt a state, and to add to its prestige drives men into carrying their flag, their culture, their language and their institutions into poor and backward regions of the world; and it compels the governments to justify, defend and champion the economic ventures of their nationals in foreign lands, especially weak ones”.
It is further observed that nationalism strives to unite the members into one nation, politically and territorially in a stage organization, when strong power exploits the weakness of the occupied political power rather than it becomes alive and opposes the imperialist tendencies. There is a view that the emergence of nationalism in India was the legacy of the British rule and prior to the rule of the British, India was never a nation. Percival Spear holds the view: “In looking for the roots of Indian nationalism we can begin with an emotion and a tradition. The emotion was dislike of the foreigner which in India for many ages had gone along with a tolerance of his presence.
The tradition was that of Hinduism deeply rooted in the basis of what has been called the fundamental unity of India. But xenophobia and pride in tradition was not a sufficient foundation for a new movement to produce secular nationalism. It would require some sort of stimulus from outside.” Spear locates the external stimuli in literature.
Spear writes, “The ideas which were imbibed from the ruler’s literature and attitudes were nationalism, civil liberties and constitutional self-government”. Many British and the Indian scholars echoed his view. Ishwari Prasad observes: “the consciousness of the French that their troubles were due to the Bourbons led to the French Revolution, of the English that their troubles were due to the unrestrained prerogatives of the crown led to the civil war, and of the Indians that their troubles were due to the British rule led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, whose object was to secure India’s liberation”.
A.R. Desai remarks, “Nationalism came into being during the British period as a result of the action and reaction of numerous subjective and objective forces and factors which developed within the Indian society under the conditions of the British rule and the impact of world forces”. But this view is contested by the Indian historians who argue it would be wrong to assert that nationalism in India was solely the contribution of the British.
S.L. Sikri rightly points, “Some of these factors sowed the seed; some nurtured into growth; some moulded its form; and some influenced its ideology and technique. Hence, the causes responsible for the origin, growth and rapid development of the Indian national movement were various and manifold”. The origin and the growth of nationalism in India can be traced to the stimuli of internal and external factors.
Impact of the Western Culture and Discovery of the Past Pride of India:
The foremost cause for the growth of Indian nationalism and national movement was India’s contact with the nationalistic and political liberalism of the west through initiation into English language and literature. This initiation opened up their minds to the events of Italian and German unification in the last quarter of the 19th century and also provided common language to all the Indians to transact and express their views with one and the other.
Further, orientalists like William Jones, James Princep, Max Muller and Ferguson and archaeologists like Alexander Cunningham enabled Indians to be aware of their pride in their past glories. This revelation of common heritage of a great culture and rich historical tradition imbued the natives of India with an idea of glorious common nationality.
The revisiting of India’s past, supplemented by the bond of a common religion, acted as a bond to bring them together and English served as lingua franca to strengthen the unity. In the view of R.C. Majumdar, “Nationalism was thus founded on the bedrock of common religion, culture and historical tradition. But this gave it a Hindu character which it has retained, consciously or unconsciously, ever since”. This view of R.C. Majumdar is partially true to some extent but not the whole truth.
Undoubtedly, the socio-cultural renaissance movement played an important role in emergence, nurturing, shaping and moulding of the nationalist spirit in India. They consciously promoted a sense of self-respect, unity and patriotism and made the Indians realize the need for internal introspection and to get rid of the social evils that divided the Indian society. This can be explained by quoting Vivekananda and Gandhi who observed that religion is of no avail when it cannot wipe the tears of a widow and we cannot feed a hungry man with preaching about God.
Colonialism and Discriminating Treatment:
In the preceding pages, it is explained how the economic policies of the British East India Company ruined the economy of India by draining away the resources of India. Early nationalist leaders of India like Dadabhai Naoroji, the grand old man of India, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade and Ramesh Chandra Dutt by their economic critique of the colonial policy educated the public of India as well as the British with their writings about the economic havoc caused by colonial policy.
Bipan Chandra aptly remarks “of all the national movements in colonial countries, the Indian national movement was the most deeply and firmly rooted in an understanding of the nature and character of colonial economic domination and exploitation.
Its early leaders known as Moderates were the first in the 19th century to develop an economic critique of colonialism. This critique was also, perhaps their most important contribution to the development of the national movement in India and the themes built around it were later popularized on a massive scale and formed the very pith and marrow of the nationalist agitation, through popular lectures, pamphlets, dramas, songs and prabhat pheris”.
Besides ruination of peasantry and artisan groups, de-industrialization, the wanton discrimination shown by the British towards the Indians for more than a century also seriously hurt the feelings of Indians and made them hate the white man and his government.
Improved Transport and Communication Facilities:
The British indirectly promoted the growth of nationalism in India by providing an elaborate communication system network which enabled people of different parts to meet, discuss and exchange their grievances and chalk out plans and programmes of action. Thus, the network of communications and transport facilities helped in the growth of nationalism to a great extent.
Role of the Press:
The role of the English and vernacular press in raising the level of consciousness of the Indians by explaining the misdeeds, and injustices perpetuated by the government is really commendable. Fearless reporting in newspapers of the misrule of the governmental agencies created national awakening which in turn led to the emergence of the spirit of nationalism.
By 1875, there were no less than 478 newspapers in the country kindling the spirit of nationalism. The pen of Dinabandhu Hemachandra Banerjee, Navin Chandra Sen, Ravindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee influenced innumerable people of India as freedom lovers. The influence and impact of Bankim was so great that his novel Anadamath and ‘Vandemataram’ song had become the Bible of Bengali patriotism.
Repressive Policy of Lord Lytton:
In the history of colonial India the period from 1876 to 1884 had been aptly described “the seed time of Indian nationalism”. The callous, indifferent and arrogant attitude of Lytton in organizing Delhi Darbar in 1877 very lavishly when many people perished due to the famine and his war against the Afghans, the notorious Vernacular Press Act and the Arms Act of 1878 accelerated the growth of nationalism in India.
Even the British criticized the Vernacular Press Act as “a retrograde and ill-conceived measure injurious to the future progress of India” and Surendranath Banerjee observed that the Arms Act “Imposed upon us a badge of racial inferiority”. Sprinkling salt on the injury, the Albert Bill controversy added fuel to the fire of Indian nationalism. This controversy convinced the Indians that unless they too resorted to agitation process, there was no salvation to the humiliation experienced by them.
Besides the above narrated episodes, the happenings outside India in America, France, Italy, Germany, China and Japan inspired the Indians to become united to free themselves from continuous humiliation of the white race. Thus, the emergence and the growth of the national movement in India was the cumulative effect of both internal and external factors. This nationalist spirit or urge lead to the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885, which spearheaded the liberation or freedom struggle in India from 1885 to 1947.