The Birth Of A Movement
"... I am an Indian and owe duty to my work and all my countrymen. Whether I am a Hindu or a Mohammedan, a Parsi, a Christian, or of any other creed, I am above all an Indian. Our country is India and our nationality is Indian."
Dadabhai Naoroji, Lahore, 1893
The Indian National Congress (INC) -- perhaps the largest and oldest democratic organisation in the world -- was born as a movement that embraced all peoples, cultures and communities into its fold in its fight for freedom from alien domination. The early Congress consisted of the Moderates who adopted non-confrontational methods and sought to make the provincial legislatures more representative.
Gradually, however, the repressive policies of the British government aroused intense opposition and strengthened national sentiments. Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Pal, who constituted the Extremist triumvirate called Lal-Bal-Pal, advocated the policy of swadeshi (boycott of foreign goods) and national education.
The Home Rule Movement started by Tilak and Annie Besant in Maharashtra and Chennai in 1916, politicised new social classes, paving the way for the agitations launched by Mahatma Gandhi.
Tilak’s catch phrase, "Freedom is my birthright, and I shall have it," had nationalist sentiments soaring to new heights.
A New Era Begins
Mahatma Gandhi’s entry into active politics in 1919 began a new era in Indian national politics. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the atrocities perpetuated in Punjab following the incident, convinced the Congress to give up the old methods. At a special Congress session in Calcutta in 1920, Gandhiji decided to start the Non-Cooperation Movement, strictly adhering all the while to the principles of ahimsa (non-violence).
Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose changed the ideological climate of the national movement by disseminating the ideals of socialism. The Congress became a genuinely revolutionary organisation and a mass movement.