Foundation of Indian National Congress – 1885


Allan Octavian Hume (A.O.Hume), a restricted British member of Indian Civil Service who had settled at Simla, founded the Indian National Union, the forerunner of Indian Nation Congress in 1884. After touring Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, Hume announced that a conference of the Indian Nationl Union would be held at Pune in December, which would be composed of educated delegates of all parts of the three presidencies. But cholera having broken out at Pune, the venue of the conference was shifted to Tejpal Sanskrit Pathshal, Bombay. The first session of the Indian National Congress was held on December 28, 1885. At the suggestion of Dadhabai Naoroji the name of the organization was changed to Indian Nation Congress (INC). Womesh Chandra Bannerjee, a leading lawyer of Calcutta was elected its president.

In its early year the congress had no permanent organization. ‘’There were no paying member, no officials other than General Secretary, no central office and no funds. Every year the session was held in a different city with a different president and it was managed by a Local Reception Committee with locally collected funds. Yet the congress went from strength to strength because it made itself the mouth piece of national aspiration and attracted the thousands who did not attend its session. The growing strength of the organization was reflected in the growing number of attendance in the session itself. Thus, at the first session in Bombay there were 72 delegates only, about 38 of them from Bombay presidency, and only 3 from Bengal. At the second session in Calcutta (1886) in which Surendra Nath Bannerjee and Anadh Mohan Boss played an important role –there were 434 delegates; at the third session in Madras (1887) there were 607; and at the fourth session at Allahabad there were 1248.

Factors Responsible for INC

Several theories exist to explain why the Congress from its modest beginning, went on to become the most powerful representative of the Indian people at large. Some of these theories are discussed here.

  1. Safety value theory, That the INC was not founded by an Indian but by a retired English civil servant, A.O.Hume, has led to speculation that Hume founded the INC to provide a `safety value’ to the growing discontent against the British rule. It is also reported that Hume received from viceroy Dufferin the idea of organizing an annual conference of educated Indians for political discussions. This may be true as far as it goes, but there is no trustworthy evidence to show that Dufferin suggested the founding of the INC or that the INC was meant as a `safety value’.

(a)  Had the INC has been the `safety value’ to safeguard British interests, it would be not have faced rough weather from the British government.

(b) Dufferin himself described the congress as the mouthpiece of the `microscopic minority’ and charged with inciting hatred against British officials.

(c) In 1888 the viceroy formally warned some princely states not to support the congress. (d) Far more effective was the alienation of the Muslims from the congress through the policy of `divide and rule’ Lord Curzon wrote to the secretary of state in 1900:“The congress is tottering to its fall ,and one of my great ambitions, while in India, is to assist it to a peaceful demise’’

  1. Rival Ambitions of Indian Elite, Some historians’ criticised as.

(a) The Indian National Congress was not really national at all, but was a movement either of the frustrated job-hungry middle class or self-interested individuals with a lust for power and they used the congress as which for the pursuit of their own rivalries.

(b) It cannot be generalided because the extent ideology and patriotic motivation, and the articulation of such ideas influenced millions.

(c) More significantly, it was against the economic and racist dimension of British imperialism.

(d) India was a nation with aspiration and grievances that were first articulated and represented by a  small section of the educated middle classes like lawyers and journalists because they had the best opportunity and exposure to modern events to do so.

  1. Need for an all Indian Body, Resentment against the conditions of economic and political subjugation under British rule and the various organizations was gaining strength. Before 1885 as far as five conferences were held in different parts of the country. It was an emergency need of the educated section all over the country to be brought under an all-India body to work together for political purposes.

Moderate Phase

In his first Presidential speech, W.C.Bannerjee, the first Congress President, explained aims and objectives of the Congress:

(a) The promotion of personal intimacy and friendship amongst the countrymen;

(b) Eradication of all possible prejudices to race, creed or provinces;

(c) Consolidation of sentiments of national unity;

(d) Recording of the opinions of educated classes on pressing problems of the day; and

(e) Laying down of lines of future course of action in the public interest.

Bonnerjee also made it clear that the educated Indian in general and the congress in particulars were thoroughly loyal well-wishers of the government The Congress was merely meant to be a forum to represent their views to the British authorities, in whose sense of justice they had tremendous faith, Bonnerjee’s opinion statements defined the type of politics as well as the method and style of functioning of INC , and underlined the hopes of the educated middle classes that were going to dominate this body till 1905, and then again , from 1908 to 1915.

Methods of Works

The nucleus of the congress leadership consisted of men from Bombay and Calcutta who had first come together in the 1860 and early 1870s while studying for the ICS or for law: Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin tyabji, W.C.Bonnerjee, Lal Mohan Ghosh, Surendra Nath Bannerjee, Ananda Mohan Bose, and Ramesh Chandra Dutt. All of them had come under the influence of Dadabhai Naoroji, who was then settled in England as businessman-cum-publican. They were later joint by people like Dwarkash Chari, Anand Charlu and, M.G.Ranade, G.V.Joshi, Viraraghava Chari, and, most importantly, Gopala Krishna Gokhale.

The most distinct aspects of this group was the method of its functioning, which earned it the label of `moderate’ or `liberal’ as it was aimed at `us British rule’ and sought to put forward its humble appeals through petitions, speeches and articles loudly professing loyalty to the Raj. Even these policies of `mendicancy’ were tried out rather in eminently either in journals and newspaper or at the annual sessions of the congress which tabled for only three days. Between sessions, the congress had no machinery to carry on the work.

Objectives and Demands of the INC (1885-1905): In the early years, the INC also referred from a blinkered conviction in the essential sense of justice and goodness of the British people they deducted themselves that all would be well in the British people could be acquainted with the true state of affairs. They had an equally deep-rooted belief that the Indian nation was one and that suffering arose from the discriminatory behavior. The resolutions passed at the congress session reflected these twin faces. The three broad types of grievances were namely political, administrative and economic.

  1. Political Grievences: In concrete terms, the congress centered round the legislative council. The congress demanded expansion of their size, introduction of an elected elements of their composition and enlargement of their conditions. The leaders of the early progress sincerely desired their country’s progress and the lines laid down by the political thought and political experiences of the west.

2.Administrative Grievences: (a)Under this head foremost was the demand of the Indianisation of the higher grades of the series particularly the Indian Civil Service, through ICS examination in England and India.

(b) Separation of the Judiciary from the Ex-serve.

(c) Removal of restrictions on freedom of the speech.

(d)Abolition of discriminatory laws which manned the freedom of the people (e.g. Arms Act).

(e) Higher positions for Indians in the army.

(f) Protection of Indians jobs settled in foreign countries.

(g) Raising of an Indian Volunteer Force.

These demands, it may be noted, combined for racial equality with a concern for civil right.

(3)Economic Grievences: All the economic demands raised were centered round the general poverty of India and theme of drain of here wealth. Resolutions where regularly passed calling for.

(a)An enquiry into India’s growing poverty and famines.

(b) Cuts in home Charges and military expenditure.

(c) More funds for technical education to promote Indian industries. The nationalist blamed the British for the description of India’s indigenous industries.

(d) An end to unfair tariffs and excise duties.

(e)Reduction of land revenue rule, extension of irrigation and development of agriculture banks which would free the agriculture from clutches of the money lenders.

(f) Improvement of the condition of workers in plantations.

(g) Abolition of the salt fax.

(h) An end to ill treatment of Indian coolies abroad.

(i)An end to the sufferings caused by the forest law and forest administration.

(j) Reduction in the heavy military expenditure of the British government in India.

Evaluation of Work: while the political demands of the early congress were moderate, its economic demands were radical and anti-imperialist in nature. They laid bare the exploitative machinery through which the British state functioned and asked for basic changes in the economic relations between India and England. The congress was also a truly nation body with secular demands. Though it was mainly a political body its programe included the welfare of Indians in all walks of life, except religions it provided a link between the government and the people, thus laying the foundation for the freedom movement. The passing of the Indian Councils Act of 1892, which provided some powers to elected local bodies, through it was highly unsatisfactory, was partly a result of the pressure put by the moderates.

Early sessions of the congress: During its formative years the Indian nation congress took notable steps towards making itself a “mighty nationalizer’’ body. Its second session, held in Calcutta in 1886, was presided over by Dadabhai Naoroji. This session witnessed the merger of the National congress and the National conference. The third session was held in Madras in 1887 under the presidentship of Badruddin Tyabji, who appealed to fellow Muslims to “work shoulder to shoulder with their fellow countrymen for the common benefit of all,’’. The fourth session, held in Allahabad in 1888 was presided over by George Yule, the first Englishman to preside over a congress session. The INC thus had, sequentially, presidents belonging to different religion –an Indian Christian (W.C.Bonnerjee),a paris (Dadabhai Naoroji), a muslim (Badruddin Tyabji) and an Englishman(George Yule). This secular character of the congress proved to be one of its greatest success of strength.

Keywords: Indian National Congress, Dadabhai Naoroji, W.C.Bannerjee, Allan Octavian Hume, Safety value theory, Duffrin, Moderate, Liberal

                                                                                                                                    M   Divya