The Indian National movement was primarily a movement for freedom from alien domina­-nation. The movement has been one comprehensive effort embracing all aspects of the life of the community.

The birth of the Indian National Congress, perhaps the oldest and the biggest democratic organisation in the world, did not take place in an atmosphere of a fanfare of trumpets nor did it create a stir by passing flamboyant resolutions.


In 1884, at the annual convention of the Theosophical Society at Adyar in Madras, Mr. Allan Octavian Hume laid bare to his friends his plan to organise the Congress. A committee was formed to make the necessary prepara­tions for a session at Poona to be held in 1885.

The committee consisted of Mr. Hume, Mr. Surendranath Bannerji, Mr. Narendranath Sen, Mr. S. Subramania Iyer, Mr. P. Ananda Charlu, Mr. V. N. Mandalik, Mr. K. T. Telag, Sardar Dayal Singh, Lala Sri Ram.

Mr. Hume, still a government servant, addressed an open letter to the graduates of Calcutta University with a fervent appeal for self help.

He said: "and if even the leaders of thought are all either such poor creatures, or so selfishly wedded to personal concern, that they dare not strike a blow for their country's sake, then justly and rightly they are kept down and trampled on, for they deserve nothing better. Every nation secures precisely as good a government as it merits. If you the picked men, the most highly educated of the nation cannot, scorning personal ease and selfish objects, make a resolute struggle to secure greater freedom for yourselves and your country, a more impar­tial administration, a larger share in the management of your own affairs then we, your friends arc wrong and our adversaries right, then Lord Rippon's noble aspirations for your good are fruitless and visionary, then at present at any rate, all hopes of progress are at an end, and India truly neither lacks nor deserves any better government than she enjoys.

"Only if this be so, let us hear no more factious, peevish complaints that you are kept in strings and treated like children, for you will have proved yourself such. Men know how to act. Let there be no more complaints of Englishmen being preferred to you in all important offices, for if you lack that public spirit, that highest form of altruistic devotion that leads men to subordinate private ease to the public weal that patriotism that has made Englishmen what they are - then rightly are these preferred to you, rightly and inevitably have they become your rulers. And rulers and task masters they must continue, let the yoke gall your shoulders never so sorely, until you realise and stand prepared to act upon the eternal truth that self-sacrifice and unselfish­ness are the only unfailing guide to freedom and happiness."


The first session of the Congress was to meet at Poona but owing to an outbreak of cholera the venue was shifted to Bombay and the session began on the 28th December, 1885, with Mr. W. C. Bannerjee, the doyen of the Calcutta Bar in the chair, though originally, it had been decided to request Lord Reay, Governor of Bombay, to be the first President of the Indian National Congress but the idea had to be dropped as the Governor was advised by the Viceroy not to accept the offer. 72 delegates came from different parts of the country and most important among them were Dadabhai Naoroji, Ranade, Pherozeshah Mehta, K. T. Telang, Dinshaw Wacha, etc. The meeting was truly a national gathering consisting of leading men from all parts of India.

The president defined the objective of the Congress as "promotion of personal intimacy and friendship among all the more earnest workers in our country's cause in the parts of the empire and eradication of race, creed or provincial prejudice and fuller development of national unity.”

In its early sessions, the Congress Organisation, by and large, limited its activities only to debates.

After the Madras Session in 1887, an aggressive propaganda was started among the masses. Hume published a pamphlet entitled "An Old Man's Hope" in which he appealed to the people of England in these words: "Ah men, well-fed and happy, do you at all realise the dull misery of these countless myriads? From their births to their deaths, how many rays of sunshine think you chequer their gloom-shrouded paths? Toil, toil, toil; hunger, hunger, hunger, sickness, suffering, sorrow; these alas, alas, alas are the keynotes of their short and sad existence."

In December 1889, the Congress Session was held at Bombay under the Presidentship of Sir William Wedderburn. It was attended by Charles Bradlaugh, a member of British Parliament. He addressed the Congress in these words; "For whom should I work if not for the people? Born of the people, trusted by the people, I will die for the people, and I know no geographical or race limitation."

Dadabhai Naoroji was re-elected as the President of the Lahore Session of the Congress held in December 1893, His journey from Bombay to Lahore presented the spectacle of a procession, and Citizens at various places on the way presented him addresses. At the Golden Temple at Amritsar, he was given a robe of honour. Addressing the audience at the Session, Dadabhai Naoraji declared: "Let us always remember that we are children of our mother country. Indeed, I have never worked in any other spirit than that I am an Indian and owe duty to my work and all my countrymen. Whether I am a Hindu or a Mohammedan, a Parsi, a Christian, or of any other creed, I am above all an Indian. Our country is India, our nationality is Indian."


The early Congressmen who dominated the affairs of the Indian National Congress from 1885 to 1905 were known as the Moderates. They belonged to a class which was Indian in blood and colour but British in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. They were supporters of British institutions. They believed that what India needed was a balanced and lucid presentation of her needs before the Englishmen and their Parliament. They had faith in the British sense of justice and fairplay.

The Moderates believed in orderly progress and constitutional agitation. They believed in patience, steadiness, conciliation and union. To quote Surendarnath Banerjee, "The triumphs of liberty are not to be won in a day. Liberty is a jealous goddess, exacting in her worship and claiming from her votaries prolonged and assiduous devotion." In 1887, Badruddin Tyabji observed: "Be moderate in your demands, just in your criticism, correct in your facts and logical in your conclusions."

The Moderates believed in constitutional agitation within the four corners of law. They believed that their main task was to educate the people, to arouse national political consciousness and to create a united public, opinion on political questions. For this purpose they held meetings. They criticised the Government through the press. They drafted and submitted memorials and petitions to the Government, to the officials of the Government of India and also to the British Parliament. They also worked to influence the British Parliament and British public opinion. The object of the memorials and petitions was to enlighten the British public and political leaders about the conditions prevailing in India. Deputa­tions of leading Indian leaders were sent to Britain in 1889. A British Committee of the Indian National Congress was founded in 1906 and that Committee started a journal called India. Dadabhai Naoroji spent a major part of his life and income in Britain doing propaganda among its people and politicians.

The object before the Moderates was "wide employment of Indians in higher offices in the public service and the establishment of representative institutions."

The economic and political demands of the Moderates were formulated with a view to unifying the Indian people on the basis of a common political programme. They organised a powerful all- India agitation against the abandonment of tariff-duties on imports and against the imposition of cotton excise duties. This agitation aroused the feelings of the people and helped them to realise the real aims and purposes of British rule in India. They urged the Government to provide cheap credit to the peasantry through agricultural banks and to make avail­able irrigation facilities on a large scale. They asked for improvement in the conditions of work of the plantation labourers, a radical change in the existing pattern of taxation and expenditure which put a heavy burden on the poor while leaving the rich, especially the foreigners, with a very light load.

The Moderates complained of India’s growing poverty and economic backwardness and put all the blame on the policies of the British Government. They criticised the individual administrative measures and worked hard to reform the administrative system.

The Moderates opposed tooth and nail the restrictions imposed by the Government on the freedom of speech and the press. In 1897, Tilak and many other leaders were arrested and sentenced to long terms of imprison­ment for spreading disaffection against the Government through their speeches and writings. The Natu brothers of Poona were deported without trial. The arrest of Tilak marked the beginning of a new phase of the Nationalist movement. The Amrita Bazar Patrika wrote:  "There is scarcely a home in this vast country where Tilak is not now the subject of melancholy talk and where his imprisonment is not considered as a domestic calamity."

The basic weakness of the Moderates lay in their narrow social base. Their movement did not have a wide appeal. The area of their influence was limited to the urban community. As they did not have the support of the masses, they declared that the time was not ripe for throwing out a challenge to the foreign rulers. To quote Gokhale, "You do not realise the enormous reserve of power behind the Government. If the Congress were to do anything such as you suggest, the Government would have no difficulty in throttling it in five minutes." However, it must not be presumed that the Moderate leaders fought for their narrow interests. Their pro­grammes and policies championed the cause of all sections of the Indian people and represented nation­wide interests against colonial exploitation. What they wanted was to reform or liberalise the existing system of government through peaceful, gradualist and consti­tutional means.

The influence of the moderates, however, declined with the rise of the militants who did not believe in gradualism and who criticized the moderates for their great faith in Britain and British political institutions.


The moderates sought to make the provincial e legislatures more representative and to increase the Indian clement in the civil services, but the process was long and the progress slow. Repelled

by the unsympathetic approach of the imperial bureaucracy and enraged by the unpopular policies of Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, and particularly his decision on the partition of Bengal, the youth of India moved towards militant politics and direct action. As a protest against the partition of Bengal (October 1905), the nationalists advocated the boycott of British goods".

In 1907, Bipin Pal made the paradoxical statement, that the "viceroyalty of Lord Curzon... had been one of the most beneficent if not decidedly the most beneficent viceroyalty that India ever had," for Curzon, by pursuing his unpopular policies, had made Indians so discontented that they demanded self-government with greater deter­mination than ever before. Aurobindo similarly declared that he considered the partition of Bengal to be a most beneficial measure because, by arousing intense opposition among the people, that measure had stirred up and strengthened national feeling.

As a result of the growing disillusionment about the activities of the British rulers and as a reaction against Curzon's proposal for the partition of Bengal; there came into existence the extremist party which advocated a policy of boycott, swadeshi and national education. In January 1907, Tilak declared: "We are not armed, and there is no necessity of arms either. We have a stronger weapon, a political weapon in boycott." Tilak also said: "When you prefer to accept swadeshi. You must boycott videshi (foreign) goods. Without boycott, swadeshi cannot flourish."

Aurobindo, Tilak, and Pal asked the people not to cooperate with the government. The basic theory of Tilak, Aurobindo and Pal, which was later put into operation on a mass scale by Mahatma Gandhi, was that as the existence of the Government depended on the cooperation of the people, the Government would cease to function or to exist the very day the people withdrew their coopera­tion from it.

With the rise of the militant movement the glamour of England and English institutions began to fade and English influence increasingly came to be replaced by the influence emanating primarily from the indigenous sources as also from the European literature or revolt. The study of British constitutional history had generated among the moderates a love for and faith in Dominion Status. But such stories as how the Italians had driven the Austrians out of their land gave militant nationalists a new conception and in fact a new ideal of complete independence. Self-government under British paramountcy had been the goal of the moderate school, but the ideal of the extremist or militant school was complete autonomy and elimination of all foreign control.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) and other extremist leaders, who wanted to adopt a policy of direct act and passive resistance, denounced what they called "the political mendicancy" of the moderates. During the anti partition agitation, in the first decade of the twentieth century, Tilak wrote: "The time has come to demand Swaraj or self-Government. No piecemeal reform will do. The system of the present administration is ruinous to the country. It must mend or end." According to him Swaraj was the birthright of every Indian.

"The term Swaraj," said Bipin Pal (1858-1932), another exremist leader, was not merely a political but primarily a moral concept. "The corresponding term in our language," he said, "is not non-subjection which would be a literal rendering of the English word independence, but self-subjection which is a positive concept. Self-­subjection means.... complete identification of the individual with the universal."

Another Swarajist leader who, like Tilak, spoke of the ideal of Swaraj, was Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950). "We of the new school, "he said, "would not pitch our ideal one inch lower than absolute Swaraj-Self-Government as it exists in the United Kingdom." And he added, "We reject the claim of aliens to force upon us a civilisation inferior to our own or keep us out of our inheritance on the untenable ground of a superior fitness."

Lajpat Rai (1865-1928), along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Pal, constituted the swarajist triumvirate called "Lal-Bal-Pal". Lajpat, like the other extremists, believed that India must rely on her own strength and should not look to Britain for help.

The swarajist said that however much Britain's rule might be improved or liberalised, it could never be as beneficial to Indians as the self-rule. Their attitude was the same as that of the Irish Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith, who had said: ".... In those who talk of ending British misgovernment we see the helots. It is not British misgovernment, but British government in Ireland, good or bad, we stand opposed to." The swarajists accordingly considered that freedom was their birthright.


In 1907, there was a split in the Congress and the Moderates parted company with the Extremists. That split was due to many causes. The moderates had controlled the Congress from its very beginning and even now they were in control of it. They had their own ways of thinking and doing which were not acceptable to the younger generation who were impatient with the speed at which the Moderates were moving and leading the nation. Under the circumstances, a confrontation between the two was inevitable and that actually happened in 1907.

The seeds of the split could be traced to the Calculla Session in 1906, where the Moderates had accepted the resolutions on Swaraj, national education, boycott and Swadeshi on account of the pressure brought on them from all quarters. In their hearts, they had not accepted the new resolutions. Their fear was that the growing pace of the national struggle might lead to lawlessness and that would provide the British with an excuse to deny the reforms on the one hand and to crush all political activity on the other. They had no self-confidence. They did not believe that sustained and dignified national struggle was possible and desirable. They considered the Extremists irresponsible persons who were likely to put in danger the future of the country. The British Government also tried to win over the Moderates against the Extremists. While the Extremists were roughly handled by the Government, the Moderates were shown all the favours. Lala Lajpat Rai, Sardar Ajit Singh, Tilak and many leaders of Bengal were deported.

The break-up of the Surat Congress was no doubt an unpleasant affair. It marked a direct open breach between the Moderates and the Nationalist panics not only in Maharashtra but throughout India. For the first time in the history of the Congress, there was at Surat an open light between the delegates of the congress and some blood was drawn. But it did not stop at that. The split led to a cleavage in the sense that the name of the Indian National Congress had to be kept in abeyance for the time and a new entity called the convention was installed in its place. Of course as the name itself implies, the Convention was a stop-gap expedient, intended to function in the place of the Congress only till such time as the national Congress could meet again in its old form. The old form had this peculiarity that there was not much ceremony observed in the election of the delegates to the Congress. There were no conditions of membership. There was no constitution as such for the Congress, no election of delegates. In fact the membership was open to anyone that might choose to attend the Congress session as a delegate. There was no competition as such in the election of the delegates for the simple reason that there was no numerical allotment fixed for any province. It was an open rally of all that chose to attend.

Tilak and his party were of course ousted from the Convention because they would not sign a prescribed creed of political faith, which practically excluded the ideal of independence, if only an ideal so far. The Convention and, the Nationalist party met in two separate camps at Surat. It must be noted here that even with this definite split in the Congress each party duly affirmed its love for the Congress which alone was regarded as the true national Assembly for the country and in both the camps the hope was expressed that sooner or later there might again be held a Congress united as before.

Nobody could openly allege the break-up of the Congress as a criminal offence, but the split was taken into consideration by the government as an open challenge to the policy of constitutional agitation. After Tilak's conviction by the High Court, the National party led by him became sullen and almost went underground. For six years, from 1908 to 1914, the Nationalist Party could not decide as to what it should do about entering the Congress. There was an attempt made to call a meeting of a rival Congress at Nagpur. But while government banned the session, there was also want of unanimity in the party itself about the starting of a rival Congress which might make the split absolutely permanent. The cooler wings in the Party thought that there was no wisdom in setting up a rival to the old Congress as without unity among political parties the show as presented by separate parties was bound to be poor. A group within the Tilak Party was trying to negotiate matters with the leaders of the Moderate party for making the entry of this group and others of its persuasion into the Congress on its own terms, that is to say, without the restriction of a creed and with the old facilities for unfettered election of delegates. But the other view was more insistent and prevailed, namely, that nothing should be done in this matter until Tilak returned from Mandalay.


Things came to a head after his return. It was soon discovered that Tilak was against selling up of a rival Congress though by this time it was also discovered that the Moderate party had a very poor following in the Congress, so much so that the total number of delegates of the Congress at one time did not mount to even 350, though the session was held under the presidency of such an illustrious personage as Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, and also held in the vantage ground of northern India. This loyal attitude of Tilak towards the Congress was well-known to the Moderates but was not appreciated by them. In fact, they resisted by every means in their power, all efforts made by Tilak and his friends to re-­enter the Congress.

Both Tilak and Mrs. Besant joined hands and two Home Rule Leagues were formed, one in Maharashtra and the other in Madras. By the time of the Lucknow Congress in 1916, most of the open sores were healed. There was an urge in the mind of both Parties towards re-­union on honourable conditions. Some conditions about the membership of the Congress were agreed to, and the Moderate Party opened its arms to the Nationalist Party. Tilak attended the Lucknow Congress after an absence of 8 years and was given the honours of the one and sole political hero of the time. It must also be mentioned that the Moderate group in the Congress could not yet make up its mind to instal Tilak as the president of the Congress. But it was well-know that Tilak never hankered after this honour. On the contrary, he was determined to practise an ordinance of self-denial in this matter, for it was well-know that though elected president of the Congress which was to have been, but was not held, in 1907, in Nagpur by the Reception Committee at Nagpur, Tilak withdrew his name and suggested that of Lala Lajpat Rai in his own place. For two years however, that is to say, in 1916 and 1917, Tilak was of course the leading figure at the annual Congress session and also at the special session held at Bombay. It was practically on the eve of Tilak's departure for England for the prosecution of the Chirol case, that he was elected to the presidentship of the Congress, but he was of course unable to accept it for he was given a passport to England only for the Chirol case and it was not expected that he could find time to devote to politics during his stay in England. He resigned it since it was of no practical use to him for some time. But he carried with him the capacity of the president of the Tilak Home Rule League and gave evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Montague's Government of India Bill, as the Chirol case was disposed off and there was an open invitation by the British Government to all Indian political parties to send delegations to England for the purpose. The last thing to be mentioned in connection with relations between Tilak and the Congress is the collection of a crore of rupees by Mahatma Gandhi in the name of the Tilak Swaraj Fund, though it must also be mentioned that this Fund was spent on activities and propaganda to which Tilak could not be supposed to have given his cordial approval, namely the non-co-­operation policy and the cult of Ahimsa as a political weapon.


When Great Britain was involved in the First World War, Indian leaders like Tilak and Annie Besant decided to put new life in the national movement in the country. As the Englishmen did not like the word Swaraj and considered the same to be "seditious and dangerous," Tilak decided to use the term "Home Rule” in place of Swaraj as the goal of his movement. In December 1915, he had de1eberations with his colleagues and on 28 April 1916 the Indian Home Rule League was set up with its headquarters at Poona. The object of this League was to "attain Home Rule or self-government within the British Empire by all constitutional means and to educate and organise public opinion in the country towards the attainment of the same." A similar Home Rule League was founded by Annie Besant on 15 September 1916 with its headquarters at Adyar near Madras.

The advocates of the Home Rule Movement believed in Constitutional methods and were opposed to violence and revolutionary agitation. They had no desire to embarrass the British Government which was fighting against Germany and Austria-Hungary. They were prepared to offer their cooperation to the British Government so that it could win the war. However, they believed that the great of Home Rule to India was in the interests of the British Empire in its war against Germany and Austria as she could then fight with greater moral force.

The year 1917 was an eventful year in the sense that the two Home Rule Leagues of Tilak and Annie Besant worked in co-operation with each other. Tilak confined his activities to the Bombay presidency and the Central Provinces and the rest of India was left to Annie Besant. The branches of the Home Rule League were set up all over the country and there was a popular demand for Home Rule.

Tilak went on a whirlwind tour of the country in 1916 and appealed to the people to unite under the banner of the Home Rule League. His target was not the British Empire or the Emperor of India but the bureaucracy in India. In his public speeches, he declared emphatically that Home Rule was the only cure for India's political ills and grievances, that liberty was the birthright of every man and that the aspiration to get one's liberty was the essence of human nature A small minority from outside India could not be allowed to rule the country arbitrarily.

Annie Besant also toured the country and created a lot of enthusiasm among the people for the national cause. Her articles in the Commonweal and New India were very popular. C. Y. Chintamani says: "Annie Besant stirred the country by the spoken as well as the written word, as scarcely as any one else could do." Annie Besant's work was particularly among the women of India who showed "uncalculating heroism, endurance and the selfless sacrifice of the feminine nature."

The British Government could not be expected to keep quiet in the face of a stir created by the Home Rule Leagues and their leaders and it decided to curb the activities of those leaders who were in the forefront of the movement. The existing statutes were tightened. There was already an ordinance to prevent the entry of undesirable aliens into India. The Defence of India Act, 1915 superseded the ordinary criminal law of country and action under it could be taken against agitators. The provisions of the Indian Press Act 1910 were strictly enforced to stop the propaganda of the Home Rule Leaguers. Circulars were issued by which the students of schools and colleges were forbidden from taking part in the Home Rule Movement. In July 1916, Tilak was prosecuted for delivering seditious speeches and was ordered to furnish a personal bond of Rs. 20,000. Externment orders were served on him and he was ordered not to enter Delhi and the Punjab. Similar action was taken against Annie Besant. She was ordered to furnish security for her press and the Commonweal and New India. In all, she deposited Rs. 20,000 and the whole of that amount was forfeited by the Government. The Government also took action against Annie Besant and her two associates, B. P. Wadia and C. S. Arundale. The Governor of Madras called Annie Besant for an interview and told her that she was to be interned. There was a lot of indignation all over the country against her intern Protest meetings were held allover the country at repression by the police was condemned.