Incredible India Part 13 | Indian National Congress | Initiation of Independent India

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Indian National Congress, Congress-I (also known as the Congress Party and abbreviated INC) is a major political party in India, created in 1885 by Allan Octavian Hume, Dadabhai Naoroji, and Sir Dinshaw Edulji Wacha. During this phase, it functioned not so much as a political party than as a forum for Indians and their British supporters to express to the colonial authorities their views, opinions, and to assert India’s right to self-determination.  

The Indian National Congress was initially not opposed to British rule. Congress met once a year during December. Indeed, it was a Scotsman, Allan Octavian Hume, who brought about it's first meeting in Mumbai, with the approval of Lord Dufferin, the then-Viceroy. Womesh Chandra Bonerjee was the first President of the INC. A few years down the line, the demands of INC became more radical in the face of constant opposition from the government, and the party became very active in the independence movement. By 1907 the party was split into two halves: the Garam Dal of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, or Extremists (literally "hot faction"), and the Naram Dal of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, or Moderates (literally "soft faction"), distinguished by their attitude towards the British. Ironically, a few of the reasons that the Congress grew and survived, particularly in the 19th-century era of undisputed British dominance or hegemony, was through the patronage of British authorities and the rising class of Indians and Anglo-Indians educated in the English language-based British tradition.

Many Muslim community leaders, like the prominent educationalist Syed Ahmed Khan, viewed the Congress negatively, owing to its membership being dominated by Hindus. Orthodox Hindu community and religious leaders were also averse, seeing the Congress as supportive of Western cultural invasion.

The ordinary people of India were not informed of or concerned about its existence on the whole, for the Congress never attempted to address the issues of poverty, lack of health care, social oppression, and the prejudiced negligence of the people's concerns by British authorities. The perception of bodies like the Congress was that of an elitist, then educated and wealthy people's institution.

When World War II began in 1939, Britain made India a belligerent without consulting Indian elected councils. That action angered Indian officials and prompted the Congress Party to declare that India would not support the war effort until it had been granted complete independence. In 1942 the organization sponsored mass civil disobedience to support the demand that the British “quit India.” British authorities responded by imprisoning the entire Congress Party leadership, including Gandhi, and many remained in jail until 1945. After the war, the British government of Clement Attlee passed an independence bill in July 1947, and independence was achieved the following month. In January 1950 India’s constitution as an independent state took effect.

When the British entered the British Indian Army into World War I, it provoked the first definitive, nationwide political debate of its kind in India. Voices calling for political independence grew in number.

The divided Congress re-united in the pivotal Lucknow session in 1916, with efforts of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Tilak had considerably moderated his views and now favored political dialogue with the British. He, along with the young Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mrs. Annie Besant launched the Home Rule Movement to put forth Indian demands for Home Rule – Indian participation in the affairs of their own country – a precursor to Swaraj. The All India Home Rule League was formed to demand dominion status within the Empire.

But another Indian man with another way was destined to lead the Congress and the Indian struggle. Mohandas Gandhi was a lawyer who had successfully led the struggle of Indians in South Africa against British discriminatory laws. Returning to India in 1915, Gandhi looked to Indian culture and history, the values and lifestyle of its people to empower a new revolution, with the concept of non-violence, civil disobedience; he coined a term, Satyagraha.

Gandhi transformed the Congress from an elitist party based in the cities to an organization of the people:

  • Membership fees were considerably reduced.

  • Congress established a large number of state units across India – known as Pradesh Congress Committees – based on its configuration of India's states on basis of linguistic groups. PCCs emerged for Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat — states that did not yet exist and were spread over hundreds of princely states outside British India.

  • All former practices distinguishing Congressmen based on caste, ethnicity, religion, and sex were eliminated — all-India unity was stressed.

  • Native tongues were given official use and respect in Congress meetings – especially Urdu renamed by Gandhi as Hindustani, which was adopted for use by the All India Congress Committee.

  • Leadership posts and offices at all levels would be filled by elections, and not by appointments. This introduction of democracy was vital in rejuvenating the party, giving voice to ordinary members as well as valuable practice for Indians in democracy.

  • Eligibility for leadership would be determined by how much social work and service a member had done, not by his wealth or social standing.

During the 1920s, M.K. Gandhi encouraged tens of thousands of Congress volunteers to embrace a wide variety of organized tasks to address major social problems across India. Under the guidance of Congress committees and Gandhi's network of ashrams in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, the Congress attacked:

  • Untouchability and caste discrimination

  • Alcoholism

  • Unhygienic conditions and lack of sanitation

  • Lack of health care and medical aid

  • Purdah and the oppression of women

  • Illiteracy, with the organization of national schools and colleges

  • Poverty, with proliferating khadi cloth, cottage industries

The last important episodes in the Congress involved the final step to independence and the division of the country based on religions.

Continued as Last Part of this incredible journey - Partition of India, the sad chapter

Last Part - A sad chapter – Partition of India and aftermath

Part 12 - The British East India Company

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