What are the circumstances that led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885?

The earliest political association was the British Indian Society of Bengal found in 1843. In 1851 the British Indian Association was founded and the British Indian Society was merged into it.


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Almost simultaneously with the British Indian Association was formed the Bombay Association (1852) in the western presidency. It, however, did not last for more than a decade. Madras was also slow in developing its public life. A body named Madras Native Association existed there, but it was managed by some officials and had little vitality. In 1870 another organization was formed at Poona, namely, the Sarvajanika Sabha. These organizations were local in character.


The first organization with a really all-India basis was the Indian Association founded in 1876 mainly through the efforts of Surendra Nath Banerji. It was under the auspices of this body that the civil service agitation was conducted by S.N. Banerji all over the country. In 1883 the Indian Association organized the first All India Conference at Calcutta. The Second Conference was held in 1885. During the same period a few more organizations came into existence, the Bengal National League (1884), the Madras Mahajana Sabha (1884) and the Bombay Presidency Association (1885).

Thus, before the actual establishment of the Indian National Congress; a great political ferment had started in the country and it was fully prepared both in men and materials for the construction of a national organization.”

Foundation of the Indian Congress:

The official founder of the Indian National Congress was A.O. Hume, who had retired from the service of the government in 1882. The scheme, however, was prepared in the government Secretariat at Simla and the then Governor General, Lord Duffer in took a leading part in its formulation. The motives which actuated Hume and his associates in the matter, were, a few years later, explained by the former in his correspondence with Sir Auckland Colvin, the Lt. Governor of the United Provinces. In his official capacity, Hume had seen seven volumes of secret police reports from different parts of the country. The evidence contained in them had convinced him that towards the close of Lord Lytton’s Viceroyalty, The country was in an immediate danger of a violent outbreak. There was terrible restlessness among the starving masses and they were bent upon doing something. The reports revealed that underground conspiratorial organizations were springing up and violent crimes like murder of obnoxious persons and the looting of bazaars were being planned on a large scale. It was also feared that a small number from the educated class who were at the time bitter against, the government would join the movement, assume here and there the lead, give the outbreak cohesion and direct it as a national revolt.

Under these circumstances, Hume and his friends in the secretariat were convinced that something should be done to forestall the spontaneous revolutionary outbursts and to direct, the growing restlessness of the country into a constitutional channel.


Hume took the initiative in to his hands. He formed a scheme in his mind and saw Lord Duffer in at Simla early in 1885. The Governor General blessed the idea of Hume. In March 1885 it was finally decided to hold a conference of representatives from all parts .of the country at Poona during the Christmas holidays.

The aims of the conference were (1) to enable all the most earnest participants to become personally known to each other in the cause of national progress (2) to discuss and decide upon the political operations to be undertaken during the ensuing year.

The meeting, however, could not be held at Poona owing to the outbreak of cholera in the town, and was shifted to Bombay. So, on December 28, 1885 and the two succeeding days, seventy two representatives from different provinces met at the Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College. Bombay, under the President ship of a Calcutta barrister W.C. Banerji.

Political Ideas of the moderates:

Faith in British Rule

The starting point of the early leaders of the Congress, often called moderates was their abiding faith that British rule was a great boon to India and a dispensation of providence. There were many factors responsible for their faith. First, the British had brought peace and order to the country after more than a century of disorder and anarchy that had been let loose on the land after the break up of the Mughal Empire. Besides, the moderates were grateful to the British for the introduction of Western type of administrative machinery and justice, rapid means of transport and communication, local self governing institutions, the free press, and above all for English education which, according to them, had brought new light to the country, Loyalty to the British, therefore, was the kernel of the political creed of the moderates. The Congress- declared Dadabhai Naoroji, was not a nursery for sedition and rebellion against the British government but another stone in the foundation of the stability of that Government.

Secular Nationalism

The progressive part of the ideology of the liberals was their secular nationalism. They firmly believed that in spite of all the diversities, India was a nation. They tried to ignore and bypass all the caste and communal differences and focused the attention of educated classes on the questions of common interest. Despite the advocacy of many an English politician and some of their Indian disciples that India’s degradation was due to her social and religious decay and, therefore, social and religious reforms should precede political reforms, the moderates tenaciously maintained the secular character of the Congress and kept the social and religious problems away from politics.

No Doctrinaire Liberty

Although the democratic ideals of liberty, equality and representative government had great fascination for them, they were not doctrinaire philosophers. Their ideal of liberty was not a reproduction of the western concept. They did not believe in the principle of laissez faire. They stood for state protection of industries and looked to the government for social reform, education, and protection of agriculture, trade and industries, for measures of health and sanitation, famine relief and other matters of national advancement. But at the same time they were great champions of civil liberties of the people. They fought boldly for freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press and personal liberty.

No Doctrinaire Equality

Similarly, they had nothing to do with the doctrinaire concept of equality. They believed that the Indians were not capable of managing their political and civil affairs, and, therefore, it was necessary for them to pass through a period of tutelage under the guardianship of the British. Yet they fought consistently for racial equality between Indians and Englishmen, and for social and religious equality among Indians themselves.

Objectives of the Congress:

There was broad uniformity in the objectives and methods of the Congress during the first twenty years in its history. Every year it passed a roughly similar set of resolutions dealing with three broad types of grievances: political, administrative and economic.

(1) Political Demands

The principal political demand was the establishment of genuine consultative councils, both at the centre and in the provinces, increase in the number of members of existing councils, introduction of the principle of election, placing of all legislative and financial measures including the budget before the councils and the right of interpretation to the members of Legislature. Thus, the immediate perspective fell far short of self-government or democracy. It was for the first time in 1906 that Dadabhai Naoroji in his President address, declared, “self-government or Swaraj” like that of the United Kingdom or the colonies to be the distant goal of the Congress. An equally important political demand was the abolition of the hated India Council.

2. Administrative Demands

(i) Employment – The question of employment of Indians in the public services engaged the attention of the Congress from the very beginning. It was demanded that competitive examinations should be held, simultaneously in India and England open to all classes of her Majesty’s subjects, that a classified list of appointments be made in order of merit, and that the age for competition should be not less than 19 and not more than 23. Similarly, it was insisted that the higher branches of Medical, P.W.D., Railway; opium, customs and Telegraph services be thrown open to Indians.

(ii) Reduction of Military Expenditure – The military, problem was another important matter to which the Congress devoted serious thought from the outset. The main demands in this connection were the ever mounting military expenditure should be reduced, an equitable portion of that expenditure be borne by the British, treasury and a system of volunteering for Indians be introduced. The most noteworthy feature of the Congress stand on the military affairs was its unqualified condemnation of the forward aggressive policy of the government. The annexation of Burma, the Tibetan expedition of Lord Curzon and the forward frontier policy were severely criticized.

(iii) Legal Rights – The Congress from the beginning was solicitous about safeguarding the legal rights of the people. The first demand in this connection was separation of executive from judicial function: Another important demand was the establishment of the system of trial by jury.

(iv) Education – In the field of education the Congress demanded that the government should extend primary education, broaden secondary education, and maintain at its highest possible level higher education. Particular emphasis was laid on technical education for Indians.

3. Economic Demands

The economic issues raised were all bound with the general poverty of the masses, to the, first few years the official view of the Congress was that the drain of wealth caused by the employment of foreign agency in the administration of the country and the growing military expenditure were the main causes of the economic rain of the masses. Resolutions were passed calling for an enquiry into India’s growing poverty and famines demanding cuts in Home charges and military expenditure and funds for technical education to promote Indian industries, and an end to unfair tariffs and excise duties.

The new land revenue system was also held responsible for the economic decline of the country and the main demands were introduction of Permanent Settlement and fixity of land revenue over the rest of the country.

The early Congress was concerned not only with the interests of the English educated professional groups, zamindars or industrialists. It passed numerous resolutions on salt tax, treatment of Indian coolies abroad, and sufferings caused by forest administration.

The Constitutional Method

The method which the early Congress adopted for the redress of their grievances is commonly known as the constitutional method. It excluded not only rebellion, aiding or abetting foreign invasion and resort to violence, but all well-organized agitation. Even if their demands remain underdressed, they could not think of setting afoot an agitation that had the remotest possibility of arousing genuine indignation and dissatisfaction of the masses against the British Government. Even a peaceful agitation was inconsistent with their views and aims.

The method of the moderates was an appeal to the sense of justice and generosity of British statesmen and people. Its essence was prayers and petitions. The early Congress concentrated, on building up through petitions. Speeches and articles a fool-proof logical case aimed at convincing the liberal-minded public opinion of the land of Cobden, Bright, Mill and Gladstone.

Finally, the Congress politicians argued that the attainment of self-Government by other colonies of the British Empire was proof positives of the fact that the real intention of the English rulers was to train Indian gradually in democratic institutions. As the time would come, India would also get at their hands the same type of government which they had conferred on other colonies.

Criticism of the Moderates’ Ideology

During the first twenty years, 1885-1905, the Congress was controlled by moderates. Their ideology and methodology both have been criticized on various grounds. Neither their political ideology was correct nor were their means effective. Their liberal nationalism was a queer mixture of patriotism-and loyalty to the British. Their thinking that the British rule was beneficial for the country was wrong. Their belief in the British sense of justice was also not correct. The later events proved that the British imperialists only understood the language of strength and pressure instead of truth and justice. Besides, the moderate leaders were not the leaders of the masses. Except Gokhala, no moderate jeader was prepared for individual sacrifice for the attainment of the goal of freedom.

Moreover, the constitutional methodology adopted by moderates was not effective. Till 1918, despite petitions, memorandums, prayers and deputations, the British government did not show any real interest towards the legitimate demands of Indians. That is why the extremists later on described the moderate’s the methodology as political mendicancy.


In spite of the basic weaknesses of the political thought and practice of the moderates, they rendered significant service to the country. The annual sessions of the Congress gave a concrete form to the idea of national unity. The congress inculcated among the people of diverse races, religions, castes and languages, the sentiment of nationalism and patriotism. Even more important was the establishment of traditions of organized political activity. Finally, the moderates made a bold attempt to give a secular direction to Indian politics. However, from the practical point of view the moderates did not meet with any amount of success. None of their demands was conceded by the government.

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