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Formation of Indian National Congress

1. Predecessors of Congress

Dadabhai Nairoji organized East India Association in 1866 in London to discuss the Indian question, and influence British to promote Indian welfare. Later  many branches of the association were opened in prominent Indian cities.

Surendranath Banerjee and Ananda Mohan Bose found Indian Association in Calcutta in 1876.

Justice Ranade and others organized Poona Sarvajanik Sabha in 1870.

M Viraaraghavachari, G Subramaniya Iyer, Ananda Charlu and others formed Madras Mahajan Sabha in 1884.

Pherozeshah Mehta, K T Telang, Badrudding Tyabji and others formed Bombay Presidency Association in 1885.

2. Formation of Congress

Congress formed in 1885 and held its first session in Bombay under presidentship of Vyomesh Chandra Banerjee. Formation of congress, its composition and the demands it raised, shows the essentially middle class nature of the Indian freedom struggle in 1885.

3. Early Leaders of Congress

Badruddin Tayyabji was the 1st Muslim president of Congress in 1887. He was also the first barrier of Bombay High Court. Also known as ‘official Ambassador of India’, and a Parsi scholar, Dadabhai Nairoji was an astute trader and politician. He was the first Asian to be a British MP (1892-1895). Gokhale was also among the first generation of Indians to receive the university education. A O Hume was a retired English civil servant.

Thus, the leaders came essentially from the upper middle, western educated section of Indian society. These founders of congress demanded a reform of British rule to accommodate Indian demands such as Indianization of civil services, including more Indians in legislative councils, providing protection to Indian industries by raising custom duties etc. Moreover, they did not argue for the overthrow of British rule but rather pleaded loyalty to it.

These early founders relied upon primarily the use of press to spread nationalist consciousness amongst Indian masses. They stayed away from the use of violent means and relied on pleas and petitions to British govt. They refrained from directly involving the masses in open protest against the British rule since they feared a British crackdown on any such movements.

These early founders of Congress are also known as moderates. They had limited mass base but dominated the congress for two decades i.e. 1885-1905. Though externally may look like a failure, they sowed the seed of Indian nationalism, primarily centred around political and economic issues to give birth to secular nationalism by the turn of the 20th century.

‘We are at such a stage that our achievements are bound to be less and our failures too frequent. We must content  ourselves by serving our country by our failures. It is through these failures that the struggle will emerge.’ 

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

4. Extremists and their Views

The younger generation of Congress represented by Lal Bal Pal and Ghosh argued for a rethink of congress strategy after 1890s.

5. Extremist Leaders

(Aurobindo Ghosh retired from active politics in 1908 and passed away in 1950.)

They demanded that Congress must argue for overthrow of British rule rather than its reform. They argued for going beyond writing articles in press and suggested direct involvement of Indian masses by the use of instruments like boycott of British goods and adoption of Swadeshi. They criticised the moderate strategy as useless and argued that it reduces nationalism to the level of an academic pastime. Aurobindo Ghosh wrote the book NEW LAMPS FOR THE OLD criticising the methods of moderate leaders.

The extremists had a larger mass base than the moderates and played a more important role in leading the movement against Bengal partition 1905 onwards.

Theories which are used explain origin of Congress

Safety valve hypothesisLightening conductor hypothesis
The British saw Congress merely as a safety valve which would allow educated Indians to periodically let off their political steam without threatening the underlying nature of British rule.The congress did not openly challenge the safety label ascribed to it. However they invited A O Hume to become its founding member as it would enable them to reduce British resistance towards Congress. Thus they saw in A O Hume a lightening conductor.

6. Press Reforms

1799 – Censorship of Press Act

1835 – Charles Metcalfe introduced new law which removed restrictions on press and need to obtain licenses for opening a newspaper.

1860s -1870s – Number of articles critical of British policies were written.

1878 – Vernacular Press Act was introduced during Lytton’s era. It imposed restrictions on local language newspapers. All local newspapers should give written affidavit that they will not publish anti-British articles. They must submit bond sureTy of 50,000 rupees.
If found violating the terms of the act. Their equipment would be ceased. i.e. press will be closed down.
It was not applied to English language, but only vernacular language.
Amrita Bazzar Patrika converted itself to English language to escape the imposed restrictions.
Lord Ripon repealed the law in 1881.

7. Tilak


Ganapati and Shivaji festivals.
1897 – Plague outbreak.
Chafekar Brothers /Nathu brothers assasinated Plague Commissioner of Pune Rand.
He was jailed, his popularity increased rapidly.

Dufferin was viceroy at that time.
Congress early leaders approached A. O. Hume to be part of founding members. Hume negotiated with Dufferin for INC.
Dufferin also allowed it as it was peceived as safety valve by him.
By 1920s, congress graduated to become one of the key instrument of Indian nationalism proving that terming it merely as a safety valve was perhaps an incorrect assesment.
British Committee of Indian National Congress also started journal India to propogate Indian view in Britain around 1890.

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