Indian National Congress – Moderate Phase 1885-1905

Retired English civil servant, A.O. Hume formed the Indian National Union which later became the Indian National Congress in 1885, with the idea of a “safety valve” to release the growing discontent of Indians.

This idea was called the safety valve theory. Many views came from associated people like- Safety Valve Theory– by Lala Lajpat Rai, the Conspiracy Theory– by R.P. Dutt, and Lightning Conductor Theory– by Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

Safety Valve Theory:

The safety valve Theory was a theory that gave the idea to  A.O Hume for the formation of the Congress that it would prove to be a ‘safety valve’ for releasing the growing dissatisfaction of the Indians.

The extremist leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai agreed with the ‘safety valve’ theory. The Marxist historian’s conspiracy theory’ was a descendant of the ‘safety valve’. For example, R.P. Dutt propounds that the Indian National Congress was born out of a conspiracy to vain a the popular uprising in India and the bourgeois leaders were a
party to it.

Bipan Chandra noticed the early Congress leaders used Hume as a ‘lightning conductor’ i.e., as a catalyst to bring together the nationalistic forces even if under the guise of a ‘safety valve’.

First Session of Indian National Congress

There were 72 persons who attended The first session of the Indian National Congress held in Bombay in 1885 and the president was Womesh Chandra Bonnergy.

  • Kadambini Ganguly the first woman graduate of Calcutta University addressed the congress session in 1890.

Aim and Objectives of Congress

In the initial stage the main aims of Congress were:

  • Found a democratic and Nationalist movement.
  • To educate people in political fields and politicize
  • For a movement, the establishment of Headquarters
  • Promotion of friendly relations between Nationalist Political workers from different parts of the country.
  • For the development of unity in people irrespective of religion caste and province.
  • To promote and nurture Indian Nationhood.

The era of Moderates (1885- 1905)

Leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozshah Mehta, D.E.Wacha, and W.C. Bannerji dominated the congress policies in the early period during 1885- 1905. They believed in ‘liberalism’ and ‘moderate’ politics. They showed Slow but orderly political progress. They thought that the British were not aware of the real condition of Indians, so if public demands are presented to the government by petitions, resolutions, etc. the Go government would gradually concede these demands.

Contributions of Nationalists of the moderate era

  • Leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji analyzed the political economy of British rule in India and found the ‘Drain Theory’ in which the exploitation of India by the British was explained.
  • They found the main cause of poverty and economic backwardness in India is British rule.
  • They demanded the development of an independent economy of India with its own capital and enterprise.
  • They also demanded a reduction of inland revenue.
  • Abolition of salt tax, Improvement of conditions of workers, etc.

Constitutional reforms

  • Under the Indian Council Act (1861) The imperial Legislative council was constituted, in this council, Indian members were few in number.
  • The Nationalists demanded constitutional reforms between 1885 to 1892.
  • They demanded Expansion in the council, in which greater participation of Indians in council, and more powers to the council.
  • Their demands were conceded in 1892 in the form of the Indian Council Act.
  • After that the demand came like this;
    • Majority of elected Indians,
    • Control over budget,
    • No taxation without representation.

The Indian Council Act 1892

Main provisions of this Act were-

  • Raised the number of members in the imperial legislative council and provisional legislative council.
  • Now instead of 6 to 10, the governor-general could have 10 to 16 non-officials.
  • The budget could be discussed and questions could also be asked.
  • There were many limitations also imposed on the council as such the budget could not be voted on, nor amendments could be done to it.

Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and Lokmanya tilak demanded self-government.

For the protection of Civil Rights including the right to speech, thought, association, and a free press, there were campaigns, and nationalists spread democratic ideas. They trained people and created the National awakening of Indians.

Important Views- 

  1. Congress is tottering its fall, and one of my great ambitions while in India is to assist it to a peaceful demise.  (Lord Curzon- 1900)
  2. It was at best an opportunist movement. It opened opportunities for treacheries and hypocrisies. It enabled some people to trade in the name of patriotism. (Lala Lajpat Rai)


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