Indian nationalism was not a simple unification of Indians against colonial rule.
There were many complexities involved in forming an organization that sought to speak on behalf of the people, and many of these challenges were posed to the Indian National Congress because their leadership consisted of the Hindu elite.In 1885, the Indian National Congress was formed through the initiative of Allen Octavian Hume, and it quickly became the chief organization representing the will of the common people and sought to lead the Indians in their struggle for freedom.The major drawbacks of the early nationalists was that the movement was confined to educated Indians and the middle class, while their method of functioning was within the law and slow. As Indian leaders gradually became disillusioned with the British Government, the new leaders began to assert for the attainment of Swaraj, which could be achieved only by working among the masses and their participation in political protests– such as the boycott of British goods, called Swadeshi.As seen in the movie, Home and the World, this type of protest was much easier for those of the upper and middle classes. Since British goods were cheaper and of a better quality than Indian goods, they were vital to peasant life. Most were unable to simply give up British goods, and consequently, class tensions developed. There was increasing violence and riots erupted between peasants and wealthy landowners.
At the same time, religious tensions increased, as many of the peasants affected by these changes were also Muslims. At this point, we begin to have questions arise over whether the Congress is truly acting on behalf of all the people in India. There begins the idea that Muslims must rally together to ensure that their needs are not overlooked by the Congress.
On October 16, 1905, Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal on the pretext of it being too big to administer. Instead of dividing it based on areas not considered part of Bengal, they based the division on Hindus and Muslims. The British thought that through the partition, they would succeed in dividing Hindu politicians of western and eastern Bengal and increase Hindu- Muslim tensions. The tremor of partition was felt throughout India and many regarded it as an insult and challenge to Indian Nationalism. Consequently, the moderates of the Congress launched movements and the protests, Swadeshi and Swaraj, became the slogan of the common man and the whole of India was drawn into the Nationalist movement in one way or another.For many Muslims, the only way to respond to the British and the Congress was through the formation of the All India Muslim League in 1906. This acted as a direct challenge to the National Congress’ authority to speak on behalf of the nation. The Congress was also facing challenges because they continually tried to depolitisize the internal social problems of India, and focus on the problems of British Raj.
While the Congress called for mass action they were also implying elite control, and more peasants were becoming worried that their concerns would not be addressed. The Congress was now faced with the problem of not only addressing the peasants concerns, but also securing them as members of the movement. Up until this point they had systematically called for the peasants to subsume to the interests of their landlords, with the idea that once they attained Swaraj, all problems would be solved. Nevertheless, these ideas were still predicated on the fact that the rich would remain in control.
It is not until the Congress is lead by Mahandas Gandhi in 1920 that steps are taken to unify the movement and face the challenges poised by the peasants and Muslims. Under the leadership of Gandhi, the Non-cooperation movement was launched, beginning with renunciation of honorary titles like “Sir” given by the British. Thereafter it was followed by the boycott of legislatures, elections and other Government works. Foreign clothes were burnt and Khadi became a symbol of freedom. His 1930 Dandi march, in protest of the salt tax shows how he could take an issue that affected the peasants, turn it into a source of strength, and idealize the simplistic, virtuous life of the peasant.
The movement was a great success despite firing and arrests, and for the first time really appealed to the peasants. His emphasis on the individual, and the desire of the “self” in seeking change of one’s conditions appealed to many, as his messages of moral purity helped ease tensions between Hindus and Muslims.Nevertheless, it was still hard to unify India under the Nationalist movement, because it assumed that all Indians shared a common idea of nationalism. Unfortunately, this was not as clear as they thought, as the people of India defined themselves along many different categorical lines. While most may have wanted Swaraj, complications arise as to who can best serve those needs, and who has the right to rule.
These were the fundamental reasons why the Indian National Congress was faced with so many challenges.Bibliography: