INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS
The Indian National Congress is a political party in India that first emerged during the time of British Imperialism in India. When it began, the Indian National Congress was a key part of the Indian Independence Movement, which involved India pushing for its liberation from the British. As time passed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Indian National Congress came to play a significant role in Indian politics and the many protest movements that occurred in the country. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian National Congress for a portion of the early 20th century and helped push the British out of India.
INDIA BEFORE THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS (BRITISH RAJ)
The term ‘British Raj’ refers to the time period in which Britain ruled over India as a colony of the British Empire. This is generally considered to have occurred from 1858 until 1947. In fact, the word ‘raj’ translates to ‘rule’ in the languages of northern India.
At its height, the British Raj controlled almost all of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Furthermore, under direct British control, India was divided into different provinces that were controlled through British administrative officers. These provinces made up what historians refer to as British India. India was an important part of the British Empire in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, India was often considered to be Britain’s most important colony from an economic standpoint and as a result was referred to as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’. First, Britain viewed India as a source of raw materials that could be used to fuel the factories in England. At the time, India economy was largely centered around agriculture, which would then be exported to England. The most common of these agricultural resources included: jute, cotton, sugar, tea, coffee and wheat. Second, India proved to be an important market for the goods that were developed in British factories. As a result, the British benefitted from selling goods to the people of India.
INDIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
As time past, some people within India began to question the validity of British rule. Others went further and argued that the British were harming India with their economic policies. For instance, Britain promoted the export of many of India’s natural resources, especially to industrial England. The British benefitted from this system because the Indian resources fuelled the factory system present in England during the time of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, the British passed laws in India at the time that forced Indian citizens to produce crops for use in English factories instead of producing food crops. This is controversial, because India was stricken by several severe famines at the time, that some suggest could have been lessened with different economic policies. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 55 million Indians died from famine during the years of British rule in India. For example, the Great Famine, which is said to have occurred from 1876 to 1878, led to the death of 6 to 10 million people. As such, these criticisms of British imperialism in India led to a growth in Indian nationalism and a call for independence from British control.
British control over India faced several struggles in the late part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. This was due to several factors including the emergence of the Indian Independence Movement. Historians consider the Indian Independence Movement to have occurred over a period of about 90 years from 1857 until 1947. This time period mirrors the period of the British Raj, which is when the British government ruled over India as a colony of the British Empire. In fact, the Sepoy Rebellion of 1858 is considered to be one of the earliest examples of Indian revolt against British rule in India. With that said, the Indian Independence Movement gained steam throughout the 1880s and beyond due to the establishment of the Indian National Congress.
EARLY HISTORY OF THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS
The Indian National Congress was founded on December 23rd, 1885 in Bombay, India. In general, the Indian National Congress emerged out of a growing sense of Indian nationalism in the late 1800s. At the time, the British (first the British East India Company and later the British Government) had controlled India for almost two centuries. However, during the second half of the 1800s, a large groups of educated Indians began to express nationalistic feelings centered around Indian independence. As such, this Indian Independence Movement led to the eventual creation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The initial goal of the Indian National Congress was to promote Indian nationalism and give a voice to the independence movement that was aimed at British imperialism in India. In fact, the early actions of the Indian National Congress focused on promoting self-government for Indian people. The concept of self-government in India is referred to as ‘swaraj’. The term swaraj became particularly important to Mahatma Gandhi in the 20th century, as he and the Indian National Congress tried to achieve independence for India from British imperial rule.
In the early 20th, century the Indian National Congress began to face a crisis of sorts, in that some of the members expressed more radical leanings while others remained relatively moderate. The more radical members opposed any involvement of the British in India and wanted to work immediately to gain independence for India. Whereas, the moderates in the Indian National Congress sought to reform the role that Britain played by working with the British. The Swadeshi Movement also emerged around this time in India.
The Swadeshi Movement was a significant strategy used by Indian nationalists in the late 1800s and early 1900s to reduce British control over India. In general, it involved Indians producing their own goods (or consuming domestically made goods) and rejecting foreign goods. At the time, Britain benefitted economically by selling goods to India from their factories in England. This arrangement deprived India from developing its own economy and sent large amounts of wealth back to England. As a result, members of the Indian National Congress began to express the importance of swadeshi. In fact, the Swadeshi Movement was a central strategy of the Indian Independence Movement and played an important role for the next several decades. For example, swadeshi was used prominently after the partition of Bengal in 1905. This was an event in which the British forced the Hindus and Muslims of Bengal to separate in 1905. The partition of Bengal angered Indians at the time, as they viewed it as a method of the British trying to divide and control the Indian people.
Indian nationalism grew further throughout the early 20th century, especially with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. While the First World War was primarily a European conflict, the colonies of the major European powers also came to play a role in the fighting. For instance, it is estimated that as many as 1.3 million Indian soldiers and workers participated in the war effort on the side of the British. Furthermore, Indian soldiers participated in conflicts throughout Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. This helped to strengthen Indian nationalism, as it led to a sense of patriotism among people across India. In fact, supporters of the Indian Independence Movement began to argue that India’s role in World War I should gain it some aspects of self-government. This idea continued to grow in popularity, especially with the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India in 1915.
MAHATMA GANDHI AND THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most important figures in India’s history and played a vital role in both the Indian Independence Movement and Indian National Congress. The Indian Independence Movement expanded in 1915 when Mahatma Gandhi returned to India following his time in South Africa. Before arriving in India in 1915, Gandhi had helped lead an Indian nationalist movement in South Africa, in which he argued for more rights and better treatment of Indians there. He used this experience in South Africa to carry out similar actions in India. In fact, Gandhi became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920, and quickly began to organize and carry out protests calling for an end to British imperialism in India. Gandhi’s concept of independence is often referred to as ‘swaraj’. In general, the term sawarj means self-government or self-rule and refers to the idea that Gandhi (along with other members of the Indian Independence Movement) wanted India to gain its independence from British imperial rule. He did this through several different ways, but Gandhi is most famous for his non-cooperation movement based on civil disobedience. In general, civil disobedience is when individuals refuse to follow the orders or laws of a society that they feel are unjust or discriminatory. Gandhi believed that India could gain its independence and achieve swaraj if it stopped cooperating with British laws, thus forcing the British to adapt to the Indian people instead of the other way around. He argued that the best way for Indian to obtain self-government (swaraj) was through a non-cooperation movement in which the Indian people refused to follow British laws.
Gandhi’s non-cooperation campaign focused on protesting Britain’s economic and political control over India. He argued that in order for Indians to force Britain out of India, the people of India had to practise civil disobedience through non-violence. As such, he advocated that the Indian National Congress use techniques such as hunger strikes and other forms of protest that did not involve the Indian people responding with violence.
One of the ways that Gandhi promoted the idea of economic non-cooperation was through the concept of ‘swadeshi’. In general, it involved Indians producing their own goods (or consuming domestically made goods) and rejecting foreign goods. At the time, Britain benefitted economically by selling goods to India from their factories in England. This arrangement deprived India from developing its own economy and sent large amounts of wealth back to England. As a result, members of the Indian National Congress (including Gandhi) began to express the importance of swadeshi.
A major milestone for the Indian National Congress at this time when January 26th, 1930 was declared as “Purna Swaraj Diwas" (Independence Day). This was important, because it highlighted the growing importance for the Indian National Congress to achieve India’s independence from Britain. This led into the major events of the Salt March by Gandhi and other prominent members of the Indian National Congress.
The Salt March took place from March 12th to April 6th in 1930 and saw Gandhi lead a non-violent protest against British laws related to salt harvesting in India. More specifically, the British effectively had total control over the harvesting of salt in India due to the 1882 Salt Act. Because of this act, Indians were forced to pay taxes on salt and could face harsh criminal punishments if they didn’t follow the law. This law angered many in the Indian National Congress because salt had been freely available to Indians for centuries, especially for those who lived along the coastlines of India. As a result, Gandhi and other members of the Indian National Congress decided to carry out a non-violent protest of the law by carrying out a salt march. The goal of the salt march was to openly disobey the British law and gain momentum for the Indian Independence Movement that was being supported by both Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.
In total, the Salt March that Gandhi led, lasted for 24 days in the spring of 1930. It saw Gandhi, along with about 80 other volunteers, march approximately 240 miles (384 km) from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in western India. Many others joined Gandhi and the volunteers along the route until finally, when they arrived in Dandi on April 6th, there were thousands of participants in the Salt March. When the group arrived at the coast on April 6th, Gandhi broke the British laws by collecting salt.
Gandhi resigned from the Indian National Congress in 1934 in hopes that it would help the political organization grow. He remained active in Indian politics and endorsed candidates for the Indian National Congress that promoted his belief in non-violent civil disobedience.
INDIA GAINS ITS INDEPENDENCE
Due to continued protests by both Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, the British realized it was too difficult to maintain its hold over the Indian subcontinent. As a result, with British approval, India was partitioned in 1947. In fact, the country was divided into Pakistan (for Muslims) and India (for Hindus and Sikhs). With this act, British imperial rule in India had ended and India had gained its independence. Gandhi died on January 30th, 1948 in India. While walking to a prayer meeting, he was shot in the chest three times by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse. The power of the Indian National Congress shifted as it became the main political force in all of India.
INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS AFTER INDEPENDENCE
As stated above, the Indian National Congress became the main political force in India after it gained Independence. In fact, in the 1952 national elections, which were the first for newly independent country, the Indian National Congress held the highest percentage of the power. It continued its hold of power over India until 1977 when it was defeated in another round of elections. Since 1977, the Indian National Congress has held power at several different points, including periods where it was formed into coalitions with other political parties. Today, the Indian National Congress remains a relevant political force in India and a significant player in the Indian parliament.
Following the death of Gandhi in 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru became the most prominent leader of the Indian National Congress. He had played a significant role in the party throughout the early 20th century and was a leading figure alongside Gandhi. In fact, Gandhi approved of Nehru’s leadership of the Indian National Congress, following his own removal from the party. Nehru served as India’s first Prime Minister and held the position from 1947 until his death in 1964. During his time as Prime Minister, Nehru worked to build up the Indian economy and support working-class people across India.
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