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Unit 1
Nationalism as an Ideology-Anti-Colonial Content

Learning Outcomes

After reading this unit, the learner will be able to:

  • identify the causes for the rise of national consciousness in India
  • analyse the impact of social reform movements in the history of Modern India
  • explain the role of anti-caste movements in the making of modernity in India
  • describe the different political associations in India which helped in developing nationalism


Nationalism refers to the feeling of oneness that emerges when people living in a common region share the same historical, political, cultural background or language, and have the same cultural values and consider themselves as one nation. The factors which promoted the growth of nationalism in India were: economic exploitation, repressive colonial policies, socio-religious reform movements, rediscovery of India’s past, influence of western education, role of the press and development of rapid means of transport and communication. Indian Nationalism can trace back its roots to Pre-Colonial India, but was fully developed during the Indian independence movement which campaigned for independence from British rule. Nationalism quickly rose to popularity in India through the united anti-colonial coalitions and movements.

Key Words

Nationalism, Western Education, National consciousness, Colonialism

4.1.1 Causes of the rise of Indian National Movement

The rise of national consciousness in India took place towards the latter half of the 19th century only. Before that, there were struggles and battles against British colonialism but they were all confined to smaller areas and in any case, did not encompass the whole of India. In fact, some scholars at the time did not consider India to be a country. Though political union had occurred in the past under great kings like Ashoka and Akbar and under the Marathas, to an extent, they were not permanent. However, cultural unity was always seen and foreign powers always referred to the subcontinent as India or Hind as being one entity, despite being ruled by many rulers.

It can be said that the national movement, with the political and social emancipation of the people as its aim, arose in India in 1885, with the formation of the Indian National Congress. The factors leading to the National consciousness at that time were:

Western education
Macaulay had instituted a western educational system in India with the sole aim of creating a class of educated Indians who could serve their colonial masters in the administration of the ‘natives’. This idea sort of backfired because it created a class of Indians who became exposed to the liberal and radical thoughts of European writers who expounded liberty, equality, democracy and rationality. Also, the English language united Indians from various regions and religions.

Vernacular languages
The 19th century also saw the revival of vernacular languages. This helped the propagation of the ideas of liberty and rational thought to the masses. British imperialism put an end to the old social order of the country. This was resented by many Indians.

Socio-religious reform movements
Socio-religious reform movements of the 19th century helped a great deal in the rise of nationalism in India. These movements sought to remove superstition and societal evils prevalent then, and spread the word of unity, rational and scientific thought, women empowerment, and patriotism among the people. Notable reformers were Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule and so on.

Economic policies of the British
The oppressive economic policies of the British led to widespread poverty and indebtedness among the Indians, especially farmers. Famines which led to the deaths of lakhs were a regular occurrence. This led to a bitter sense of suppression and sowed the seeds of a yearning for liberty from foreign rule.

Political unity
Under the British, most parts of India were put under a single political set-up. The system of administration was consolidated and unified throughout all regions. This factor led to the feeling of ‘oneness’ and nationhood among Indians.

Communications network
The British built a network of roads, railways, post, and telegraph systems in the country. This led to increased movements of people from one part of the country to another and increased the flow of information. All these accelerated the rise of a national movement in India.

Growth of the modern press
Latter half of the 19th century saw the rise of the Indian press, both in English and in the regional languages. This factor helped in the dissemination of information.

Lord Lytton’s policies
Lord Lytton was the Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880. In 1876, there was a famine in south Indian which saw the deaths of almost 10 million people. His trading policies were criticised for having aggravated the famine. Also, he conducted the grand Delhi Durbar in 1877, spending huge amounts of money at a time when people were dying of hunger.

Lytton also passed the Vernacular Press Act 1878 which authorised the government to confiscate newspapers that printed ‘seditious material’. He also passed the Arms Act 1878 which prohibited Indians from carrying weapons of any kind without licenses. The act excluded Englishmen.

Legacy of the Revolt of 1857
After the Revolt of 1857 and its bitter crushing by the British, there was deep racial tension between the British and the Indians.

Ilbert Bill controversy
In 1883, the Ilbert Bill was introduced, which gave Indian judges the power to hear cases against Europeans, by the then Viceroy Lord Ripon and Sir Courtenay Ilbert, the legal advisor to the Council of India. But there was a huge outcry against this bill from Britishers in India and in Britain. Arguments made against this bill displayed the deep racial prejudice the English had for Indians. This also exposed the true nature of British colonialism to the educated Indians.

4.1.2 Administrative Measures and Policies of the British

Due to the factors we have mentioned above, the British were also facing problems in maintaining effective control of the government. To overcome these deficiencies, the British evolved some administrative measures and new policies. These measures also helped in the development of national consciousness among the Indians. Let us now examine these policies and their effects.

Unified System of Administration
For a better exploitation of the Indian resources the British brought large parts of the country under a uniform system of administration. Land revenue administration,police, law and order machinery and the judicial system were some of the important measures adopted for bringing about this uniformity in administration.

Communication Network
Post and telegraph services were extended and improved. All the major towns were linked with telegraph. After 1853, work on Railway lines was started. The plan was to link the presidencies with each other and the hinterland with major ports. The main advantage of Railways for the British was a cheap mode of transport to carry goods to ports and back. But once the railway network developed, passenger traffic also increased, and people living at distant places got new opportunities to interact with one another.

Printing Press
The introduction of the printing press made the transmission of ideas and learning less expensive. A number of newspapers and periodicals started appearing. Through these publications, the problems in different parts of the country could be shared by people. You can guess from your own experience how the press could play an important role in the development of national consciousness among the literate sections of the people.

New Education System
The British introduced a new system of education which was mainly derived from the West – both in form and content. The main idea behind this system was to create a loyal section of Indians who would effectively carry out clerical and lower administrative tasks for the British. As Macaulay put it, the idea was to form “a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. However the modern educational system familiarised the educated classes with the ideas of equality, liberty and nationalism, in an atmosphere of growing disillusionment with colonial rule. The education system itself bred disillusionment as it was elitist, serving only a small section, while as many as 92% of the Indians were illiterate even in 1921. So the educated Indians turned towards the contemporary nationalist movements in Europe (like German unification, Italian unification and nationalist movement against the Turkish empire). They were exposed to the works of liberal writers and thinkers like Godwin, Shelley, Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Rousseau, Voltaire, Mazzini and Garibaldi. The Indians who were studying in England found on their return to India that they were denied all the rights which were taken for granted in European countries.

British Policy of Expansion
The British in the beginning conquered different areas to establish their hold. But this policy of expansion continued. They kept extending their territories by annexing Indian states, one after the other, even if those states were not at war with the British. The most important among these were annexations of Sind (1843), Punjab (1849) Rangoon and Pegu (1852), and Awadh (1856). Jhansi, Satara and Nagpur were also taken over. The Indian rulers were getting apprehensive of the British.

Intellectual Awakening
Nineteenth Century India is marked by a process of social reform and intellectual ferment. By intellectual ferment, we mean an attempt at a critical and creative examination of contemporary society with the purpose of transforming it along modern lines. This was done by the intellectuals who had received the benefit of modern education. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshub Chandra Sen, Ishwar Chandra vidyasaga, M.G. Ranade and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan were among the leading intellectuals of the nineteenth century who contributed to the awakening of national consciousness. The British, in order to provide a justification for foreign rule, had tried to project the immediate Pre-British period (18th century) as a period of stagnation. Along with this, they tried to establish that Indians had no achievement to their credit in the field of Science and Technology and were incapable of providing a proper government. The educated Indians countered this thesis by bringing to light the achievements of Indians in art, architecture, literature, philosophy and science. This inquiry into history led to a new awakening aimed at reforming Indian society, by doing away with the evil practices which were being perpetuated in the name of religion.

Racial Discrimination
The development of Nationalist sentiments was further aided by the English concept of racial supremacy. This discrimination extended beyond social interactions to judicial matters as well. “The evidence of a single one of our countrymen carries more weight with the court than that of any number of Hindus,” said G.O Travelyan, a historian and powerful public servant, in 1864. “This circumstance puts a horrible weapon of power into the hands of an unscrupulous and grasping English man.” The experience of this prejudice also aided in the development of a sense of national identity.


  • Rise of national consciousness and nationalism
  • Macaulay’s Western education policy
  • Rise of vernacular languages
  • Lord Lytton’s policies
  • Factors contributing to National Consciousness

Objective type questions

  1. Who was the Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880?
  2. In which century did major social reform movements start in India?
  3. Who were the leading intellectuals of the nineteenth century who contributed to the awakening of national consciousness?
  4. When was the Grand Delhi Durbar conducted?
  5. When did the work on Railway lines get started by the British?
  6. In which year did the British annex Sindh?
  7. When was the Ilbert Bill introduced?
  8. In which year was the ‘Vernacular Press Act’ passed?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. Lord Lytton
  2. 19th century
  3. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshub Chandra Sen, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, M.G. Ranade and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
  4. 1877
  5. 1853
  6. 1843
  7. 1883
  8. 1878


  1. Examine the role of the Vernacular press in the rise of national consciousness in India.
  2. Discuss the impact of British Educational system on national consciousness
  3. Analyse the role of intellectuals in the emergence of national consciousness.
  4. Discuss the new modes of communications network started under the british in the 19th century.

Suggested Reading

  1. Desai, A.R, Social Background of Indian Nationalism, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 2005.
  2. Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India, 1885-1947, Delhi:Macmillian, 1985.
  3. Chand, Tara, History of Freedom movement in India. Publication Division, 1961.
  4. Desai, A.R. Peasant Struggles in India, Delhi: OUP, 1979.
  5. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar, From Plassey to Partition and After: A History of Modern India, Orient Blackswan, 2014.
  6. Chandra, Bipan, Communalism in Modern India, 2nd edition, Delhi:Vikas, 1987.
  7. Chandra, Bipin, Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India, Delhi: HarAnand, 2010.
  8. Chandra Bipan, India’s Struggle for Independence, Penguin Books, 1988.
  9. Dube, Ishita Banerjee, A History of Modern India, Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2015.