Modern History

Indian National Movement

Nation, Nation-State and Nationalism

  • The nationalism, is a modern phenomenon which evolved in eighteenth-century Europe and, in the wake of European hegemony over the globe, spread to all parts of the world.
  • Nation is one such human community which is very unique, where as Nation-State is one such State but a very unique and a special one but with different types of human communities. Nationalism brings the both together.
  • Indian nationalism represented two major ideas: anti-imperialism and national unity.
  • Nationalism was truly a global phenomenon that emerged not only in India, Asia or Africa. Communities with very less things in common became Nations.
  • It has manifested itself as politics (Type of Govt), ideology( Communist, Socialist, Capitalist), movement( Feminist, Veganism), belief system( Isreal, Pakistan), a sentiment( Canada ), imagination ( Kurd ), invented tradition( invoke past, eg Muslim from Hinds. Forming Pakistan, Hindu Rastra) and also a passion.
  • The new economy was backed up by modern science and technology and was so powerful that it destroyed the old order and , in time, replaced it with a new social order.
  • The new economy was so large that it could not effectively run without the participation of a large number of people. people should become citizens and should be directly responsible to the state. Ending Kingship.
  • The world capitalism that emerged in certain areas of Europe towards the end of the 18th centuries, created a ‘myth’ of ‘even development’ throughout the world by diffusion.
  • But in reality Capitalism actually flourished by creating a ‘core’ (of advance capitalist countries of Europe) and a ‘periphery’ (the colonial societies of Asia and Africa).
  • The elite in these societies soon discovered that ‘progress’ in the abstract only meant ‘domination’ in the concrete for them, by powers that were alien and foreign. (The Drain of Wealth).
  • Thus capitalism created a system of imperialism and colonialism. That was in this sense that humanity’s forward march became synonymous with ‘Westernization’.
  • Indian nation prior to the 19th century was present in major part during Mauryan, Gupta, Mughal rules.
  • Indian nationalism against British imperialism was territorial rather than ethnic or religious, of not so much the common culture or a common language (as preached by Stalin’s definition)
  • India, was a nation-in-the-making, the title of Surendranath Banerjee’s autobiography.
  • India was old civilization , but a new Nation, Swami Vivekanand. (‘invention of tradition’ ?)
  • Indian nationalism was plural, non-coercive(consensus) and civil.
  • Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his weekly journal Harijan in 1940: “India is a big country, a big nation, composed of different cultures which are tending to blend with one another, each complementing the rest. If I must wait for the completion of this process, I must wait. It may not be completed in my day. I shall love to die in the faith that it must come in the fullness of time.”
  • After independence 28 States, 22Official Languages.


  • (1)Divide and Rule in Africa – British recruited disproportionately from the Tiv in Nigeria, Acholi in Uganda and the Kamba in Kenya for the military. To prevent National coalition.
  • Africa’s British policy was to rule indirectly through traditional structures of authority which were subordinated to colonial interests.
  • British divided Ireland, India, and Palestine before handing over power to nationalist leaders.
  • Britains famous ‘(2)drain of wealth’ from India was not a phenomenon confined to India but also to other colonies as well.
  • Cultivation System- export the (3)agricultural commodities from the resource rich Colonies to the markets in the west.
  • Industrialisation(4) deliberately prevented in both colonies.
  • (5)Multi-class movement with broad based.
  • Post Independence – South Africa become independent from its white elite and had imposed apartheid in 1948, the armed struggle headed by the African National Congress led to black majority rule eventually under Nelson Mandela. The struggle was not of nationalism but of socialism, tribalism and religious sentiment.


  • The colonialist view rejected the idea of India as a nation due to diversity, disunity land of hostile and war. And so colonialist thinkers justified for the colonial rule to have united it.(James Mill’s History of India)
  • According to colonialist thinkers, India was a conglomeration of different and often antagonistic religion, tribe, castes, ethnic, linguistic and regional groups which could never be forged or welded into a nation.
  • Valentine Chirol in Indian Unrest (1910), wrote that India was a ‘mere geographical expression’, put together by Britishers,  with great degree of difference that even ,‘there are far more profound racial differences between the Maharatta and the Bengalee than between the German and the Portuguese’.
  • In the nationalist ideas some have been adopted under the influence of the West, while some others argue that they have been present since the ancient times(Har Bilas Sarda, in Hindu Superiority (1906), wrote that ‘the ancient Hindus were the greatest nation that has yet flourished in the earth’, and Lajpat Rai in his Young India (1916) stated that ‘fundamentally India has been a nation for the last 2,000 years’, K.P. Jayaswal, in Hindu Polity (1924) claimed that India had everything that England prouds to have at present).
  • Another views by Surendranath Banerjea, in India as ‘a nation-in-the-making’ and R.C. Majumdar is that ‘the conception of India as a common motherland was still in the realm of fancy. There was no India as it is understood today. There were Bengalis, Hindustanis, Marathas, Sikhs, etc. but no Indian, at the beginning of the nineteenth century’. and argued that it was the National movements launched by the INC that ‘gave reality to the ideal of Indian unity’. Also Tara Chand said India is a ‘the combined economic and political change’
  • Other Views such as by Rabindranath Tagore portrayed India as a civilization of assimilation, cultural unity and not only territorial unit. The arrival of  Greeks, Shakas, Huns, Turks, Persians, Afghans, Parsis etc, to enrich the prevailing traditional culture. Subhas Chandra Bose, in Indian Struggle, stated that India has ‘a fundamental unity’ despite endless diversity. Jawaharlal Nehru also argued India to have ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads’.
  • Marxist approach have been critical of both the colonialist due to being racial supremacy and nationalist due to finding India nationalism in her ancient past but its based on modes of production and classes.
  • M.N. Roy in his India in Transition (1922), argued that India was becoming apart of international capitalism and thus dominant classes being bourgeoisie and workers would be revolutionary against the existing order. But Roy also argued that in early 20th century Indian national movement moved to  the political ideology of Native Capitalism which was in aspiration of a youthful bourgeoisie.
  • R.P. Dutt in India Today (1947) stated that the revolt of 1857 was also against the old consevatives Indian rule. He was also critical of INC because it was always in the hands of propertied classes. Following Dutt, A.R. Desai in his Social Background of Indian Nationalism (1948) divided Indian freedom struggle in five phases and argued that INC was deliberately keeping the movement civil and non-violent to continue geting the support of the propertied classes.

Foundations of Indian Nationalism

  • Famines had been a regular phenomenon in India but during British rule famines were man made disasters because of exploitative policy of British government.
  • The British land revenue system, commercialisation of agriculture(Indigo), drain of wealth, heavy taxes on artisans and handicraftsmen and de-industrialisation adversely affected the peasants and the tribal people who revolted in localized area but masses against the colonial regime from Sanyasi and Fakir rebellions in 1760s in Bengal till the Santhal rebellion of 1850s in the Rajmahal Hills area accumulated and major outburst took place in great revolt of 1857 in much semi National level.
  • The resistance continued even after 1857 as mentioned in Neel Darpan written by Din Bandhu Mitra in 1860 against Indigo cultivation.
  • In 1873 peasants formed informal agrarian league in district of Pabna in Eastern Bengal and stopped payment of land revenues to zamindars which spead to other parts of the country and forced the government to pass Bengal Tenancy Act in 1885 to protect  the rights of tenants.
  • The new intelligentsia in Bengal emerged such as Bankim Chandra Chatterjea, R.C. Dutt, Surendranath Banerjea etc in solidarity and support of poor tenants.
  • Upper caste elites got  to learn about westerm thoughts and science with the establishment of  Hindu College(1817) at  Calcutta that led to the new Intellectual awakening. Welcoming the new ideas and scientific education, the intelligentsia supported the British rule initially, but became anti-colonial after the mid-nineteenth centuary.
  • Lord Macualay replaced Offical language from Persian to English in 1835 to build a class of Indians with imperial taste and language. English was further promoted in Sir Charles Wood Education Policy in 1854 which led to setting up of Universities in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1857.
  • Due to racial arrogance Indians educated with vernacular language had less employment opportunities than English educated Indians and Europeans. But still there was rise in the Literacy and press in vernacular language.
  • The intellectuals disillusioned by the colonial rule came together and formed several political associations to appeal British parliament for protecting their personal and general interests, such as- 
    • Landholders’ Society and the Bengal British India Society in Calcutta
    • British Indian Association
    • Calcutta in 1851 by Zamindars of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa
    • Bombay Association (1852)
    • Madras, Madras Native Association (1852)
    • Indian League after 1857 revolt
    • Indian Association by Surendranath Banerjea in 1876 for opening Civil Services to Indians, representation in municialties , repeal Vernacular Press Act of 1878 etc.
    • Poona Sarvajanik Sabha 1870 by M. G. Ranade
    • Bombay Presidency Association 1885 by Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabji and Kashinath Telang
    • Madras Mahajana Sabha 1884 by P. Ananda Charlu
  • The press gained it popularity in English and vernacular languages to educated the Peoples and emerge political conscience during the period from 1860 to 1885.  Some prominent journals being Bengalee and Amrita Bazar Patrika in Bengal, Kesari, Mahratta, Indu Prakash and Voice of India in Bombay, Hindu in Madras and Tribune in Punjab etc.
  • To  curb the Indian Press Viceroy Lord Lytton passed the VernacularPress Act in 1878.followed by the Arms Act mandating of license of firearms by Indians but not from Europeans. However, Lord Ripon, repealed the Vernacular Press Act but not the Arms Act. Moreover he brought Ilbert Bill to enable Indian magistrate to judge a European which was invoked after strong criticism by the Englishmen and preventing the threat of a “white Mutiny”. Ripon increased the age limit for Civil Sevices to appease the Indians.
  • Allan Octavian Hume(Retd. ICS) motivated for a one national association  which culminated into Indian National Congress in 1885 under the Presidency of W. C. Bonnerji and 72 delegates. Surendranath joined the INC.


In 1830s the idea was mooted by Raja Rammohan Roy, Bhaskar Pandurang Tarkhadkar, Govind Vitthal Kunte ( known as Bhau Mahajan) and Ramkrishna Vishwanath against the Economic exploitation by the British on all fronts.

  • In 1870s major economic critique of the colonial rule on poverty problems,under developed industris, taxes in public finance, agri-crisis, export and  political economy of nationhood were Dadabhai Naoroji(drain of wealth), M. G.  Ranade(dependent colonial economy), Romesh Chunder Dutt, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, G. Subramaniya Iyer, G.V. Joshi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Surendranath Banerjea.
  • It has been documented in The Poverty of India(1876),  Poverty and Un-British Rule in India (1901) by Dadabhai Naoroji, Prosperous British India (1901) by William Digby, Some Economic Aspects of British Rule in India (1903) by G. S. Iyer, Economic History of India (1903) by R. C. Dutt.


  • The Indian intellectuals analysed colonialism in the mixed way in context of their own society, being not fully hostile or colonial mimicry towards it. Synthesis of Orientalists and Anglicist occurred.
  • Example:  Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-91), being a practicing Brahmin, but also being deeply impressed by Western rational thought became an agnostic. He did not opposed John Locke and David Hume on Manusamhita but himself disregarded the Parasara Sutra and also worked for women emancipation.
  • Swami Dayanand Saraswati(1824-83) and Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) acknowledged the ideas and values from the West even being of their image as orthodox revivalists, who believed contemporary Hinduism has moved away from Vedas and Gita wisdom.
  • Raja Rammohan Roy supported western instead of oriental education in fields of mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy,  science etc, whereas Dayanand Saraswati advocated infallibility of Vedas but avoided supernatural questions.
  • Henry Louis Vivien Derozio had an aggressive rationalism at Hindu College in Calcutta where the young western educated students of the college questioned superstitions and irrationality.
  • Akshay Kumar Dutt as editor in Tatva Bodhini Patrika tried to use rational principles to explain orthodox questions.
  • Lokhitwadi Gopal Hari Deshmukh advocated reform in religious practices to suit contemporary reality.


  • Frictions emerged among the leaders such as Surendra Nath Banerjee and Motilal Ghosh in Bengal, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal, Brahma Bandhab Upadhyay in Bengal. In Bombay between Gokhale and Tilak for control over the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. After passing away of Dayanand Saraswati, Arya Samaj split into moderate and radical groups in Punjab.
  • The new constitutuion of INC promoted by Tikal was not operational even after being ratified.
  • Lord Curzon continued his imperialist laws with Calcutta Municipal Amendment Act of 1899, to reduce number of elected representatives, the Indian Universities Act to keep Calcutta University under complete governmental control and the Indian Official Secret Amendment Act of 1904 in order to curb and restricted the freedom of the revolutionary press.
  • But Partition of  Bengal in 1905, was the most outrageous one challenging the Bengali Nationalists. The extremist fraction of  taking control  over INC gained support from the masses and asked for radical measures instead of prayer, petition, public meetings and passive resistance.


  • Curzon aimed to weaken congress but instead helped the extremist leaders to take control of the INC and also create a Hindu-Muslim divide, Assamese-Benagali divied and weaken the Bhadralok(Rich and dominant upper varna class) .
  • INC called for Boycott of British goods and institutions and promote national education and development of Swadeshi indigenous alternatives to British goods.
  • Remembering glories of the past, Tilak started Shivaji festival in Bombay and teachings of Vivekananda’s idea of ‘alternative manliness’ which synthesized western modern concepts with old Indian traditions.
  • However, Assam’s interests were gained due to the partition thus the movement was cautious to not look anti to them.


  • The Bengalis unified cutting across castes, class and religion against the Partition of Bengal and supported the Swadeshi Movement horizontally.
  • Historian Sumit Sarkar has found the following four trends in the movement
    • Moderate in Nature
    • Constructive Swadesi,
    • Political Extremism
    • Revolutionary Nationalism.
  • Surendra Nath Banerjee called for the boycott of British goods and institutions.
  • For self-reliance, indigenous goods, national education, arbitration courts and village level organizations were formed.
  • However indigenization began even before the formal beginning of the movement and Bengal Chemicals and porcelain manufacturing was established before.
  • For national education Satish Chandra Mukherjee founded Bhagavat Chatuspathi and Dawn Society in Calcutta, Brahmabandhab Upadhyay founded Saraswat Ayatan and Rabindra Nath Tagore founded the famous Ashram at Shantiniketan, Bhirbhum and preached principles atma-shakti and atma-shuddhi giving it touch of Religious revivalism. Bengal National College and School was also established.
  • Swadeshi Bhandav Samity organised arbitration committees to settle local disputes and reduce the dependency on British courts.
  • With the rising support of the masses, the movement reached a new phase from Swadesi to Swaraj or complete independence.
  • The extremists were ready for violent movement along with the swadesi and boycott to confront imperial rule. Thus, it was having Gandhian features except use of violence.
  • Extremists like Aurobindo Ghosh, advocated for use of religion to further mobilize the masses. But this eventually separated Muslims and lower caste peasantries from the movement.
  • The movement failed to penetrate into the higher ranks of the British companies, and was untouched to workers of the other parts of India.
  • The decline of political extremism payed way for more radical phase of revolutionary extremism which was to follow in the forms of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and others.
  • The 1907 session of the Congress was shifted from extremist stronghold in Poona to Surat by the moderates. Lala Lajpat Rai was nominated by the extremists for the post of the Congress President, while the moderates had Rash Behari Ghosh. Major bone of contention was on the review of four Resolutions passed in the Calcutta session. The session ended with Spilt in congress and extremist leaders were suspended. Extremists B. G. Tilak died soon and Aurobindo took up life of a hermit. The later moderates Mehta-Congress was more loyal to the government.
  • The two factions were again united in 1920 Belgam Session under presidentialship of Mahatma Gandhi.


  • National pride was infused with the writings of Bankim Chandra and Vivekananda.
  • Groups were formed with revolutionary ideas even before the movement such as Dhaka Anushilan Samiti  by Satish Chandra Basu, Midnapore Society, Anushilan Samiti of Calcutta was headed by Barindra Kumar Ghosh (brother of Aurobindo Ghosh) with Hemchandra Kanungo and Prafulla Chaki.
  • The first dacoity happened in government loyal officials in Rangpur in August 1906 to fund a bomb manufacturing unit in Maniktala Calcutta
  • District Magistrate Kingsford was attacked killing two women on April 30, 1908 at Muzaffarpur by Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki. Thereafter, Prafulla Chaki commited suicide and the entire group at Maniktala were arrested for terrorism against the imperial government.
  • Barrister C.R. Das managed to acquit Aurobindo but his younger brother Barindra and Ullaskar Dutta and others were sentenced to death which were later reduced to life imprisonment.
  • The hanging of Khudiram and the Maniktala Bomb Conspiracy Trial was popularized and immortalised in patriotic Bengali folk songs.
  • The Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, induction of S.P. Sinha as the law member in the Viceroy’s Executive Council and annulment of the partition of Bengal in 1911 with transfer of Capital from Calcutta to Delhi was seen as an outcome of efforts of revolutionary nationalists.
  • The revolutionary activities spread from Bengal to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Gadhar Party was formed in North America. They attempted to assassinate the viceroy Lord Hardinge in 1912  and in September, 1914 boarded in Japanese ship Kamagata Maru, they clashed with the British army near Calcutta. Later after First World War, the captive Indian soldiers in Japan were organized into a armed force by efforts of Ras Bihari Bose, Subhas Chandra Bose and others.
  • The British government responded by imposing of The Defence of India Act of 1915 and draconian Rowlatt Acts.
  • Later with the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi when the focus shifted from violence to non-violent movements and from elite action to mass action.


  • The anti-partition Swadesi and Boycott movement spread the ideas of nationalism became a political movement and went beyond the elite circles to the students and masses.
  • Gokhale also founded the Servants of India Society for emancipation of to the poor and  untouchable oppressed part of the society. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, published newspapers Kesari in Marathi and the Mahratta in English.
  • All India Muslim League was formed in Dacca in 1906 which supported Curzon’s partition plan and claimed to be sole representatives of the Indian Muslim and not INC. However, Jinnah did not supported the Leagues views then.
  • The vernacular writings gained public legitimacy. Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in Gujarati and English in 1909  and V.D. Savarkar wrote Indian War of Independence in 1910 projecting a Hindu view of nationalism.
  • When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, Home Rule League was active under Annie Besant in Madras, Berar and Central Province and B.G. Tilak in Bombay to educate the idea of independence of India. The membership of the two leagues reached over 60,000 in 1917. Annie Besant in her “New India” newspaper criticized the imperial government and propagated the need of Home Rule or Swaraj. Following her popularity, Besant was elected the President of INC in Calcutta session in 1917. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms in 1918 was an outcome of the Home Rule movement.
  • Chittaranjan Das also proposed for a composite and inclusive national culture.


  • India being a colony of British became an automatic party in the First World War(1914-1919), the British increased the taxes manifold times increasing debt and burdening common people to fund the War. Also to weaken the popularizing Home Rule movement and gain support from the Indian leaders British government offered lucrative reforms in return for support in the war.
  • The All India Muslim League founded in 1906 for protecting the interests of the Muslims and opposing the INC got its reward from British government in the form of separate electorates to Muslim in the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 to widen the Hindu-Muslim division and promote Muslim separatism.
  • But soon the trust of league leader disillusioned from the British as repartition of Bengal happened in 1911 and role Britain in bringing down the Ottoman Empire in 1914. Also British remained neutral in Italy-Turkey war in 1911 persecution of Muslims in Iran by Russia rouse a sentiment of ‘Islam in danger’ because of the European forces.
  • During this times with efforts of Jinnah, Sarojini Naidu and other Nationalist leaders, Lucknow Pact was agreed upon in 1916 with a joint demand for self-government as the immediate goal and INC agreed to accept the separate electorates for Muslims in seven majority states along with half of the elected seats in the Punjab and one third of the elected seats in the central legislature as formulated in Bombay meeting in 1915 for National government.
  • Hindu Sabhas opposed the Pact while Tilak supported it. The unity of the League and Congress increased the strength of the anti-colonial movement.
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