The Nationalist Movement (1858-1947)

The Nationalist Movement(1858-1947)

Growth of Political Ideas and Associations:

One important effect of the introduction of Western culture in India was the growth of modern political concepts like nationalism, nationality, political rights etc. India witnessed the growth of political ideas and political organisations, hitherto unknown to the Indian world. And it were political associations which heralded the 19th century India into modern politics. What distinguished these new political associations from earlier associations were the secular interests that bound together the new classes. But it should be noted that before the formation of Indian National Congress (hereafter referred to as I.N.C.) in 1885, these associations were essentially provincial in nature.

Political Associations in Bengal Presidency

Raja Rammohun Roy was the first Indian to focus the attention of the Englishmen on the grievances of India and to ask for remedial measures. He demanded liberty of the press, appointment of Indians in higher civil service and other higher posts, codification of laws etc.

The first political association was formed by the associates of Rammohun Roy, and was called the Bangabhasha Prakasika Sabha, founded in 1836. The association discussed topics connected with the policy and administration of the Government and sought redress by sending petitions and memorials to the Government.

In July 1838, the Zamindari Association or Landholders Society was founded to safeguard the interests of the landlords. Although limited in its objectives, this marks the beginning of an organised political activity and use of methods of constitutional agitation for the redressal of grievances.

In April 1843 another political association called the Bengal British India Society was founded. The Landholders’ Society and the Bengal British India Society were merged into a new association named the British Indian Association in 1851. This Association was dominated by the landed aristocracy and its primary objective was to safeguard their class interests. This association continued to exist till the 20th century even though it was overshadowed by the more popular Indian National Congress.

By 1870s there were signs of change inside Indian society. In the Presidency towns where higher education was well established, a new elite had grown which had new ambitions and aspirations. These were good developments for the formation of more popular and broad-based associations. In September 1875, Sisir Kumar Ghose founded the Indian League with the object of “stimulating the sense of nationalism amongst the people” and of encouraging political education. Soon, the India league was superseded by the Indian Association founded in July 1876 by Ananda Mohan Bose and Surendranath Banerjee. Soon the Indian Association became the leading representative of the educated community of Bengal.

Lytton’s unpopular measures whipped up political activity in India. A regulation of 1876 reduced the maximum age for appearing in the Indian Civil Service (hereafter referred to as I.C.S.) examination from 21 to 19 years which compounded the difficulties young Indians had to face in appearing for this prestigious examination. The Indian Association took up this question and organised an all-India agitation against it, popularly known as the Indian Civil Service Agitation. Surendranath Banerjee went on a whirlwind tour of northern India in 1877 and the Presidencies of Bombay and Madras in 1878 to mobilise public opinion against this measure which awakened the Indian public opinion on the issue.

Political Associations in Bombay Presidency

On the lines of the British India Association of Calcutta, the Bombay Association was founded in August 1852. It sent a petition to the British Parliament urging the formation of new legislative councils to which Indians should be also represented. It also condemned the policy of exclusion of Indians from all higher services. However, the Bombay Association did not survive for long.

The reactionary policies of Lytton and the Ilbert Bill controversy caused political commotion in Bombay. The credit for organising the Bombay Presidency Association in 1883 goes to the popularly called brothers-in-law- Pherozeshah Mehta, K.T. Telang and Badruddin Tyabji, representing the three chief communities of Bombay town i.e., Parsis, Maharashtrians and Muslims. At Poona, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha was established in 1867 with the object of serving as a bridge between the Government and the people. The Bombay Presidency Association and the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha worked in close collaboration in this direction.

Political Associations in Madras Presidency

A branch of the British Indian Association of Calcutta was set up at Madras under the name of the Madras Native Association. However, the Madras Native Association right from its inception possessed very little vitality and languished into obscurity after 1857.

The Madras Mahajana Sabha was formed by young middle class intellectuals in May 1884 on the same lines of similar associations in the Bengal and Bombay Presidencies. The Sabha demanded expansion of legislative councils, representation of Indians in it, separation of judicial from revenue functions etc. Although the idea of a common political organisation for the whole country was quite old, it took decades to ferment and materialize.

It was only in the 1870’s that Indian nationalism gathered momentum. However, it required the reactionary require of Lord Lytton to give it a more visible form and the controversy around the Ilbert Bill to make it take up an organized and a national form.

During Lytton’s period (1876-80), most of the import duties on British textiles were removed to please the textile manufacturers of Britain which was interpreted by Indians as proof of the British desire to ruin the growing textile industry of India. This led to widespread nationalist agitation. The Second War against Afghanistan drew vehement criticism against the heavy cost of the war which the Indian Treasury was made to bear. The Arms Act, 1878, which disarmed the people, appeared to them as an effort to emasculate the entire nation. The Vernacular Press Act, 1877, was condemned by the nationalists as an attempt to suppress the growing criticism of the alien government. The holding of the Imperial Durbar at Delhi in 1877 at a time when the country was suffering from a terrible famine led people to believe that their rulers cared very little even for their lives. In 1876, the government announced new regulations reducing the maximum age limit for sitting in the Indian Civil Service Examination from 21 years to 19 which reduced the chances of Indians entering the Civil Service. This made the Indians protest vehemently and Surendranath Banerjee organised a successful all-India agitation. Thus, Lytton’s viceroyalty helped intensify discontent against foreign rule and also helped unite Indian opinion.

If Lytton fed the smouldering discontent against British rule, the spark was provided by the Ilbert Bill controversy. In 1883, Ripon, who succeeded Lytton as the Viceroy, tried to pass a law which enabled Indian district magistrates and session judges to try Europeans in criminal cases. It was a meagre effort to remove a glaring instance of racial discrimination. Under the existing law, even Indian members of the Indian Civil Service were not authorised to try Europeans in their courts. The Europeans in India organised a vehement agitation against this Bill which was named after Ilbert, the Law Member. They declared that even the most highly educated among the Indians were (unfit to try a European. In the end, the Government of India bowed before the Europeans and amended the Bill to meet their criticism.

The Indians were horrified at the racial bitterness displayed by the British. They organised an allIndia campaign in favour of the Bill. Moreover, they learnt the lesson that, to get their demands accepted by the Government, they too must organise themselves on a national scale and agitate continuously and unitedly. It was left to A.U. Hume, a retired 1.C.S. official, to give a practical and definite shape to an organization of an all-India character. He took the initiative of bringing the various regional associations on a national platform. The initiative bore fruit when 72 delegates met at the Gokuldas Tejpat Sanskrit School at Bombay in December, 1885 with W.C. Bonnerjee at the first president. But there is a theory called Safety Value which says that due to the increasing popular discontent against the British rule, the British establishment led by the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin decided to have a kind of political association composed of educated Indians which might serve as a ‘safety valve’ to this unrest and strengthen the British empire. But this theory is not considered valid anymore as Congress did not begin as an organisation but as a movement with long term objectives.

Check out History of India notes in detail. 

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