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Indian National Congress

The Birth Of A Movement

"... 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 and our nationality is Indian."

Dadabhai Naoroji, Lahore, 1893

The Indian National Congress (INC) -- perhaps the largest and oldest democratic organisation in the world -- was born as a movement that embraced all peoples, cultures and communities into its fold in its fight for freedom from alien domination. The early Congress consisted of the Moderates who adopted non-confrontational methods and sought to make the provincial legislatures more representative.

Gradually, however, the repressive policies of the British government aroused intense opposition and strengthened national sentiments. Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Pal, who constituted the Extremist triumvirate called Lal-Bal-Pal, advocated the policy of swadeshi (boycott of foreign goods) and national education.

The Home Rule Movement started by Tilak and Annie Besant in Maharashtra and Chennai in 1916, politicised new social classes, paving the way for the agitations launched by Mahatma Gandhi.

Tilak’s catch phrase, "Freedom is my birthright, and I shall have it," had nationalist sentiments soaring to new heights.

A New Era Begins

Mahatma Gandhi’s entry into active politics in 1919 began a new era in Indian national politics. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the atrocities perpetuated in Punjab following the incident, convinced the Congress to give up the old methods. At a special Congress session in Calcutta in 1920, Gandhiji decided to start the Non-Cooperation Movement, strictly adhering all the while to the principles of ahimsa (non-violence).

Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose changed the ideological climate of the national movement by disseminating the ideals of socialism. The Congress became a genuinely revolutionary organisation and a mass movement.


The Demand For Purna Swaraj

The All India Congress Committee (AICC) was formed in 1929 to launch a civil disobedience programme which included the non-payment of taxes. January 26, 1930, was declared Independence Day and the Independence Pledge, which would be repeated year after year, was taken by the Indian people.

The Satyagraha Era began with the Dandi March against the Salt Tax. Before his arrest, Gandhiji exhorted Indians to unity: "Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Christians, all should heartily embrace one another."

By the time the Civil Disobedience movement came to an end in April 1934, the Congress had substantially succeeded in lowering the import of British goods to India. The seeds of another social revolution had also been sown: the emancipation of women through their active role in the struggle for freedom.

Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu and Nellie Sengupta were presidents of various Congress sessions, and an inspiration to their contemporaries.

The Quit India Movement

The non-violent Quit India movement was launched in July 1942. A resolution passed by the AICC in August of the same year demanded the end of British rule in India. Speaking on the resolution after it was passed, Gandhiji said that he wanted freedom immediately: "I am today a free man and will no longer depend on you. Every true Congressman or woman will join the struggle with an inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the country in bondage and slavery. We shall either free India or die in the attempt."

The events that followed forced the government to reach a settlement. However, the best efforts of the Congress could not prevent the division of the country on communal lines. The Indian Independence Act was passed by the British Parliament in July, 1947, and on August 14, M.A. Jinnah was declared governor-general of Pakistan.


The Dawn Of Freedom

The bid to fragment India led to communal strife throughout the country. This ‘crisis in India’s soul’, as Jawaharlal Nehru described it, not only affected its direct victims, but shook the cherished ideals on which the entire structure of national life was based.

Midnight, August 14-15, 1947: The sacrifices of the millions who suffered and died for the country finally bore fruit. India became an independent nation.

Moving the resolution prescribing an oath for the members in the Constituent Assembly, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, declared: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge... The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity."


From Swaraj To Satellites

Jawaharlal Nehru came to symbolise the best of the Congress culture in many ways. With him, at the helm of affairs, the Congress was able to build a national ethos based on the principles of socialism and democracy. For a country with a long history of tribal, feudal and colonial authoritarianism, the introduction of democracy meant a great leap into the future. Nehru played his most creative role in the socio-economic transformation of India. His understanding of global issues promoted India’s image across the world as an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, anti-fascist and anti-racist nation.

The Challenges Of Modernisation

The challenges of modernisation began with Gandhiji’s determination to wipe every tear from every eye. Having galvanised the nation into fighting for its freedom, the leaders of the Congress went on to create the infrastructure that would lead India into a new age of development.

Later Congress Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, continued development projects related to science and technology, agriculture, education, eradication of poverty and unemployment, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The Congress has always advocated the process of change and growth, yet it is deeply rooted in the values that have shaped the country’s culture.

The Congress Of The People

When pre-Independence Congress leaders spoke of swaraj, the ideal they strove towards was a nation whose citizens lived in unity and had equality of opportunity. Now, over a century later, its mass base involving people from every caste, class and creed of society, accounts for its long-standing dominance of the Indian political scene since Independence.


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