The Indian National Congress is the self-proclaimed largest and oldest democratic organization in the world. Since its inception in 1885, it has been responsible for many of the drastic changes in Indian politics. So much so that leaders like Mahatma Gandhi who rose out of it succeeded in not only seeing changes in their country but in the entire world.
Since the 1600's Britain had been a major force in India. The East India Company and the British government developed almost complete economic and political control. It wasn't until the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 that the British government took direct control. The extension of direct British control actually increased Indian control in their country. Existing Indian royalty were given extended ruling powers as long as they stayed faithful to the queen. The majority of the people however were ruled by the Indian Civil service which had almost no representation from the Indian people. It wasn't until 1880 that local representative institutions were established. These institutions allowed tax paying citizens to elect officials who were responsible for areas such as public works, education and health care. In 1892 the Indian Councils Act allowed the first Indians to move into positions of national power. However, most of the real positions of power were not available to Indians because the tests required for qualification were given only in Britain. The people were quickly becoming more and more dissatisfied with the limited concessions of the British rule due in part to a rise in Indian nationalism. More Indians were receiving quality educations and taking pride in their heritage. The "rediscovery" of Buddhism as well as many other Sanskrit writings and philosophies were giving the people a sense of national history.
These circumstances and the compromise over the Ilbert Bill of 1883 began to force more changes. Indian officials hoped to pass this bill and make Europeans living in India answerable to some of the Indian ruled courts. A compromise was reached which neither party was happy with and prodded the Indians to do something more. Their answer was the Indian National Congress which convened for the first time in 1885. It started as a moderate group of mostly middle class Indians but soon developed into much more. A national dialogue was created for the issues facing the people of India and a representative and democratic body was soon formed. This group drew the attention of the whole country and received half-hearted support from the British government. In 1905, controversy over the partition of Bengal sparked the group to become more radical. They promoted the swadeshi movement (the purchase and use of Indian made products and resources and boycott of foreign products) and mass protests. These movements were a precursor to the eventual rise of Mahatma Gandhi and India's eventual independence.
Brown, Judith M., The Short Modern History of the Modern World (New York; Oxford University Press, 1994)
Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition 2001, Harappan Civilization
Mowat, C.L. (edit), The New Cambridge Modern History: v. XI (Great Britain, Cambridge University Press, 1968)
Researched and Written by
HIST 2260: Modern World
29 March 2004