Indian National Congress

The Indian National Congress spearheaded the liberation struggle. Extremists, revolutionaries, the peasants, and the workers played crucial roles towards it achievement. From 1885 to 1905, the Indian National Congress sought reforms in the Indian society through methods exclusively of constitutionalism. These reforms were social, economic, political, and military. Following the partition of Bengal proposal in 1905, mass movements such as Swadeshi and Boycott began in the country. There were launched extremist and revolutionary activities in major parts of the country (Arora, 2010).

The Indian National Congress in the first twenty years was known as the moderate congress. It had moderate leaders such as Hume, Wedderburn, Bannerjee, George Yule, Subramanyam Ayyar, Dinshaw Wacha, Pherozeshah Mehta, Dadabhai Naoroji, Budru-din-Tyabji, Surendranath Banerji, Madanmohan Malvayia, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and M.G. Ranade. These leaders thought of the English rule in India as a blessing. They regarded India’s development as being associated with the development of Great Britain. For these leaders, the English were men of justice and their rule in India was also just. They thought that the English rulers in India and the English people in general were to be made familiar with the problems faced by the Indians. Most of the Indian leadership was an English educated one. This led to them finding English friendly and sympathetic. Their goal was not complete independence but reform. Moderates wanted the British to involve more Indians in the administrative process.

 The demands of the then Indian National Congress were moderate, as were their methods and strategies. The principal demands of the moderates can be categorized under; constitutional reforms, administrative reforms, social economic reforms, and safeguarding civil liberties.

Constitutional reforms included abolition of the Indian Council. Expansion of the legislative councils and Legislative Assemblies as well as adequate representation of Indians in the council was also under constitutional reforms. They also needed Swaraiya or self-government within the British Empire, similar to the system of administration in Canada and Australia.

The administrative reforms included employment of more Indians in the higher services, Indianization of services by holding ICS examination simultaneously in England and India. Complete separation of the executive and the judiciary, increase in the powers of local bodies and the reduction of official control over them, and repeal of the Arms Act and improvement in the police system to make it honest and efficient.

Social-economic reforms included reduction in land revenue and protection of peasants against the cruel demands of the zamindars. Availability of cheap credit to peasants through agricultural banks. Reduction in army expenditure and use of the funds for the development of health and education, industrial growth through trade protection by imposing heavy tax on imported goods, government loans to be readily available for the development of iron, coal, paper and sugar industries, and total abolition of the salt tax and the duty on sugar.

They also wanted to safeguard civil liberties. This was to be done by removal of restrictions imposed by the British government on the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, the right to assemble and form associations and individual rights to be restored.

Early nationalism founded on the twin pillars of loyalty to the British sovereign and partnership with the British Empire helped the political advancement of India. It brought together leading representatives from all over the country. The ideal of Indian unity became a reality. People became conscious of a bond of political, economic, and cultural interests. The moderates became instrumental in spreading information regarding democracy, civil liberties, public welfare and nationalism. The moderates were also successful in exposing the true nature of the British rule. Dadabhai Naoroji through his drain theory raised questions concerning the systematic plunder of the country’s wealth by the British rulers. The speeches of Surendranath Banerjea and Pherozeshah Mehta voicing the aspirations of the Indian people; Dadabhai Naoraji placing the Indian question before the House of Commons when he was elected its member in 1892, roused the political consciousness of India like never before.

The reforms led to the ICS examinations being held in India and England. Many Indians were included in the Viceroy’s Legislative Council and in the Provincial Legislature by the Indian Councils Act of 1892. They were allowed to discuss the budget but could not change or vote on any item (Sengupta, 2008).

Though the moderates’ strategy of constitutionalism did not yield much success, its loyalism towards the British rulers stood as an obstacle. That was one reason that the nationalist leadership of 1885 – 1905 could not attract and entertain much of the support for the Indian masses. However, the moderates did lay the ground for the later leadership to lead the liberation movement. The rise of militant extremism in the early days of the twentieth century may be traced to numerous factors. The young Congressmen were not satisfied with either moderate demands of the early Congressmen or their moderate methods. The new socio – economic conditions throwing a vast majority of the locally educated Indians out on the roads were already a disappointed lot. The terrible natural calamities (18 famines in 1896 and a plague in 1897) with no or only negligible relief coming from the government had already exhibited the officials’ bankruptcy. The humiliation of the Indians abroad, especially in South Africa where they were treated nothing better than either slaves or criminals, made them realize that they were regarded worse abroad because they were not better at home (Arora, 2010).

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