Read this article to learn about the genesis, aims and attitude of the Indian National congress.
Genesis of the Indian National Congress:
The provincial political organisations founded in different parts of India prepared the ground for the foundation a political organisation that might embrace the whole of India and unify the scattered political activities of the politically conscious people all over the country.
Perhaps in no time in history was the government so estranged from the governed and so much out of sympathy with its subjects as during the last part of the nineteenth century India.
While the British government lived in the cocoon of its exclusiveness, the educated middle class growing both in number and awareness of its responsibilities to its motherland and countrymen completed the estrangement between the ruler and the ruled. There was naturally demand for associating the Indian representatives with the government, which the public opinion, reflected through the Press, supported. Liberal Englishmen both in India and England sympathised with the Indian aspirations.
Among them the names of Allan Octavian Hume and Henry Cotton may be mentioned. Allan Octavian Hume served the government of India from 1846 but was shamefully and cruelly removed from the post of the Secretary to the Government of India in 1879 by Lord Lytton for his independent views fearlessly expressed. He retired from service in 1882.
He sincerely believed that the interests of the Indian and the British people were essentially the same and the administration must be carried on to the benefit of both, He felt that the government had failed to solve economic problem, the problems of the peasantry ravaged by famine and despair, and the government was dangerously out of touch with the people.
There was no channel, no constitutional means of keeping the government informed of the Indian public opinion and their needs. In a communication to Lord Northbrook in 1872 he observed that “Your Lordship can hardly realise the instability of our rule………. the fate of the empire is trembling in the balance and that at any moment, some tiny scarcely noticed cloud may grow and spread over the land a storm raining down anarchy and devastation”.
In order to avoid the disaster, Hume felt that organisation of a national movement with three objects was essential. “First, the fusion into one national whole of all the different elements that constitute the population of India; second, the gradual regeneration along the lines, spiritual, moral, social and political of the nation thus evolved; and third, the consolidation of the union between England and India, by securing the modification of such of its conditions as may be unjust or injurious”. In 1884 Hume in consultation with the Indian leaders launched a scheme “to oppose by all constitutional methods, all authorities high or low, here or in England, whose acts or omissions are opposed to the principles of government of India laid down by the British Parliament and endorsed by the British Sovereign”.
The Indian Council was to be entirely transformed. Hume seemed to have discussed his plan with Lord Dufferin who approved of it. Dufferin himself was also anxious to ascertain the Indian public opinion. Hume addressed an open letter to the graduates of the University of Calcutta in which he called upon them to form a permanent organisation for the spiritual, moral, social and political regeneration of the people. Lord Dufferin was sympathetic in this regard.
The result was the arrangement for the first session of the Congress, called the Indian National Congress as it had received support from all parts of India, was made by Bombay Presidency Association in Gokul- das Tejpal Sanskrit College, Bombay. W. C. Bonerjee, an eminent lawyer of Calcutta was chosen President. Seventy two delegates from all parts of India attended the Congress. “Less than thirty years had passed since the Revolt when a new race of Indians, inspired with new ideals and thrilled by the vision of a new India came together and started a movement which in sixty two years attained its goal.” The Indian leaders took counsel together and deliberated on India’s future. They warned the British that India was no longer willing to entrust her fate exclusively into hands of the aliens and that she was determined to shape her own destiny.
The foundation of the Indian National Congress was a political phenomenon of supreme importance in the history of, India, it heralded the advent of a new era, an era of political unity. Indian leaders attending the first Congress showed much deference to the ‘British rulers and couched their speeches in mild words and the resolutions demanded widening of the basis of the government and giving the Indians their legitimate share in it. Resolutions on reforms of the Legislative Council demanded admission of elected members, right to interpellation, discussion of the budget, creation of Councils in Oudh, North West Province and Punjab, and formation of a standing committee in the House of Commons to consider pro , tests made to it by the majority members of the Councils.
Aims & Objectives of the Congress:
From the point of view of number the Congress had a very humble beginning. In the first session the number of delegates was only 72, but in the second session in Calcutta it rose to 434 and in the third in Madras 607. In this way the numbers began to increase very fast who were drawn from lawyers, teachers, publicists, editors anti others. Many of the land-owning gentry and big business kept aloof. A section of the Muslims under the leadership of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan actively opposed the Congress after 1886.
During early years of the Congress there was no revolutionary fervour in its speeches, resolutions or activities. The phraseology of the Congress was one of prayer and petition rather than of challenge and defiance. Aims of the Congress were, however, fundamental constitutional changes, expansion of the central and the local Councils, larger proportion of elected members, enlargement of the powers and functions of the legislative Councils, substitution of irresponsible government by responsible government run by the representatives of the people. Besides, extension of employment opportunities, permanent fixation of the rent paid by peasants to their landlords, change of forest laws and salt tax for the benefit of the poor, reduction of military expenditure, tax, tariffs and excise duties, improvement of education, administration of law and justice, separation of executive and judicial functions, removal of defects of local self-government.
In its deliberations and resolutions the ideals of India’s political, social and economic improvement became manifest. The Congress became the symbol of new India, and as time passed it became the embodiment of India’s hopes and aspirations, and the instrument of India’s struggle for independence.
Government’s Attitude towards the Congress:
The government had, at first showed some curiosity in the proceedings of the Congress and was even mildly interested in its movement. In 1886 Lord Dufferin invited the delegates to a reception in Calcutta, the next year the Madras governor showed similar courtesy to the Congress delegates. But soon there was a change in their attitude to the Congress. Congress demand for responsible government and its criticism of government policies and measures made it inimically disposed towards it.
The dynamic idealism of the Congress produced deep impact on the educated class and in his letter to the Secretary of State for India the governor general observed: “you must understand that it is not merely the Bengalee Baboos who are raising all this clamour, but it is air educated India, including the Moham-madans, that are anxious to be more freely consulted in the management of their domestic affairs.” He showered epithets like ‘childish’ ‘hysterical assembly’, ‘Babu Parliament’ etc. on the Congress. Lansdowne took a more dispassionate view and compared the Indian National Congress with what in’ Europe would be regarded as Advanced
Liberal Party as distinguished from the body of Conservative opinion. ‘Government’, Lansdowne observed ‘desires to maintain neutrality in their relation so long as their act remained strictly within constitutional functions’.
Lord Hamilton, Secretary of State expressed to Lord Elgin his delight that the Congress was steadily going down and he was of the opinion that it was a seditious body, its leaders were of doubtful character.
Lord Curzon the ‘arch proconsul of imperialism’ remarked “My own belief is that the Congress is tottering to its fall, and one of my great ambitions while in India is to assist it to a peaceful demise”.
Subsequent facts and achievements of the Indian National Congress belied the fond hopes of persons like Hamilton and Curzon.
The initial efforts of the Congress having been unsuccessful in getting its demands fulfilled, the Congress addressed itself to the creation of public opinion both in India and England in favour of its demands.
In 1889 a special committee of the Indian National Congress was formed in England under the auspices of which a weekly called India was published in England in 1890. Besides, meetings were being held in which the demands of the Congress were highlighted; Dadabhai Nauroji spent a long time in England and drew the attention of the British people and politicians through articles in India the extent to which the Indians were being exploited by the British in the name of administration. The result was that the attention of the leaders of the British people was attracted to the demands of the Congress.
In the Bombay session of the Congress in 1889 Charles Bradlaugh, a member of the British Parliament came personally to watch the proceedings. Next year he moved a proposal in the British Parliament for a law for the extension of the Indian Legislative Councils on the basis of the demands made by the Congress. In the circumstances, the British government itself brought a bill in 1892 which was passed into an Act called Indian Councils Act. This is regarded as the first tangible result of the Congress movement.
In the Councils Act of 1892 provisions were made for increase of the membership of the central and provincial Councils. This was too small a concession to satisfy the Indians, naturally it did not reduce the intensity of the movement to any extent. On the contrary anti-British feeling began to increase all the more within the Congress. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurovinda Ghosh, Bepin Chandra Pal and others of their way of thinking were not in favour of the, policy of prayer and petition followed by the Congress to get its demands fulfilled. They proposed active opposition to the British government. Tilak established a news paper Kesari in order to develop, self-reliance, nationalism, and respect for Indian heritage. Tilak initiated Shiva fi-Utsav in order to inspire the people in Shivaji’s ideals of patriotism, heroism and self-confidence. This generated a great enthusiasm and national urge among the Marathas. The Marathas had lost their, independence not long back to the British, naturally, they had great enthusiasm in joining the movement for national resurgence.
The Congress movement to begin with did not attract people of all classes and communities. Some of the leaders of the Muslim community had joined the Congress and even presided over its sessions, but the vast majority of that community remained aloof from the Congress movement. Backwardness in Western education among the Muslims was one of the major causes responsible for this.
The British imperialists did not miss the point that the Muslims were keeping aloof from the Congress movement and even were opposed to it. They at once made application of the imperialistic principle of divide impera. By fanning the fire of communalism the British succeeded in setting the majority of the Muslim community against the Congress although it was from the hands of the Muslim rulers that the British had seized territories in different parts of India. For this Sir Syed Ahmad was largely responsible.
It will be unjust to say that Sir Syed Ahmad was unpatriotic, but he felt that backward and lacking in Western education the Muslim community would be no match for the Western educated Hindus. Thus while he started educating the Muslims in Western education on the one hand, he kept them aloof from the national movement of the Congress on the other.
At the time of the Ilbert Bill agitation Sir Syed Ahmad had given commendable proof of his patriotism. He remarked that the Hindus and Muslims were the two eyes of India and if one was injured the other was sure to be damaged. It therefore comes as a surprise that he began to oppose the national movement of the Congress and kept a vast section of the Muslims aloof; from it. In 1886, he founded Educational Congress as an organisation opposed to the Indian National Congress. He was also responsible for the establishment of United Patriotic Association, Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental Defence Association of Upper India — two other organisations to oppose the Congress. It goes without saying that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan allowed himself to be influenced by the British imperialist policy of Divide et impera.
The Aligarh Anglo-Oriental College founded by him became a centre of communalism under its British Principal. Sir Syed Ahmad believed that in a democratic set up the interest of the Muslim minority could not be protected. In this way Sir Syed Ahmad divided the people of India on the basis of religion. In this, the extent to which he was influenced by the British and the extent to which he was guided by his own conviction are difficult to determine. The poison of communalism was increasing from that time and gradually for the purpose of election adoption of the principle of nomination for the Muslim representatives and ultimately demands for and realization of Pakistan were the net results.