Modern Indian History - INC & Reforms


  • Reforms after the Indian National Congress can be studied under the following heads −

    • Constitutional Reforms

    • Economic Reforms

    • Administrative Reforms

    • Methods of Political Work

Let’s discuss each one of them separately in brief −

Constitutional Reforms

  • From 1885 to 1892, the nationalist leaders demanded the expansion and reform of the Legislative Councils. They demanded membership of the councils for elected representatives of the people and also an increase in the powers of the councils.

  • The British Government was forced by their agitation to pass the Indian Councils Act of 1892. By this Act, the number of members of the Imperial Legislative Council as well as of the provincial councils was increased.

  • Some of the members of Councils could be elected indirectly by Indians, but the officials' majority remained as it is.

  • The Councils were also given the right to discuss the annual budgets though they could not vote on them.

  • The nationalists were totally dissatisfied with the Act of 1892 and declared it to be a hoax. They demanded a larger share for Indians in the councils as also wider powers for them. In particular, they demanded Indian control over the public purse and raised the slogan that had earlier become the national cry of the American people during their War of Independence: 'No taxation without representation.’

  • By the beginning of the 20th century, the nationalist leaders advanced further and put forward the claim for Swarajya or self-government within the British Empire on the model of self-governing colonies like Australia and Canada.

  • This demand was made from the Congress platform by Gokhale in 1905 and by Dadabhai Naoroji in 1906.

Economic Reforms

  • Dadabhai Naoroji declared as early as 1881 that British rule was "an everlasting, increasing, and every day increasing foreign invasion" that was "utterly, though gradually, destroying the country."

  • The nationalists blamed the British for the destruction of India's indigenous Industries. The chief remedy they suggested for the removal of India's poverty was the rapid development of modern industries.

  • The Indian people made a great effort to popularize the idea of swadeshi or the use of Indian goods and the boycott of British goods as a means of promoting Indian industries.

  • Students in Poona and in other towns of Maharashtra publicly burnt foreign clothes in 1896 as part of the larger swadeshi campaign.

  • Indians agitated for improvement in the work conditions of the plantation laborers.

  • The nationalists declared high taxation to be one of the causes of India's poverty and demanded abolition of the salt tax and reduction of land revenue.

  • The nationalists condemned the high military expenditure of the Government of India and demanded its reduction.

Administrative Reforms

  • The most important administrative reform the Indians desired at this time was Indianization of the higher grades of administrative services. They put forward this demand on economic, political, and moral grounds.

  • Economically, the European monopoly of the higher services was harmful on two grounds −

    • Europeans were paid at very high rates and this made Indian administration very costly—Indians of similar qualifications could be employed on lower salaries; and

    • Europeans sent out of India a large part of their salaries and their pensions were paid in England. This added to the drain of wealth from India.

  • Politically, the nationalists hoped that the Indianization of these (civil) services would make the administration more responsive to Indian needs and hence, they −

    • Demanded separation of the judiciary from executive powers;

    • Opposed the curtailment of the powers of the juries;

    • Opposed the official policy of disarming the people;

    • Asked the government to trust the people and grant them the right to bear arms and thus defend themselves and their country in times of need;

    • Urged the government to undertake and develop welfare activities of the state;

    • Demanded greater facilities for technical and higher education;

    • Urged the development of agricultural banks to save the peasant from the clutches of the money-lender; and

    • Demanded extension of medical and health facilities and improvement of the police system to make it honest, efficient, and popular.

Methods of Political Work

  • The Indian national movement up to 1905 was dominated by leaders who have often been described as moderate nationalists or Moderates.

  • The political methods of the Moderates can be summed up briefly as constitutional agitation within the four walls of the law and slow orderly political progress.

  • Moderates believed that if public opinion was created and organized and popular demands presented to the authorities through petitions, meetings, resolutions, and speeches, the authorities would concede these demands gradually and step by step.

  • In 1889, the British Committee started a journal called ‘India.’

  • Dadabhai Naoroji spent a major part of his life and income in England in popularizing India’s case among England’s people.

  • Moderates genuinely believed that the continuation of India's political connection with Britain was in the interests of India at that stage of history. They, therefore, planned not to expel the British but to transform British rule to approximate to national rule.

  • Later, when Moderates took note of the evils of British rule and the failure of the government to accept nationalist demands for reform, many of them stopped talking of loyalty to British rule and started demanding selfgovernment for India.

  • From the beginning, many nationalist leaders had no faith in the good intentions of the British. They believed in depending on political action by, and the strength of the Indian people themselves.

  • Tilak and numerous other leaders and newspaper editors represented the trend, that later came to be known as Extremists or radical nationalists.

Attitude of the Government

  • The British authorities were from the beginning hostile to the rising nationalist movement and had become suspicious of the National Congress.

  • The British officials branded the nationalist leaders as 'disloyal babus', 'seditious brahmins' and 'violent villains'.

  • As the British became apparent that the National Congress would not become a tool in the hands of the authorities, but rather it was gradually becoming a focus of Indian nationalism. British officials now began to criticize and condemn the National Congress and other Rationalist spokesmen openly.

  • In 1887, Dufferin attacked the National Congress in a public speech and ridiculed it as representing only 'a microscopic minority of the people.’

  • In 1900; Lord Curzon announced to the Secretary of State, that "the Congress is tottering to its fall, and one of my great ambitions, while in India, is to assist it to a peaceful demise".

  • The British authorities also pushed further the policy of ‘divide and rule.’ They encouraged Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Raja Shiva Prasad of Benaras, and other proBritish individuals to start an anti-Congress movement.

  • Some critics say that the nationalist movement and the National Congress did not achieve much success in their early phase; however, it established the political truth that India must be ruled in the interests of the Indians and made the issue of nationalism a dominant one in Indian life.