The Myth and Making of Congress.
Indian National Congress is the oldest party in the Indian political arena, now a major opposition party; it had also played an important role in the freedom struggle of India.
Indian National Congress and its inception was the culmination of the social and political awakening in the beginning in the late nineteenth century.
Congress as an indigenous political party was established in the December of 1885 by seventy two political workers on an all-India scale. It was formed at the National convention, held in Bombay. Other than the seventy two political workers, a retired ICS officer, Allan Octavian Hume, played a crucial role in the making of the Congress. It was he who toured the subcontinent and spoke to prominent leaders in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta and persuaded them to gather at the National Conference.
The making of the Indian National Congress was conceived in 1885 at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Bombay. The meeting was presided by W.C Bonejee, who later became the first president of the party. Congress was a collection of educated men, who wanted to influence the policy making of the British Raj. They had declared their allegiance to the crown and their forms of protests were made through petitions and applications. Their demand went only as far as the dominion status of Indian subcontinent under the British Crown.
The formation of Congress gave wings to the moderate politics of the subcontinent. The making of the Indian National Congress has caused serious debate within historians.
It was Bipan Chadra, who settled the debate with his two articles, first, Foundation of Congress: The myth and second, Foundation of the Indian National Congress: The reality, in the book, India’s struggle for Independence.
The oldest theory that has been made on the creation of congress is called ‘the safety valve’ theory.
The theory was subscribed to politicians of all spectrums, left right and center. It was with the publication of the autobiography of Hume, written by William Wedderburn that the theory came to light. He in the biography suggested that Hume had come across secret reports that were seven volumes long. Those reports showed the gradual increase in discontent within the lower classes and a conspiracy to overthrow the British rule by force. He, with Lord Dufferin, the then Viceroy of India decided to establish an organization of educated Indians. This organization would open up channels of communication between the masses and the British colonial government and hence prevent mass revolution. Lala Lajpat Rai in his magazine Young India, published in 1916 used the safety valve theory to attack the moderate politics of Congress. This was followed by India Today, written by R.P Dutt almost 25 years later. Dutt emphasized on the theory and suggested that the conception of Indian National Congress happened under the full knowledge and support of the British officials and ‘a plan that was secretly pre-arranged with the viceroy’ so that it could use ‘it as an intended weapon for safeguarding British rule against the rising forces of popular unrest and anti-British feeling’. Dutt further suggests that with time, the loyalist nature of Congress did transform into a nationalist one. M.S Golwalker, in 1939, in his pamphlet ‘We’ had attacked Congress on the premise of the safety valve theory. He suggested that it was three way fight, Hindus were at war with the Muslims on one hand and the British on the other. He complains that the making of congress, lulled the awakening giant into slumber and hence caused the destruction of the national conscious.
Bipan Chandra provides a fresh perspective to this theory. He suggests that the leadership of Congress was largely made of men from Bombay and Calcutta, who first came together around 1860s and early 1870s, while studying for the ICS (Indian Civil Service) or law.
Around this time an environment was created, where likeminded middle class bourgeoisie were expecting to come up with a singular group or association, to voice their opinions. Most of these efforts were taken in the presidencies; the multiple associations realized the need to align themselves to be taken more seriously. The organizations that were involved in the culmination of Congress were Poorna Sarvajanik Sabha, The Indian Association, Madras Mahajana Sabha and Bombay Presidency Association. Hume took the advantage of an already created atmosphere and arranged all the leaders under one banner.
The seven volumes of reports that Hume supposedly got in his Shimla office, were used by Lala Lajpat Rai, followed by R.C Dutt and others as historical proof. These documents have been described as government reports and sometimes as CID reports. These reports had no trace whatsoever, even in the National Archives. Hume was Secretary to the Department of Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce in Shimla, and then the question that begs asking is, how he acquired CID reports or Home Department files, office of which is situated in Delhi?
Bipan Chandra clues it from William Wedderburn’s autobiography of Hume, these reports were given to Hume by religious leaders, Gurus of religious sects and as Wedderburn suggests, were men of highest quality who have purged themselves from earthly desires and fixed their desires on the highest goods. The seven volumes of reports were acquired from the 'Chelas' of these Gurus.
On the basis of the private papers of Viceroy Ripon and Dufferin, books of Theosophy and Madame Blavastsky, Bipan Chandra suggests that Gurus were persons who were in possession of supernatural power.
These occult powers, enabled to communicate through distance of thousands of miles and direct men’s opinions and thoughts.
Hume shared this information with Rippon and later Dufferin and as the sources of these reports were ambiguous, he didn’t receive much support from either. The private paper of Lord Dufferin suggests his opposition to Congress. Dufferin attacked Congress and wrote, ‘in what way the happy dispatch may be best applied to Congress,’ for ‘we cannot allow the Congress to Continue to exist’.
The making of Congress was the culmination of a process of political awakening, where political Indians and modern intellectuals interested in politics began to represent the national interest. The vernacular and the nationalist newspapers had a huge role to play in it. The Hindu, The Tribune, Bangalee, Maratha and Kesari were responsible for the awakening among the educated individuals. It was these newspapers that wrote vehemently against the 'Vernacular Press Act'. It was also in the same period that protests started against laws like Arms Act, Inland Emigration Bill and for Ilbert Bill. These protests failed to achieve any results because they were fragmented and sporadic, this was observed by the modern intellectuals. Hence efforts were made, to create an all India platform for such organizations.
Hume arrived in such a situation and made the efforts to arrange for an all India platform. Hume was maybe more acceptable, he was a retired ICS officer; hence he avoided the official hostility. Ghokhale, suggested, ‘no Indian could have started the Indian National Congress, if an Indian had, the officials would not have allowed the movement to come into existence’.
1. R.P Dutt, India Today, Read Books
2. Bipan Chandra, India’s Struggle for Independence 1857-1947, Penguin Books India
3. Shekhar Bandhopadhyay, From Plassey to Partition, Orient Blackswan, New Delhi