The British conquest of India was followed by the establishment of a centralised government which brought about political and administrative unification. In the pre-colonial India the people were not socially and economically integrated in the absence of a unified national economy and efficient and extensive means of communication. Common subjection, common institutions, common laws began to unite India in a common bond.
In the words of Edwyn Bevan, “the British Raj was like a steel-frame which held the injured body of India together till the gradual process of internal growth had joined the dislocated bones, knit up the torn fibres and enabled the patient to regain inner coherence and unity”. Thus establishment of political unity, uniform system of administration, uniform reign of law and a uniform currency system generated the idea of India as a nation.
1. Development of Means of Communication and Transport
Administrative convenience, military defence and economic exploitation were the factors that urged the British government to have planned development of modern means of transport. The British constructed a modern postal system and electric telegraph all over the country. In the words of Edwin Arnold, “Railways may do for India what dynasties have never done what the genius of Akbar the Magnificent could not effect by government, not the cruelty of Tipu Saheb by violence, they have made India a nation.” The modern means of communications and transport enabled people living in different parts of the country to maintain regular contacts with one another which provided them not only a sense of unity but also the facility to organise an all-India movement.
2. Impact of Western Education :
Perhaps the greatest contribution of the British rule to the growth of India nationalism was the introduction of western education in India. It brought about a profound intellectual transformation in India. Western education brought the Indians into touch with the works of great European thinkers and writers like Milton,Thomas Paine, Burke, J.S. Mill, Spencer, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau and Mazzini and helped them imbibe the ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy and national freedom. The pioneers of Indian nationalism were moved by the aspirations for self-government, for political power and representative institutions.
The study of English language not only helped build up a democratic and national outlook, it also did a great service to the cause of Indian nationalism by providing a medium of communication for the educated Indians throughout India to exchange views on a national scale. It cut across personal barriers and served as a lingua franca. Educated Indians began to meet and discuss common problems through the medium of English and to meet on a common platform to devise plans for independence of the country.
3. Economic Exploitation of India :
The British economic policy in India led to impoverishment of the country. The main object of British policies was a systematic destruction of traditional Indian economy. The Indian reaction to the discriminatory economic policy of the British government was the rise of economic nationalism in India. India became a supplier of raw materials to the British industries, a market for the sale of British goods and a place for investment of British capital. Indian economy was sacrificed for British economic interests. Economic exploitation by the British was increasing India’s poverty.
The British Indian administration was extremely costly. Systematic attempts were made to destroy the indegenous industries of India to make room for manufactured goods from England. Gradually the people realised that it was drain of wealth from India which made India poor. As all classes suffered economically because of the British rule, they realised the necessity of uprooting the British rule from India. It gave a great impetus to the spirit of nationalism.
4. Socio-Religious Reform Movements:
The socio-religious reform movements also known as the Indian Renaissance were the first expression of national awakening. They represented attempts to revise the old religion in the spirit of the new principles of nationalism and democracy. To quote or Zachaias; “The Indian national movement was a part of the Indian Renaissance of India which manifested in the form of a general reform movement and produced striking religious and social reforms long before it issued in a movement for political emancipation.”The Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna Mission and the Theosophical Society in their own respective ways, revived the glory of ancient India, generated faith in Indian culture and religion and tried to strengthen them by removing the evils.
Similarly revivalism among the Muslims was provided by the wahabi Movement on the one side and by the personality of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan on the other. These movements breathed a new life into the degenerated Hindu and Muslim communities.They created self-confidence and inculcated a sense of self-respect which in its turn brought dissatisfaction against the British rule. They preached love for India and everything Indian. It promoted pa-Indian feelings and spirit of nationalism.
5. Emergence of Modern Press and Nationalist Literature :
Indian press played an equally important role in building and developing Indian nationalism. It is through press that the Indian nationalists spread the message of patriotism and modern economic, social and political ideas among the people. The Indian press has played a notable role in mobilising public opinion, organising political movements and promoting nationalism. Despite government restrictions news papers like the Indian mirror, Amrit Bazar Patrika, the Pioneer, The Hindu, the Maratha, Keshari, Bombay Samachar, Samachar Darpan, Andhra Prakasika etc. became a powerful instrument of political education for the middle class and stimulated the growth of national feeling by making public the grievances of the people and also by exposing the failings and deficiencies of the foreign rule. B.B. Majumdar has mightly remarked, “Western education and the Indian press were the two of the most important agencies destined to infuse into the people of India the spirit of national unity and to inspire them to achieve independence without bloodshed.”
Nationalist literature in the form of novels, essays and patriotic poetry played an important role in creating national consciousness. Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath Tagore, Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar, Subramanyam Bharati and Altaf Hussain Hali were some of the writers who infused the spirit of patriotism in the minds of the common people.
6. Racial arrogance of the British :
Racial arrogance of the British united the Indian people against the foreigners. Earlier foreigners like the Turks, the Afghans and the Mughals who came to India accepted India as their motherland and settled here. But the British remained pepetual foreigners in India. Because of the white colour of the skin they adopted a feeling of racial superiority in dealing with Indians. They branded all Indians irrespective of their caste, religion or clanwith the badge of inferiority. They were kept out of European clubs, restaurants and were not allowed to travel in the same compartments. There were placards saying “Indians and Dogs are not allowed.”
This type of behaviour hurt the sentiments of the Indian people and they became conscious of this national humiliation and became united against the foreigners.
7. Denial of Higher Jobs to deserving Indians :
The charter Act of 1833 laid down that fitness was to be the criterion of eligibility for jobs. It was again reiterated in the Queen’s proclamation of 1858. But deliberate attempts were made by the British to debar Indians from higher posts specially the Indian Civil Service. S.N. Banerjee, Aurobindo Ghosh etc. were denied entry into Indian Civil Service on flimsy grounds. In 1877 the entrance age to ICS was reduced from 21 to 19 just to reduce the prospects of Indian candidates from the Indian Civil Service. This decision led to a countrywide agitation and marked the beginning of the unity of action and solidarity of purpose. S.N. Banerjee started an all-India compaign for restoring the entrance age of 21 and for simultaneous ICS examination in India. It helped the educated Indians to unite for promoting their interests.
8. Revival of the Glory of India :
Western scholars like Max Muller, William Jones, Charles Wilkinse etc through their researches tried to rediscover India’s past. They established the fact that the ancient Indian Culture surpassed every other culture and Indian philosophy has no match in the world. Many nationalist leaders tried to arouse the self-confidence and self-respect of the people by pointing to the cultural heritage of India. No doubt, great harm was done by this tendency of looking up only to the heritage of ancient India while ignoring the Medieval period. It led to the rise of communal feelings among both Hindus and Muslims. But this rediscovery of Indian’s past created self-confidence among the Indians and inspired them with a new spirit of partiotism and nationalism.
9. Impact of contemporary European Movements :
The knowledge of certain contemporary events and movements abroad between 1861 and 1884 such as unification of Italy and Germany, independence movements in Romania, Serbia, Greece and Ireland, coming up of national states in South America deeply stirred the emotion of Indians. Thus European nationalist movements led to development of nationalism in India.
10. Reactionary Regime of Lytton and the llbert Bill Controversy :
The regime of Lord Lytton as Governor General (1876-80) was full of reactionary measures. Lytton held an Imperial Durbar at Delhi in 1877 to announce Queen Victoria as the Empress of India at a time when a large part of the country was in the grip of a severe famine. He put on the statute book two obnoxious measures the vernacular press Act and the Indian Arms Act. While the press Act intended to restrict the freedom of the vernacular press, the Arms Act aimed to disarm the Indian people. Another discriminatory measure was the reducing of the import cotton duties by five percent to appease the Lancashire mill-owners. Then he reduced the entrance age to ICS from 21 to 19 which antagonised the educated Indians.
The llbert Bill controversy during the period of Lord Ripon exposed the racial bitterness of the British and united the Indians. Ripon tried to abolish judicial disqualification based on race distinctions. The llbert Bill sought to give equal power to the Indian members of the Judiciary along with the Europeans. The Indian session judges and Magistrates were not empowered to try European offenders.
The Bill raised a vehement agitation among the members of the European community and they all stood united against the Bill. Ripon had to modify the bill which almost defeated the original purpose. The whole episode became an eye-opener for Indians. They became fully conscious of the degradation to which foreign rule had reduced them. They realised the importance of united and concerted political action. The Indian leaders learnt the lesson that the way to improve their condition was to organise, agitate and press their demands rather than rely on benevolence of the government. Consequently, demands began to arise for a permanent nationwide organisation to ventilate the grievances of the people.
To quote A.R. Desai, “Indian nationalism was the outcome of the new material conditions created in India and the new social forces which emerged as a result of the British conquest. It was the outcome of the objective conflict of interests, the interest of Britain to keep India politically, economically subjected to her and the interest of the Indian people for a free political economic and cultural evolution of the Indian society, which was intruded by the British rule.”