Early Indian Nationalism

Indian Nationalism:

Political Associations before the INC (Indian National Congress):

  • In 1866, Dadabhai Naoroji founded the East India Association in London.
  • In 1867, Mary Carpenter, biographer of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, founded the National Indian Association in London.
  • In 1870, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha was founded by M.G.Ranade.
  • In 1872, Indian Society was founded by Anand Mohan Bose in Kolkata. It became Indian Association under Surendranath Banerji in 1876. It was the most dynamic political party before Congress.
  • In 1875, the Indian League was founded by Sisir Kumar Ghosh.
  • The Madras Mahajan Sabha, 1884, by M.Viraraghavachari, B.Subramaniya Aiyer & P.Anand Charlu.
  • The Bombay Presidency Association, 1885, by Badruddin Tyabji, Pherozshah Mehta & K.T.Telang.

Formation of Congress:

  • INC formed in 1885, at the instance of A.O.Hume, 72 delegates from different political parties met at Sir Tejpal Sanskrit College during Dec. 28-31 in Bombay (Venue shifted from Pune to Bombay due to the outbreak of Cholera). Kadambari Ganguli as the only female member.
  • The name ‘Indian National Congress’  for the new party was suggested by Dadabhai Naoroji.
  • W.C. Bonnerjee became the First President.
  • A.O.Hume (a retired civil servant) was the General Secretary, called the ‘Founder Father of the Congress’.
  • The ‘Safety Valve Theory‘ is actually a criticism against Hume attributing ulterior motives in founding the Congress. The adversaries of congress like Lala Lajpat Rai propagated this more. But recent findings, based on Dufferin’s correspondence to Hume & the activities of early Nationalists, have proved the ‘safety valve’ theory is nothing but a myth.
  • Hume wrote two pamphlets– ‘A Rising Star in the East’ & ‘Old Man’s Dream’.
The Moderates and The Extremists

The Moderate Phase:

  • The period between 1885 & 1905 is known as the Moderate Phase of Congress.
  • Congress since its inception was dominated by the educated middle class, the landed aristocracy & the capitalist class called the moderates. The moderate ideology was the British colonialism & Indian Nationalism were not contradictory, rather complimentary. For the moderates, the development of England was the development of India.
  • The Moderate method of struggle was defined as ‘Constitutional Means of Agitation‘ (anything except popular means of agitation & seditions). It was well explained by Gokhale in his journal ‘Sudhar‘. It is also ‘Petition, Prayer & Protest‘.

Economic Demands:

  1. Eradication of poverty by increasing industrial production, & by giving protection & encouragement to Indian industries.
  2. Reduction of land revenue, extension of irrigation and development of agricultural banks which would free the agriculturists from the clutches of the money lenders.
  3. Abolition of salt tax because it hit the poor & lower middle classes hard.
  4. Cuts in Home Charges & military expenditure.
  5. Protection against exploitation of Indian labour in British colonies Abroad.

Administrative Demands:

  1. Indianisation of civil services.
  2. Removal of restrictions on freedom of the press & speech.
  3. Separation of Judiciary from Executive.
  4. Extension of trial by jury.
  5. Higher jobs in the army for Indians.
  6. Rising of an Indian Volunteer force.

Political Demands: 

  1. To give greater power to the Supreme Council & local legislative Council.
  2. To allow the council to discuss on budget.

Moderate Politics:

The relations between the moderates & the British were strained for the first time in Madras Session in 1887, presided over by Badruddin Tyabji (the first Muslim president of INC). The word ‘self-governance‘ was mentioned for the first time. Lord Dufferin criticized Congress as ‘Microscopic Minority‘.

Achievements of the Moderates:

  1. On the request of the Moderates in 1886, Lord Dufferin appointed Aitchison Committee on Indian Civil Services. The upper age limit was increased to 22 years, on the recommendations of the committee.
  2. Succeeded in getting the Indian Council Act, 1892, passed. Under this act, the number of elected members in the Central Legislative Council & the provincial Legislative Council increased. The council acquired the right to discuss budget but was not permitted to vote on it.
  3. On the request of the Moderates, the Calcutta University Act, 1904 & Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act, 1904; the two acts that affected the autonomy of local bodies were revoked by Lord Curzon.
  4. Providing a solid base and foundation on which the Indian national movement built up momentum turn and vigor in later years.
  5. The most important achievement of the Moderates was their economic critique of colonialism, called the Drain Theory that exposed the exploitative nature of colonialism.

Failure of the Moderates:

  1. They restricted the social bases of Congress only for the elite.
  2. The moderates did not have much faith in the masses. They believed that in a fractured Indian society, people lacked the notion of one nation. All the divisions of the Indian society first had to be wielded into a nation, before they could enter into politics. They were criticized as a ‘microscopic minority’, representing only the upper class educated intelligentsia. The masses were left unattended too. They, therefore, lacked mass appeal.
  3. They failed to understand the clash of interests between colonialism & nationalism.

The Extremist Phase (1905-1915):

Aurbindo Ghosh:

  • Pioneers of passive resistance.
  • Actively involved in Swadeshi Movement.
  • Cleared ICS Exam, but not admitted on technical ground, which was just an excuse.
  • Spread extremist ideas through Yugantar & Vandematram.
  • He published New Lamps for Old in 1893-94, in which he described the Congress leaders pleas to the government on issues like Legislative Councils & simultaneous Civil Service examination in London & India, as “playing with bubbles”.
  • Put on trial in Alipur Conspiracy Case (1910).
  • Leave politics & settled at Pondicherry as spiritual guru.
  • Book – Life Divine.

Ashwini Kumar Datta –  derided the congress as a ‘three days tamasha’.

Bipin Chandra Pal –  mocked it as a “begging institution”.

Lala Lajpat Rai:

  1. Famous Arya Samajist and extremist leader from Punjab, he was popularly known as the ‘Punjab Kesari‘.
  2. He declared that political rights could not be won by an organisation which could not “distinguish between begging rights & claiming them”.
  3. He also argued that sovereignty rests with the people, the state exists for them & rules in their name.
  4. Launched newspapers like The Punjabee, The People.
  5. Wrote – Unhappy India.
  6. Injured in a demonstration against the Simon Commission in Lahore & died after a few days.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak:

  1. Chitpavan Brahmin of Poona.
  2. Called the Father of Indian Unrest by Valentine Chirole.
  3. Tilak who was in the forefront of this new ideology, said that “Indians could not achieve any success if we croak once a year like a frog”.
  4. He declared Swaraj is my birth right & I shall have it.
  5. Founded Ganesh Festival since 1894 to mobilise people.
  6. Founded Shivaji Festival since 1896 to inspire the youth.
  7. No revenue campaign 1896-97, during severe famine in Maharashtra.
  8. Boycott movement on the issue of countervailing cotton excise of 1896.
  9. Wrote – Gita Rahasya.
  10. Newspaper – Kesari (Marathi) & Maratha (English).

Vishnu Shastri Chipulankar wrote Nibandhamala, as a collection of poems with extremist thought.

Achievements of the Extremist:

  • The social base of the movement was broadened under their leadership. It moved beyond the confines of urban intelligentsia.
  • The extremists specified the goal of the national struggle as achieving total independence.
  • They instilled self-confidence and self-reliance among the people. They taught the people that they could live better with India-made goods and there was no need to spend scarce resources of India on buying imported items.
  • They helped to revive cottage industries by propagating the use of Swadeshi and the boycott of imported goods.
  • They tried to cripple the administration by using methods of non-cooperation and boycott.
  • They, through their speeches and writings, infused among the people courage to challenge the imperial regime in India. Newspapers like Kesari and the Maratha helped to spread the spirit of radical nationalism.
  • Young men were fired with zeal to free their country with extreme sacrifices. The Radicals philosophy produced such revolutionaries as Bhagat Singh, Chandar Shekar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, and Veer Savarkar. The sacrifices of these men were not in vain. Their death gave a new impetus to the national movement. The British wanted to stifle their voice of Protests by putting an end to the life of revolutionaries. Instead, their death shook the foundations of the imperial rule and made the British realize that their days in India were numbered.
  • They forced the British government to withdraw many unjust laws and grant many reforms. The British did these to keep the influence of the Radicals under check. The Morely-Minto Reforms of 1909 and cancellation of Partition of Bengal in 1911 can be cited as examples.


The use of religious symbols & festivals by Tilak & Lajpat Rai was intended to awake India both politically & culturally. But, it had an inherent danger in separating the Muslims & other minorities from congress.

Partition of Bengal and Swadeshi Movement

Partition of Bengal (1905):

  • Lord Curzon’s (1899-1905) regime marked the high watermark of British Imperialism in India. ‘As long as we rule India, we are the greatest power in the world. If we lose it, we shall drop straightaway to a third rate power’.
  • He took recourse to a repressive policy to curb the rising tide of nationalism.
  • His Municipality Act of 1899 reorganized the Municipal Corporation of Calcutta. The Act reduced the influence of the educated Indians and gave greater representation to the European mercantile community.
  • Releigh Commission (1902) recommended reform in university education, on the basis of its recommendation, Indian Universities Act, 1904, was passed mainly to establish the government’s control over universities to check growing nationalist activities.
  • All these created strong discontent among the Indian Nationalists.
  • Among Lord Curzon’s administrative measures, the one that elicited the strongest opposition was the partition of Bengal in 1905, which was a concealed attack on Indian nationalism.
  • Partition of Bengal was announced on the pretext of a better administration, though, in reality, it was based on ‘divide and rulepolicy.
  • Bengal was partitioned into two parts on the ostensible ground that it was too large to manage efficiently.
  • The truncated new province of Bengal was to comprise Calcutta and 11 districts of West Bengal, the districts of Darjeeling, as also the whole of Bihar and Orissa (including Sambalpur and the Oriya speaking areas), the majority of the population being Hindu.
  • The part taken away was to be known as ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam‘ comprising the Muslim-majority districts of Bengal, with its capital at Dacca.
  • Sir Henry Cotton wrote,” It was no administrative reason that lay at the root of this scheme. It was part and parcel of Lord Curzon’s policy to enfeeble the growing power and destroy the political tendencies of a patriotic spirit. Bengalis are the leaders of political agitation in modern India”.
  • The policy of rallying the Muslims against the Hindus was steadily pursued by the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam during the years following the partition.
  • Sir Bamfylde Fuller, the Lieutenant Governor of East Bengal, described the Muslim as his ‘ favorite wife‘.

Swadeshi Movement (1905):

  • On July 7, 1905, the Government of India communicated their final scheme of Partition. On the same day the Bengalee, edited by Surendra Nath Banerjee published a leading article under the caption ‘A Grave National Disaster‘.
  • The partition of Bengal officially came into effect on October 16, 1905, was observed as a day of mourning.
  • Its announcement set off mighty upsurge which brought people and political leaders of all shades of opinion together.
  • The student community joined the anti-partition movement with great enthusiasm.
  • Vande Mataram overnight became the national song for the whole country.
  • On the suggestion of Rabindranath Tagore, the day of partition was further observed as Rakhi Bandhan Day to indicate the unity of India, the unity of the Bengalis, and of the two halves of the Bengal.
  • In the evening, a huge public meeting was held. Anandamohan Bose presided over it and laid the foundation of the Federation Hall.
  • To offer more active resistance, it was decided to boycott British goods.
  • People vowed not to purchase British cloth, salt, sugar, or anything else manufactured in England.
  • The sale of English goods fell dramatically as Bombay mills worked overtime to meet the demand for swadeshi textiles.
  • It became a matter of pride to wear coarse dhotis made on local handlooms rather than the fashionable Manchester textiles.
  • The University of Calcutta, which supervised education in schools and colleges, was denounced as a gulam khana (house for slaves) and a ‘National Council of Educator‘ was established with a view to organizing a system of education on national lines and under national management.
  • The Swadeshi Bandhab Samiti established by Ashwini Kumar Dutta, a school teacher in Barisal, was the most well-known samiti. The samitis helped to carry the message of swadeshi to the remotest village.

Significance of Swadeshi Movement:

  • The Swadeshi movement was the beginning of the organized movement in India. It was the only movement that fully achieved its objective, in that partition of Bengal, was revoked in 1911.
  • According to Surendra Nath Banerjee, the Swadeshi movement was not ‘merely an economic or a political movement but an all-comprehensive movement coextensive with the entire circle of our national life’.
  • Mahatma Gandhi wrote that the real awakening of India ‘took place after the partition of Bengal’.
  • As Tilak said ‘Like the bodies, our minds should also become Swadeshi… Swadeshi thoughts should always reign in our hearts’.

Causes For The Rise Of ExtremismGlobal Warming: Effects and Control Measures
The Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22)Forest and Wildlife Resources
Civil Disobedience Movement (March 12, 1930 – March 5, 1931)Disaster Management
The Government of India Act 1935Major landforms and their economic significance– NIOS

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