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Unit 4
Indian National Congress – Predecessors

Learning Outcomes

Upon the completion of this unit:

  • the learner will be able to describe the importance of political organisations in the freedom struggle of India
  • analyse the growth of political ideas in the nineteenth century India
  • explain the impact of Indian National Congress on Indian national movement
  • point out the circumstances behind the formation of Indian National congress


The Indian National Congress, founded in December 1885, was the first organised expression of the Indian National Movement on an all India scale. It had many predecessors. Landholders’ Society was founded in 1837 with the purpose of promoting the class interests of the landlords. Bengal British Indian Society was formed in 1843 to protect and promote general public interests. The Madras Native Association and the Bombay Association were established in 1852. In 1866, Dadabhai Naoroji organised the East India Association in London to discuss the issues related with Indian society. The Madras Mahajan Sabha was started in 1881 and the Bombay Presidency Association in 1885. They worked for reform of administration, association of Indians with the administration, and spread of education, and sent long petitions, putting forward Indian demands, to the British Parliament. As educated Indians studied the character of British rule and its consequences for India, they became more and more critical of British policies in India. The discontent gradually found expression in political activity. The existing associations no longer satisfied politically conscious Indians. The time was then ripe for the formation of an all-India political organisation of nationalists who felt the need to unite politically against the common enemy’s foreign rule and exploitation. The existing organisations dealt mostly with local questions and their membership and leadership were confined to a few people belonging to a single city or province. Thus there was the need for an All India association to deal with the major questions leading to the national consciousness which made the formation of ‘Indian National Congress’ possible. In this unit, we will study about the various political organisations that slowly developed a unitary feeling of national consciousness and later the foundation of INC which became a major force in the Indian National movement and impacted the national character.

Key Words

Indian National Congress, The British Indian Association of Calcutta, The Deccan Association, The Madras Native Association, The Bombay Association

4.4.1 Growth of Political Ideas and Political Organisations (up to 1885)

A significant period in Indian history occurred when the Indian National Congress was founded in 1885. However, there were many political organisations which were precursors to the INC. The political organisations in the early half of the nineteenth century were dominated by wealthy and aristocratic elements, local or regional in character, who, through long petitions to the British Parliament, demanded administrative reforms, association of Indians with the administration, and spread of education.

The rise and consolidation of modern nationalism in India was symbolised by the Congress. The Congress was a continuation of the politics of associations that had already emerged as a distinct modern feature in Indian politics since the middle of the nineteenth century, to the extent that it was dominated in its early days by leading professionals in the major Indian cities. The 1870s marked a significant turning point when associations led by middle-class professional groups began to take over from those led by prominent urban figures in the past. Indeed, there was a lot of continuity between the Congress and the middle-class provincial associations of the 1870s. The emergence of a modern public sphere made it easier for the nationalist intelligentsia to spread the message of nationalism to broader spheres, and these provincial associations, such as the Indian League and the Indian Association in Calcutta, the Bombay Presidency Association, Madras Mahajan Sabha, or Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, represented a process of political change in the final quarter of the nineteenth century.

Some prominent political associations played a very important role in arousing general will and laying down a path towards modern nationalism. Most of them had the common objectives of their own wellbeing, and were mostly localised in nature. The evolution of the same are as follows:

Landholders Society
In July 1838, the “Zamindari Association”, also known as the “Landholders Society”, was established to safeguard the interests of the landlords. The Landholders’ Society was limited in its objectives, i.e., they covered the demands of landlords only. The landholders used the methods of constitutional agitation for the redressal of grievances and marked the beginning of organised political activities.

Bengal British India Society
In April 1843, another political association, named the Bengal British India Society, was founded. Its objective was “the collection and dissemination of information relating to the actual condition of the people of British India.” The British Indian Association of Calcutta (1851)

It was formed in 1851 by the merger of the Bengal British India Society and the Landholders Society. It was established to convey Indian grievances to the British Government. It suggested various reforms in the Company’s upcoming charter like the need for the establishment of a separate legislature, separation of judicial functions from executive functions, salaries of higher officers to be reduced, abolition of abkari, salt and stamp duties. Some of the recommendations of the association were accepted when the Charter Act of 1853 provided for the addition of six members to the Governor General’s Council for legislative purposes. The Deccan Association (1852)

British India Association of Calcutta was confined only to Bengal but British India Association’s Secretary, Debendranath Thakur wanted to expand the association, as the aim of the British India Association was to make representations from every part of British India to the British Parliament. In February 1852, as a further expansion of the British India Association, the Deccan Association was established at Poona. The Deccan Association did not last long and could not fulfil its objective of sending any mission or petition for suggesting reforms to the upcoming Charter Act, i.e., Charter Act of 1853.. The Madras Native Association (1852)

After the establishment of the Deccan Association, Madras acted next by establishing the Madras branch of the British Indian Association in February 1852. Within a few months, its name was changed to the Madras Native Association as it decided to act independently of the parent body. The possibility of a joint Indian petition to Parliament was wrecked by the split between Calcutta and Madras associations. However, the Madras Native Association right from its inception possessed very little vitality, had hardly any hold upon the public mind and languished into obscurity after 1857. The Bombay Association (1852)

On the lines of British India Association of Calcutta, on 26 August 1852, Bombay Association was founded with the object of ‘reminding from time to time the government authorities in India or in England about the need for the removal of existing evils, and for the prevention of proposed measures which may be deemed injurious or for the introduction of enactment which may tend to promote the general interest of all connected with this country’. The Bombay Association sent a petition to the British Parliament urging the formation of a new legislative council to which Indians should also be represented. It also condemned the policy of exclusion of Indians from all higher services, lavish expenditure on posts given to the Europeans. However, this Association did not survive for long. East India Association

In the year 1866, the East India Association was founded by Dadabhai Naoroji in London. The East India association started its branches in Bombay, Kolkata, and Madras in 1869. The objective of the East India Association was to discuss the problems and questions related to India and to influence the British leaders towards the development of India. Later, Dadabhai Naoroji also opened its branches in various important Indian cities. Poona Sarvajanik Sabha

The Poona Sarvajanik Sabha was established in 1867 at Poona. It had the objective of serving as a bridge between the Government and the people. India League

It was established by Sisir Kumar Ghose in 1875. The aim of the India league was to instill the feeling of nationalism amongst the people. The Indian Association of Calcutta

Surendranath Banerjee and Anand Mohan Bose founded the Indian Association of Calcutta in 1876. Founders of Indian Association of Calcutta were discontented with the pro-landlord and conservative policies of the British India Association and, hence, the establishment of the new Association. This association was aimed at unifying Indian people on a common political programme, and creating a strong public opinion on political questions. East India association also organised an All India agitation known as the Civil Service Agitation after its formation. The Bombay Presidency Association

Pherozeshah Mehta, K.T. Telang, Badruddin Tyabji and others formed the Bombay Presidency Association in 1885. The reactionary policies of Lytton and the Ilbert Bill controversy caused political commotion in Bombay and led to the formation of Bombay Presidency Association. Madras Mahajan Sabha

In 1884 Madras Mahajan Sabha was established by Viraraghavachari, P. Anandacharlu and B. Subramaniya Aiyer. The Madras Mahajan Sabha was formed in May 1884 to coordinate the activities of local association and to ‘provide a focus for the non-official intelligence spread up through the Presidency’.

These early Associations had, though, important contributions in terms of arousing the political will and demands of the Indian public, but their area and activities were limited. They mainly questioned local issues and their members and leaders were also limited to one or adjoining provinces. Despite having good leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Surendranath Banerjee, Anandacharlu and others, there was a lack of national unity in the case of political organisation. Later, this was gained by the formation of the Indian National Congress.

Most of these political organisations finally merged and culminated into a pan Indian organisation called the Indian National Congress. It was a result of many regional consciousnesses uniting together under the context of commonality of interests.

4.4.2 Foundation of the Indian National Congress

The Indian National Congress began as an organisation of the country’s elite and educated middle classes with the sole aim of securing constitutional reforms from the British Government. The party grew in strength and influence under the inspiring leadership of the founding fathers, including A.O. Hume, W.C. Banerjee, Dadabhai Naoroji, William Wedderburn, R.H. Sayani, and Badruddin Tyabji, among others.

In the later 1870s and early 1880s, a solid ground had been prepared for the establishment of an All-India organisation. The final shape to this idea was given by a retired English civil servant, A.O. Hume, who mobilised leading intellectuals of the time and, with their cooperation, organised the first session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in December 1885.

Reasons behind the creation of Indian National Congress (INC)
A process-wise explanation for the origin of the Congress is suggested by the emergence of a contemporary public sphere in which the politics of associations began to flourish. It demonstrates the various stages through which the nationalist intelligentsia acquired expertise in a variety of public expression strategies in order to achieve the desired unity among provincial associations. From this perspective, the rise of the Congress was the result of an earlier process. It is argued that at Simla, Hume discovered evidence of a forthcoming rebellion in a number of government reports. He wanted to channel popular grievances through a constitutional movement to prevent this from happening. Before he laid out contacts with a portion of the Indian chiefs with whom he had cordial terms, he counselled the Emissary Dufferin who evidently supported this proposition.

There is a theory that Hume formed the Congress with the idea that it would prove to be a ‘safety valve’ for releasing the growing discontent of the Indians. To this end, he convinced Lord Dufferin not to obstruct the formation of the Congress. The extremist leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai believed in the ‘safety valve’ theory. Even the Marxist historian’s ‘conspiracy theory’ was an offspring of the ‘safety valve’ notion. Modern Indian historians dispute the idea of ‘safety valve’. In their opinion the Indian National Congress represented the urge of the politically conscious Indians to set up a national body to express the political and economic demands of the Indians. Historian Bipan Chandra observes that early Congress leaders hoped to use Hume as a lighting conductor, i.e., as a catalyst to bring together nationalistic forces under the guise of a safety valve. Even though A. W. Wedderburn, Hume’s biographer, said that Hume had seen such papers, but they were never found. However, the liberalism of Hume made him unpopular among the British civil servants of the time.

Almost certainly, Hume had a true philosophical inspiration for starting a course of liberal political improvement in India involving his associations among the main expert figures in the primary urban communities of India. He had attempted to establish a constitutional party in India as early as 1883. Hume and his Indian friends organised farewell demonstrations after Lord Ripon, who had gained popularity among Indian leaders for some of his liberal measures, left Madras for England. Indian leaders probably also found Hume’s connection to the bureaucracy useful in order to get in touch with the government directly and start a conversation with them.

Major objectives of INC
The major objectives of INC are the following ones:

  • to found a democratic, nationalist movement through a pan India organisation.
  • congress aimed to increase awareness about the colonial exploitative policies and the political rights of Indians. To this end congress focused on demanding increasing representation in councils, Indianization of civil services etc.
  • develop and propagate an anti-colonial nationalist ideology.
  • Promote friendly relations among nationalist political workers from
  • formulate and present popular demands before the government with a view to unifying the people over a common economic and political programme.
  • develop and consolidate a feeling of national unity among people irrespective of religion, caste or province.


  • Growth of political ideas in the19th century
  • Formation of various political associations
  • Ideology of various political associations
  • Circumstances leading to formation of INC
  • Objectives of INC

Objective type questions

  1. In which year the Indian National Congress was formed?
  2. Which organisation was formed by the merger of Bengal British India Society and the Landholders Society?
  3. When was the Deccan Association formed?
  4. Who founded Madras Mahajana Sabha?
  5. What is the name of the organisation formed by Dadabhai Naoroji in London?
  6. Who founded the India League in 1875?
  7. Who founded the Indian Association of Calcutta?
  8. Where was the first session of the Indian National Congress held?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. 1885
  2. The British Indian Association of Calcutta
  3. 1852
  4. P.Viraraghavachari, Anandacharlu and B. Subramaniya Aiyer.
  5. East India Association
  6. Sisir Kumar Ghose
  7. Surendranath Banerjee and Anand Mohan Bose
  8. Bombay


  1. Examine how the early political associations impacted the formation and policies of ‘Indian National congress’.
  2. Analyse the importance of early political associations in the awakening of national consciousness in India
  3. Evaluate the different theories associated with the formation of INC.
  4. Why was the formation of INC an important part of the Indian National Movement?

Suggested Reading

  1. Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India, 1885-1947 (Delhi:Macmillian, 1985).
  2. Chand, Tara. History of Freedom movement in India.
  3. Desai, A.R, Social Background of Indian Nationalism (MumbaI:PopularPrakasan, 1986).
  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
  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)
  10. Guha, Ranjit. Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Delhi: OUP, 1983.