By the 1870s, Indian Nationalism had gathered enough momentum to appear as a vital force on the Indian political scene. In the early 1880s, a solid ground had been prepare for the establishment of an all-Indian organization. Many Indians had been planning to form an all-Indian organization of nationalist political workers. But, the credit for giving the final shape to this idea goes to Allan Octavian Hume, a retired English Civil Servant, who mobilized the leading intellectuals of the time, and with their corporation, founded the Indian National Congress in December 1885.
As a prelude to the INC, Ananda Mohan Bose, along with Surendranath Banerjee, organized the two sessions of the Indian National Conference, held in 1883 and 1885, having representatives drawn from all the major towns of India. Indian National Conference was popularly known as the first parliament for people of India or Precursor to Indian National Congress (INC).
On 1 March 1883, A. O. Hume wrote a letter to the graduates of Calcutta University to form a political association to work for the socio-economic, political, and moral development of India. His idea was to build a platform by which the dialogue could be initiated & sustained between the British government and educated Indians. After getting a response from the Bengal graduates, Hume formed the Indian National Union in 1884 in Calcutta to bring together a group of educated Indians on a common platform to influence policymaking.
In 1885, Hume obtained permission from the then Viceroy of India Lord Dufferin for the first session and issued a notice to convene the first Indian National Union. He invited eminent Indians from different parts of the country to meet at Poona from 25 to 28 December 1885.
The first session of the Indian National Union was initially supposed to be in Ponna, but it did not hold due to the outbreak of Cholera in Poona. However, on getting an invitation from Badruddin Tyabji (the leader of Anjuman-I-Islam of Bombay), the session moved from Poona to Bombay. It was the Indian National Union that assumed the name Indian National Congress at the conference held in Bombay in December 1885.
It was Dadabhai Naoraji who coined the term Indian National Congress. At the suggestion of Dadabhai Naoroji, the Indian Nation Union was renamed as Indian National Congress.
The Indian National Congress (INC), founded on 28 December 1885 by A.O. Hume, along with Dadabahi Naorji and Dinshaw Edulji Wacha at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Bombay. The first session of INC was presided by Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee and attended by 72 delegates from all over the country. A. O. Hume assumed the office of General Secretary. The session started on 28 December 1885 and continued till 31 December 1885. Hereafter, INC decided to meet every year in a different part of the country.
During the early phase of INC, some great presidents were Dadabhai Naoroji, Badruddin Tyabji, Pherozshah Mehta, P. Ananda Charlu, Surendranath Banerjea, Ananda Mohan Bose, and Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
A. O. Hume played an important role in the formation of INC, therefore, known as the father of the Indian National Congress.
Safety Valve theory
There is a theory that A.O. Hume formed the Indian National Congress with the idea that it would prove to be a ‘safety valve’ (or safe outlet) for releasing the growing discontent of the Indians. To end this, he convicted Viceroy Lord Dufferin not to obstruct the formation of INC.
The extremist leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak believed in the Safety Valve Theory. Lala Lajpat Rai wrote the book Unhappy India, in which he explained and criticized the British policy regarding the establishment of INC.
The concept of Safety Valve theory says that the British had seen the political situation in India leading to another rebellion on the lines of the revolt of 1857. To avoid this, the British wanted to provide a platform to Indians where they discuss their political problems. There was the argument that Viceroy Lord Dufferin started the INC with the help of a retired English civil servant (A. O. Hume) as a safety valve to the growing discontent among the Indians.
The Conspiracy theory by Marxist historians was an offspring of the Safety Valve notion. For example, R. P. Dutt opined that INC was born out of a conspiracy to abort a popular uprising in India, and the bourgeois leaders were a party to it.
However, the Safety Valve theory is a small part of the truth and is inadequate and misleading. Modern Indian historians dispute the idea of a Safety Valve. In their opinion, the Indian National Congress represents the urge of the politically conscious Indians to set up a national body to work for their political and economic advancement.
Therefore, this theory has been discarded now. But still, the British contribution cannot be disregarded in the creation of the first All-India political front. If Indians had convened such a body on their own, there would have been unsurmountable opposition from the British officials. Therefore, if Hume wanted to use the Congress as a safety valve, the early Congress leaders hoped to use him as a lightning conductor.
Objectives of the INC
In the initial stage, the main objectives of the Indian National were to:
- Found a democratic and nationalist movement;
- Promote friendly relations among the nationalist political workers from different parts of the country;
- Develop and propagate an anti-colonial nationalist ideology;
- Politicize and politically educate people;
- Train and organize the public opinion in the country;
- Develop and consolidate the feeling of national unity among people irrespective of caste, religion, or province;
- Formulate the popular demands and their presentation before the government with a view to unifyinf the people over a common economic & political programme;
- Promote and nurture Indian nationhood.