Indian National Congress Is Founded

The first political association of English-educated and middle-class Indian professionals, the Indian National Congress was organized to impel the British government to investigate the social, political, and economic conditions of Indians and enact required reforms in British India. The loyalist and moderate association was later transformed into an effective vehicle of nationalist struggle that led to Indian independence in 1947.

Summary of Event

The nineteenth century constituted a new era for British India under the aegis of the British imperial culture that itself was a product of the European Enlightenment. The Enlightenment had wrought profound changes in the life and thinking of the people in the West. Consequently, the latter half of the nineteenth century saw a generation of Englishmen (those attending the Imperial Services College) influenced by the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). The two thinkers had believed that all men and women would be potentially similar if liberated from the strangleholds of tradition by a combination of good government, law, and political economy. This utilitarian attitude joined with the reforming enterprise of the Clapham (a prosperous suburb of London) Sect and the Free Traders in sponsoring the modernization of India. Indian National Congress
India;nationalist movement
British Empire;and India[India]
Hume, Allan Octavian
India;and British Empire[British Empire]
[kw]Indian National Congress Is Founded (1885)
[kw]National Congress Is Founded, Indian (1885)
[kw]Congress Is Founded, Indian National (1885)
[kw]Founded, Indian National Congress Is (1885)
Indian National Congress
India;nationalist movement
British Empire;and India[India]
Hume, Allan Octavian
India;and British Empire[British Empire]
[g]British Empire;1885: Indian National Congress Is Founded[5440]
[g]India;1885: Indian National Congress Is Founded[5440]
[c]Organizations and institutions;1885: Indian National Congress Is Founded[5440]
[c]Social issues and reform;1885: Indian National Congress Is Founded[5440]
[c]Government and politics;1885: Indian National Congress Is Founded[5440]
Bonnerjee, Womesh Chandra
Banerjea, Sir Surendranath
Ripon, first marquis of
Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Frederick Temple

Since 1835, English education, together with the missionary Missionaries;in India[India] evangelical enterprise, introduced Western ideas and aroused among the urban Indians a critical attitude toward their own religious, social, and political lives. This attitude was discernible first in Calcutta, the busiest center of mercantile, missionary, and metropolitan activities of the empire. However, Western ideas and education also brought home to those affected by it the “foreignness” of the Christian rulers, leading to an intensification of Indians becoming aware of their native differences.

British India at the End of the Nineteenth Century

Also, the process of Westernization split Indians into two factions: the modernists, comprising the English-educated reformers of the Brahmo Samaj (founded in 1828) and of the Young Bengal movement (started at the Hindu College, during the late 1820’s) and the traditionalists, comprising the (similarly) Western-educated upholders of Indian culture of the Dharma Sabha (1830) of Bhabanicharan Banerjee Banerjee, Bhabanicharan (1787-1848) and the Tatwabodhini Sabha (1839) of Debendranath Tagore Tagore, Debendranath (1817-1905).

Side by side with these groups there flourished also a compact but caring community of non-official but professional Englishmen nicknamed “interlopers” by the British East India Company government, who, by their social and political critiques, provided Indian reformers a practical example of constitutional agitation. A milestone was reached with the formation of the Landholders’ Society on March 19, 1838, the very first political association of Indians. The society functioned as the mouthpiece for public grievances mainly because the landlords were recognized by Indian society, especially in Bengal, as the natural leaders of the people. In 1843 this society merged with the Bengal British India Society, forming a broader membership base, including some Britons but mostly members of the Western-educated bourgeoisie. In 1851 the British India Society metamorphosed into the British Indian Association, with a membership made up entirely of Indians. The new group promoted government efficiency and the welfare of the common people by legislative means, all in the common interests of Great Britain and India.

In its attempt to become an all-India body, however, the British Indian Association attracted a large number of landlords as members. The 1850’s also witnessed an escalating racial hostility between the British and the Indians, which culminated in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The post-Mutiny period saw feudal landlords supporting the British Empire of India and the English-educated middle class questioning the legitimacy of the continuance of foreign domination in the name of such Western values as individual rights and national freedom. In 1866, Rajnarayan Basu (1826-1899), an English-educated religious and social reformer, founded a society for the promotion of nationalism among the educated natives of Bengal. Furthermore, the middle-class-dominated Indian Association, founded in 1875 by an erstwhile member of the Indian civil service, Surendranath Banerjea Banerjea, Sir Surendranath , sought to achieve “the unification of the Indian races and peoples on the basis of a common political interest and aspirations.”

During the early 1880’s, Indian nationalism received support from the government, which had been headed by a liberal viceroy, the first marquis of Ripon. Following, however, the defeat of the Ilbert Bill of 1883 (named after Courtney Ilbert, a legal member of the viceroy’s council), which sought to empower Indian judges in cases involving Europeans, the Indian intelligentsia and political leaders became acutely aware of the need for an all-India platform. On April 2, 1883, in the middle of the Ilbert Bill controversy, Surendranath Banerjea was imprisoned on a charge of contempt of court when he ran a leader in the Bengalee accusing a justice of the Calcutta High Court of sacrilege for using a Hindu idol on the witness stand. This event became a cause célèbre serving to dramatize the growing breach between the European community and the native educated elites of Calcutta.

In December, 1883, Banerjea Banerjea, Sir Surendranath would organize the Indian National Conference in Calcutta, a gathering that included Hindus and Muslims Islam;in India[India]
India;Islam from more than twenty urban areas of India. Next year, a number of Calcutta lawyers, with some Muslims, formed the Indian Union to provide a base for political activities. Another association, the Madras Mahajana Sabha (Great People’s Forum of Madras), was formed in the south. In 1885, the Bombay Presidency Association was founded. The three presidency associations appointed a delegation to sail for England to work with the pro-liberal candidates in Great Britain’s general election (November 24 to December 18). This overture failed, bringing disillusionment to the Indians who had placed their trust in British liberalism.

The struggle for political participation in government gathered further momentum by the initiative of Allan Octavian Hume, a retired civil servant living in India. Hume was extremely critical of the ineptitude of the bureaucracy and was consequently demoted and forced to take an early retirement; thereafter, he devoted himself to working for India’s regeneration. His mission in India had two goals: to help Indians acquire their legitimate rights and to help them acknowledge the advantages of the British connection.

Following Ripon’s departure, Hume struggled to organize a national party of Indians. He contacted Sarvajanik Sabha Poona Sarvajanik Sabha Poona (People’s Forum of Poona) and the political leaders of other important Indian cities. He also had received indirect, albeit cautious support from the new viceroy, Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Frederick Temple , who possibly believed that a national body of Indian politicians could function as a loyal opposition and a safety valve, and could help the government monitor public opinion. In May, 1885, Hume circulated a private memorandum to a few individuals whom he considered the “the inner circle” of the proposed Indian national union, notifying them of a planned conference at Poona during the week of December 25-31. Hume left for England on July 14 to inform liberal leaders of the conference and to lobby among the British politicians and journalists for an Indian party.

Hume returned to India on December 2 and busily prepared for the Poona conference. Five other conferences, however, including the second national conference convened by the Indian Association, were planned for Calcutta during December 25-31. Also, Poona had been suffering through a cholera epidemic, so Hume had to change the date and venue for the national union conference. Also, at the suggestion of an influential newspaper editor of Calcutta, Hume preferred the Americanized term “congress” over “union,” which had been suggested by a Calcutta journalist. The conference of the nascent congress was scheduled for Bombay on December 28. Calcutta lawyer Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee Bonnerjee, Womesh Chandra was elected the congress’s president, and attendees included seventy-two delegates representing the three presidencies and other major provinces, together with thirty friends and sympathizers.

The congress was not initially a political party. Instead, it was an association for promoting “personal intimacy and friendship”; eradicating “all possible race, creed, or provincial prejudices amongst all lovers of country”; suggesting parliamentary inquiry into Indian affairs; and pooling “matured opinions of the educated classes in India on some of the more important and pressing of the social questions of the day.”


Although the Indian National Congress was not really an all-India body reflecting national aspirations, its activities and membership expanded in the course of the next half-century. Indian resentment against forced participation in World War I on behalf of the British had united Hindus and Muslims in their demand for self-government, a demand that culminated with a mass movement for independence in the 1920s and 1930s under the leadership of Mohandas K. Gandhi Gandhi, Mohandas K. (1869-1948).

Further Reading

  • Andrews, Charles F., and Girija K. Mookerjee. The Rise and Growth of Congress in India, 1832-1920. 2d ed. Meerut: Meenakshi Prakashan, 1967. A reliable near-contemporary account.
  • McCully, Bruce T. English Education and the Origins of Indian Nationalism. 1940. Reprint. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1966. An insightful and rigorous analysis of the origins and evolution of Indian nationalism but most illuminating on the Indian National Congress (INC) in particular.
  • Mehrotra, S. R. The Emergence of the Indian National Congress. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1971. Standard history and a magisterial account.
  • Wedderburn, William. Allan Octavian Hume ’Father of the Indian National Congress’ 1829-1912: A Biography. Edited by Edward C. Moulton. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Biography of the organizer of the INC by a colleague with an introduction by a noted scholar.
  • Yasin, Madhavi. Emergence of Nationalism, Congress and Separatism. Delhi, India: Raj, 1996. A comprehensive history of the INC with a useful and detailed bibliography.

Lambton Begins Trigonometrical Survey of India

British Abolish Suttee in India

Second Anglo-Sikh War

Sepoy Mutiny Against British Rule

Indian Legislative Council Enacts the Ilbert Bill

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India;nationalist movement
British Empire;and India[India]
Hume, Allan Octavian
India;and British Empire[British Empire]