The article is adapted from author’s blog and republished with permission.
Ask any Indian and he or she will most certainly confirm that the early history of the Indian National Congress is “The History of the Freedom Movement”. This belief is a result of the reinforced narrative that paints the Indian National Congress as the pivot of the Indian Independence struggle. The reality is different. Congress, from its founding, was interested in securing the permanence of British rule in India. For a few senior Congress leaders, Swaraj meant self-restraint while other congress stalwarts believed that if the British were to leave India, we would call them back before they reached Aden?. The post-independence myth-making around the Indian National Congress needs to be re-examined.
In 1835, Thomas Babington Macaulay talked about forming a class who would be interpreters between the British and the millions whom they governed ;a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. The picture and the quote that has been doing the rounds on Social Media might not be correct in its entirety, but this statement which is from the recorded Minute on Indian Education (English Education Act, 1835) is for sure true!
Indian National Congress – Set-up by British Viceroy to Prevent Indian Revolt
The Idea of Congress was first propagated by Alan Octavian Hume as a social gathering of elite Indians exposed to the West on account of their English Education. In his speech on the origin and aims of the Congress, Hume clearly explained that
“by getting hold of the great lower middle class before the development of the reckless demagogues to which the next quarter of the century must give birth and carefully inoculating them with a mild and harmless form of the political fever, we are adopting the only certain precautionary method against the otherwise inevitable ravages of a violent and epidemic burst of disorder… Congress was designed to limit and control the forces which Western education and ideas had let loose before they would burst into a revolution”
Hume did not want equal rights for Indians and supported a resolution barring Indians from bearing arms and argued that his memory of the Mutiny would never allow him to support such a resolution. 
Commenting on the formation of the Congress in its 4th session 1888, WC Banerjee, the co-founder of Congress, revealed that it was founded by the British viceroy Lord Dufferin who had shared this idea with A .O. Hume. Lord Dufferin had made it a condition to Hume that his name behind the formation of Congress ought not to be revealed.
It will probably be news to many that the Indian National Congress, as it was originally started and as it has since been carried on, is in reality the work of the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava when that nobleman was the Governor-General of India. Lord Dufferin had made it a condition with Mr. Hume that his name in connection with the scheme of the Congress should not be divulged so long as he remained in the country, and his condition was faithfully maintained and none but the men consulted by Mr. Hume knew anything about the matter..
- In 1880, Lord Baring, the Secretary to the Viceroy of British India, had stated,“We shall not subvert the British Empire by allowing the Bengali Baboo to discuss his own schools and drains. Rather shall we afford him a safety-valve if we can turn his attention to such innocuous subjects”
- In 1883, Viceroy Lord Ripon remarked that western educated Indians had to be shown a carrot and turned into collaborators by offering them outlets to satisfy their personal ambitions
“No longer was Indian educated class to be disregarded, dallied with, and depressed, because if they became convinced that such was the Government’s intention toward them and Parliament’s pledges, they would turn their faculties and talents against the Government and excite in the minds of the masses the same discontent which seethed in their own.” He thought that it was wiser to acknowledge the new class as a political reality in British-Indian society, to trust and encourage its leaders, and “by timely foresight, take steps to supply the legitimate outlets for those aspirations and to satisfy those ambitions consistent with the maintenance of British authority”
- In 1886, Sir Henry Harrison expressed a similar sentiment in the following words
“Repress the educated natives, their ambitions and then aspirations and you tum them into a solid phalanx of opposition against the Government; gratify their ambitions, and you make them the allies of the Government.”
‘Loyal to the Crown’ Indian National Congress Wanted Eternal British rule
In the first session of INC in 1885, in his presidential address,W. C. Bannerji described the Congress as the “National Assembly of India”, that would promote Indian national unity by projecting common interests of Indians from a single platform. He argued that although the participants of the first Congress were not elected in the same manner as the members of the House of Commons, they were nevertheless the selected representatives of the major provinces and towns of India, and could therefore claim to be the representatives of the people of India. He asserted that they were following a course which was modelled on the English constitution, which justified the representation of their views. He concluded by emphasising that Congressmen desired the permanence of British rule in India, and that their ultimate aim was only to gain a share in the administration of its government.
Congress Grateful to the Raj for Dispelling Darkness of Hindu Polity & Asiatic Despotism
In the second congress meeting in 1886, it credited the British with the formation of India. In his presidential address, Dadabhai Naoroji rhetorically asked if anyone could have imagined that a meeting of Indians from different parts of India could assemble to speak as one nation even in the most glorious days of Hindu rule. This, he went on to say, was possible under British rule and under British rule only. He attributed the very existence of the Congress to England’s providential
mission, declaring that “the people of England were sincere in the declarations that India was a sacred charge entrusted to their care by Providence and that they were bound to administer it for the good of India, to the glory of their own name and the satisfaction of God.He stressed that Congressmen were “loyal to the backbone” to the British Government because they appreciated the benefits of English education which revealed to them that “kings are made for the people, not people for their kings”-a lesson which they have learnt “amidst the darkness of Asiatic despotism only by the light of English civilization.”
The congress newspaper Bengalee declared in 1897-“United India is the soundest triumph of British rule, a crown of glory to the British Government.”
Congress Propagated that the British rule Strengthened Prosperity
In 1887, a few Englishmen who were witness to the third session of Congress recorded that the Congress pledge talked about served royalty to British rule until the sun, stars and moon exist. Remember Jab Tak Sooraj Chand Rahega! A cover letter to the report of the third Congress, dated May 1888 and signed by W. C. Bannerji, Dadabhai Naoroji and Badrudin Tyabji, as presidents of the three Congress sessions, explained that the Indian people as a whole and their leaders in particular were loyally bound to the British Government and were convinced that the granting of their demands would increase the strength of the Government as it would add to the prosperity of the people. In the very same report, the Congress alluded to itself as “the soundest triumph of British administration and the crown of glory to the British nation.”
In his presidential address to the fourth Session of Indian national congress in 1888, Surendra Nath Bannerji Prayed “God grant that the future may deepen our loyalty, stimulate our patriotism and consolidate our imperial connection with England”.
Speaking in Calcutta on 26 July 1888, he declared: “Deep and unswerving loyalty to the British Crown and constitutional agitation for our rights are the words which are graven on the heart of every Indian patriot.”
In England, he explained that by the “introduction of English education and Western principles of government, British rule had saved India from her traditional system of mis-government and from the religious domination of her priestly class”
In his introduction to the fourth annual Report of the Congress, 1888 W.C. Bannerji wrote: the principle on which the Indian National Congress is based is that British Rule should be permanent and abiding in India.”
In 1908, when Viceroy Lord Hardinge asked Congress president Gokhale “How would you like it, if I were to tell you that all the British officials and British troops were to leave India within a month?” Gokhale replied ,”Before you had all reached Aden, we would be telegraphing you to come back again.”(Hardinge lord, My indian years, london, 1948, P.116)
Congress for Rights of English Educated Indians;Not ‘Ignorant Peasants’
In its Report of the fourth l.N.C. Allahabad 1888, p. 29. Congress put forth a resolution emphasising that it sought “neither a parliamentary system, nor representative government, nor the application of democratic methods to Indian institutions.” Explaining the proposals of the Congress for the reform of the Legislative Councils at the twelfth annual meeting of the Indian Association in 1888, Bannerji asserted that the proposed Councillors could not be elected by “people unfit to exercise the franchise— the ignorant peasantry· of the country”
Congress Called the Racist British as ‘Kshatriyas’
In 1888, senior Congress leader Surendra Nath Bannerji, in his capacity as president of Congress delegation to London, stated, “To England we may appeal with confidence. When Italy was struggling for liberty, England stretched the right hand of sympathy. When Greece was endeavouring to assert her right place among the nations, England was there, the foster mother of freedom responsive to the call. We are not Italians or Greeks. We are something better. We are British subjects.”
INC session convener Ananda Charlu, in 1891, told Congressmen they should arouse the national consciousness of the masses by imparting the conviction that they should cease to regard British rule as foreign, and “ask them to look upon our British rulers as taking the place once held by the Kshatrias and as being therefore part and parcel of the traditional administration” of India .
While addressing few English people on the programme of the Congress, S N Bannerji frankly explained that Congressmen could only be loyal because “We have everything to lose, ·nothing to gain by the severance of our connection with England. We owe whatever position or prestige we have acquired to our English education and culture. If you were to leave the country our English education and culture would be at a discount. We are not particularly anxious to ·commit political suicide.”
In an interview, Bannerji explained the character and goal of the Congress while emphasising that the Congress sought only a partial share in the administration of the government and said: ” The National Congress as a crude non-official Parliament would keep alive the feeling of loyalty. We want to be associated with our rulers not to supersede them . . . we want you English here, we cannot do without you; We have a great reverence for our own traditions leavened by English feelings. We want to combine our ancient good with your good. All we ask: for is sympathy, sympathy, sympathy.”
Indian National Congress indulged in Minority Appeasement to Stay Relevant
History seems to indicate that appeasement of minority to further its own agenda is not alien to Congress. When Syed Sayyed Ahmed Khan asserted that the Congress aimed to advance the exclusive interests of the Hindus, promoting civil war and advised Muslims to hold themselves aloof from “this political uproar”-i.e. the Congress, it elected Badrudin Tyabji to the presidency of the third Congress in December 1887 at Madras. This was designed to demonstrate that the Congress was also representative of the Muslims. Tyabji stressed this point in his presidential address and declared that he was moved to preside over the session in order to encourage Muslims to co-operate with Hindus for their common benefit. In 1887, the INC also paid the fares of Muslim delegates to attend its session and offered them other facilities. The much done to death Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb seems to be a legacy of the INC as well, for, Surendra Nath Bannerji, INC President from 1886 to 1900, would claim that throughout the period of Muslim rule in India, Hindus and Muslims had lived as brothers who worked jointly for the advancement of the interests of their common country.
Indian National Congress – A One Man Dictatorship!
The following rules governed the proceedings of the Congress:
- On any point of order the decision of the President was final and thereupon no further discussions were allowed.
- None but the delegates could address the Congress or vote in any manner.
- Every delegate had to address the assembly from the speakers’ platform and his address could be cut short by the President.
- The Subjects Committee formulated all the resolutions and selected the proposers, seconders, and supporters of each resolution.
In 1902, Kayastha Samachar wrote of congress autocracy -“It ill becomes those who protest so loudly against the despotism of the Indian Government, to set up over their followers a despotism no less unbearable and to resort to unconstitutional methods.” In November 1902, Senior Congress leader Pherozeshah Mehta overturned the nomination of democratically elected member Kalicharan Bannerji to nominate Surendranath Bannerji to the presidency of the Congress. Reacting to it, Lal Mohan Ghosh declared in his presidential address to the INC session 1903 that since the whole aim of the Congress was to liberalize the autocratic Government of India, it was essential for the leaders of the Congress to themselves refrain from autocratic rule of the Congress.
Another nationalist freedom fighter, Lala Lajpat Rai ridiculed the Congress as an annual festival of English-educated Indians who assembled in order to amuse themselves and to increase their fame by “uttering plausibly worded platitudes in the shape of speeches.” He mocked the dress of the well-to-do delegates and condemned the lavish decorations and furnishings of the Congress pavilions as an unjustified extravagance. He argued that this gave cause to Englishmen in India and in England to point to the prosperity of Indians under British rule and to negate the deliberations of the Congress on the poverty of India.
Congress’ Contempt for Freedom Fighters
In the INC session of 1898 , chairman Subbarao Pantulu observed : “Today the elite of India’s leaders, prosperous in their profession, respected by their fellow-countrymen, meet year after year to strengthen the foundation of the same rule which in 1857 ignorant and misguided people tried to overthrow.. so long as the Congress would last, the events of 1857 would not occur again”. In 1897, the Congress newspaper Bengalee referred to the editor of the Marathi paper Pratoda , who had advocated for Indian home rule, as a “lunatic”. Senior Congress leader, Sir Surendra Nath Bannerji, in his autobiography alluded to Queen Victoria, the “Empress of India“ in terms of “Our Sovereign“ and “Our Mother”. Furthermore, he referred to British invasion and conquest of India as “dispensation of divine providence”
Formation of Congress was a well thought of plan of the British invaders to make this class of Brown Sahibs propagate a favourable opinion of British rule and act as effective deterrents of unfavourable opinion or possible revolt. While paying lip service to their Indian heritage, the Indian National Congress remained avowed admirers of Western hegemony and English culture. It’s aim was not India’s swarajya but continued subjugation..
1) Hardinge lord, My Indian years, London, 1948, P.116
2)McLeod, John. Post Colonialism P.101
3)A O Hume, Document 15 pp.141-43
4)The Indian National Congress, p. 169 and Bipin Chandra Pal, Swadeshi and ‘Swaraj, Calcutta, 1956.
5)B.N Pandey, The Nationalist Movement, 1885-1947 pp.1
6) Baring to Mallet, 25 September 1882, enclosed in Baring to Ripon, 25 September 1882, RP
7)Briton Martin Jr., Lord Dufferin and Indian National Congress p.71. Cambridge university Press 1967
8)Quarterly Review, 1886, pp. 112-113.
9)Report of the first I.N.C. Bombay 1885, pp. 7·8.
10)Report of the second I.N.C. Calcutta 1886, p. 53
11)Bengalee, 30 October 1897.
12)Report of the third I.N.C. Madras 1887, p. 86
13)Report of the fourth l.N.C. Allahabad 1888, p. 82.
14)Speeches, Vol. ID, p. 65, July 1888.
15)Speeches, Vol. III, p. 124, April 1890.
16)Speeches, Vol. Ill, p. 62, “The Present Political Situation”, 26 July 1888.
17)Report of the third I.N.C. Madras 1887, p. 86.
18)Report of the seventh l.N.C. Nagpur 1891
19)Bengalee, 3 November 1894.
20)Report of the tenth l.N.C. Madras 1894.
21)B.N Pandey, The Nationalist Movement, 1885-1947 pp.23
23)Report of the fourteenth l.N.C. Madras 1898, p. 11
24)Bengalee, 4 September 1897
25)SB Chapter I, p. 21.
26)John. P.Jones. India’s Problem PP. 51