The Delhi Durbar held in 1877 to proclaim Queen Victoria as the Empress of India witnessed a grand gathering of hundreds of Indian princes that gave an idea to organize a similar gathering of Indian patriots.
The National conference of 1883 at Calcutta was another occasion to develop the same idea among the elite class.
The Hindu wrote that “Time had come when the people of India should assert their rights with all the strength of a national movement. Again in December 1884 the Indian leaders from several parts of the country met to bid farewell to Lord Rippon.” The idea of a common gathering of patriots of India thus was generated.
While the idea of an organisation of national character was gaining momentum it was an English man Allan Octavian Hume who came forward to give the idea of many Indians a practical shape. It was the irony of history that the Indian congress which was the brain child of an English man ultimately decided the destiny of that British rule in India.
It was he who was largely responsible for moving the Indian congress viable and continuing the organisation for which he has been regarded as the father of the Indian National Congress. The establishment of congress as of other bodies in the eighties represented the culmination of an awareness among educated youths to work together for political ends. It also reflected their growing strength and sense of national unity and identity.
Octavian Hume was the son of Joseph Hume who was one of the most influential radical politicians of England. Allan Octavian himself was the member of the ICS and had shown considerable sympathy for the Indians. He came in contact with many Indians when he was a district officer during the period of mutiny. He gradually rose in the official hierarchy and became the secretary to the government of India in the department of Agriculture.
He was completely vexed with the British attitude towards Indians and resigned on a pension and remained in India. For this his fellow Britons seem to have regarded him with suspicion. He was even called by Dufferin as unscrupulous and careless of the truth. Indians acclaimed him as pure and unblemished character, having a commanding personality sagacious in nature with strong determination.
He had practical approach to problems like a true statesman. He was very sorry to see how the Indian’s discontent against British day by day increased. To him the gap between the ruler and the ruled was getting wider very quickly.
He believed that the Indian Congress could work like a safety valve. In fact he wanted to save the British Empire from a disaster by bringing the national party into existence. With high hope he met Dufferin at Shimla in early 1885 for the formation of the congress. On getting the approval Hume contacted many Indian patriots and at last on 28th and 29th December 1885 seventy two delegates from all parts of India met at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Bombay.
The Bombay Presidency Association became the host. Among the members present Dadabhai Naroji the grand old man, Pherozshah Mehta, Mahadev Govinda Ranade and Woomesh Chandra Banerjee were prominent. Woomesh Chandra Banerjee an eminent lawyer of Calcutta was selected as the first President of the Indian National Congress.
Thus the Indian National Congress was born which unveiled a new era in the history of India. It came to represent the hopes and aspiration of all people irrespective of caste, creed, language or religion.
It symbolized the unity of the Indian nation which worked as a magic wand to generate the spark of Indian nationalism. Hume in the first meeting as the secretary placed certain guidelines to be worked upon which was unanimously accepted by the congress.
In the first place he emphasized on the personal intimacy and friendship among all the earnest workers of the congress for the greater cause of the nation. He said in the second place to eradicate all differences on the ground of race, language and religion through direct and personal intercourse and to consolidate the sentiments of national unity.
In the third place he suggested to record and discusses the matured opinions of the educated classes in India on the perspective of social problems. Lastly he directed the members of the congress to formulate the lines and methods of action to be pursued by the Indian politicians for public interests.
The Congress was not intended to be a political party like the Liberals or Conservatives in England. Instead it was an annual gathering of representatives of different regions speaking on behalf of their respective people pertaining to social, economic, educational or political nature. It met annually in Christmas days in different cities of India. Because of holidays in schools and law courts the congress could attract large gathering of elite class.
Dadabhai Naroji in his speech to the congress advised his countrymen in the words. “In dealing with Englishmen make up your mind deliberately, speak clearly and work perseveringly. Then and then alone can you hope to be listen to. W.C. Banerjee in his presidential address said that “All that we desire that the basis of the government should be widened and that the people should have their proper and legitimate share in it.”
According to the suggestions of these great personalities the Indian National Congress passed a number of resolutions criticizing the conduct of the government and advancing its demands side by side.
It became very clear in its first session that the congress was born for great works. Hume saw in it the germ of a national parliament. Annie Besant rightly observed that “the first session of the National Congress dissolved leaving a happy and inspiring memory of fine work done and unity demonstrated. India in the long run echoed her voice against the imperial power”. Thus the birth of the Indian National Congress was a great event in Indian history which worked as a dynamo to generate spark for the national movement.
Each year the congress sessions were held in different towns normally in capital towns of a presidency or province. Till it was directed by Gandhiji to have organized in villages and small towns so as to involve all in the national stream. In the first ten years the congress met twice at Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Allahabad and once in Lahore and Nagpur.
In every session of the congress formal proceedings opened with a welcome from the chairman of the Reception committee. Then followed the long speech of the President after which the formal part of the proceedings finished for the day. The subject committee used to discuss issues, frame resolutions, irons out differences and decided who was to speak on the topics that were to be raised.
It was in this subject Committee the real work of the congress took place. On the, second day the resolutions were put forward and spoken upon and the procedure was continued on the third day after which the session came to an end. The resolutions so passed in the annual sessions were reprinted in the newspapers for general information of the people.
There were in addition provincial conferences. They followed the pattern of annual congress but on a more limited scale. Although the bodies projected some vital problems of local importance before the local Governments. They did not undertake agitations to press their demand. The congress had no powers; it could only make suggestions in the first phase.
After 1890 the Indian National Congress founded in London the British Committee to mobilize public opinion and lobby in the British Parliament. It published a journal “India” and was dominated by Hume and Wedderburn after their final return from India. During nineties the congress adopted resolutions and called for the increase of representations in legislatures.
They further demanded for the admission of more Indians to the Civil Service. The Government’s unfair tariff policy was opposed and by the Indian Mill-owners entered into the stream of national movement. Gradually representation from different parts of India increased and the congress became a body of the Hindus, Muslims, Paris and Christians.
Its message reached the ears of the people. Even though the leadership was confined to the middle class intellectuals it raised voice on behalf of the masses of India. Thus this congress turned to be a broad based one liked and supported by the masses. The statement of Lord Dufferin “Congress as a microscopic minority” turned false.
The Congress was fortunate enough to have enlisted dedicated leaders like Dadabhai Naroji, Budruddin Tyabji, Pherozeshah Mehta, William Wedderburn, Bipin Chandra Pal, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Ananda Charlu, Surendra Nath Banerjee, Rahimtullah, Muhammad Sayani, Sankaran Nair, Dineshaw Wacha, Subramanian Iyer, Nawab Syed Muhammad, Henry Cotton and Hume to guide the destiny of the country. They were instrumental in formulating the policies of the congress.
For the first 20 years from 1885 -1905 the Congress worked as a moderate constitutional body. The main achievements of the congress during this period were to make itself a national body and spread political consciousness all over the country. The organisation gradually grew larger. The delegates came from all parts of India. The Congress used to discuss many important issues.
It passed resolutions demanding inquiry into the administrative and legislative reforms of the country, reduction of military expenditures, and introduction of representative institutions, separation of the judiciary from the executive and the reform of the police administration. It expressed grave concern over the poverty of the people in general and the peasants in particular.
The congress also thought of the welfare of the peasants, development of local industries and spread of education. The congress on the whole worked as an opposite force on the British Government in India. On the other-hand the Government gave a deaf ear to the demands of the Congress.
The Government felt disturbed at the Congress movement. Viceroy Dufferin who wished for the growth of the congress turned hostile to it and tried to suppress through criticism. Many British officers criticised the congress as a body of “baboos” a microscopic minority an organisation of no value, a body of discontented place-seeker or an organisation of unhappy educated youths and a mischievous organisation. They went to the extent of criticising the congress leaders as men of straw who appealed to the ignorance and passions of the people but did not present them.
In spite of such unhealthy criticisms the Congress went ahead to reach the people and work for them. Pherozeshah Mehta, the Congress President in 1890 declared “we have survived ridiculed abuse and misrepresentation. We have survived the charge of sedition and disloyalty. We have survived the charge of being a macroscopic minority.
We have survived also the charge of being guilty of the atrocious crime of being educated and we have been managed to survive the grievous charge of being babus in disguise.” The congress in this first phase of the movement possessed such towering personalities who gave their blood and mind to make this organisation strong and stable.
During this period the congress worked as a moderate body and constitutional body. It could arouse political consciousness among the people; it exposed the evil effect of the British administration and advanced its demands through resolutions. As for the immediate major congress target the achievement was realised when the British Parliament finally introduced an Indian council Act in 1892. In both the provincial and Imperial Council the principle of appointing Indians was retained.
In the council they were allowed to take part in deliberations pertaining to budget. Even though 1892 Act was a minor reform yet it became a milestone in the history of the Congress. Though the Congress achieved success in attracting a large number of people selflessly yet it seemed to have reached for a time at least a dead end. Many members criticised the method the congress was adopting, as useless and advocated for a radical change in Congress policy. As a result towards the last years the Congress bolder steps appeared as more necessary.
When the attitude of the Congress was changing faster. Lord Curzon came as Viceroy in 1899. Curzon came determined to kill the Congress and to prepare a graveyard for the Congress to be buried upon. He failed initially. Being vexed he refused to receive the deputation of the Congress that led the Congress to loose faith in constitutional ways. Finally in 1905 Curzon partitioned Bengal that gave vent to the rise of extremism in the Congress family.
The achievements of the congress during this period were described by the radicals, otherwise called as extremists as the “Political mendicancy” of the moderate leader or the ‘old guards’. Lala Lajpat Ray wrote “It was at best an opportunist movement. It opened opportunities for treacheries and hypocrites.
It enabled some people to trade in the name of patriotism”. There showered by the extremist’s charges against moderates as the loyalists to the crown. Under these circumstances the extremists did not feel to sail in one boat of the Congress and they tried to push their views in the Congress pandal.