The second half of the 19th century witnessed the full flowering of the national political consciousness and the growth of an organized national movement in India.
In December 1885, the Indian National Congress was established under whose leadership, Indians waged a prolonged and courageous struggle for independence from foreign rule, which India finally won on 15 August 1947.
The modem Indian nationalism arose to meet the challenges of foreign domination.
It was British rule and its direct and indirect consequences, which provided the material, moral, and intellectual conditions for the development of a national movement in India.
The Indians realized gradually that their interests were being sacrificed to those of Lancashire manufacturers and other dominant British interests.
The foundations of the Indian nationalist movement lay in the fact that increasingly British rule became the major cause of India's economic backwardness. It became the major barrier to India's further economic, social, cultural, intellectual, and political development.
The peasants saw that the Government took away a large part of his produce as land revenue; that the Government and its machinery – the police, the courts, the officials – favored and protected the zamindars and landlords, who rack-rented them, and the merchants and money- lenders, who cheated and exploited him in diverse way and who took away their land.
The artisans or handicraftsmen saw that the foreign regime had helped foreign competition to ruin them and had done nothing to rehabilitate them.
All these three classes of Indian society—the peasants, the artisans, and the workers, constituting the overwhelming majority of Indian population — discovered that they had no political rights or powers, and that virtually nothing was being done for their intellectual or cultural improvement.
Education did not percolate down to them. There were hardly any schools in villages and the few that were there were poorly run.
Economic exploitation by Britain was swelling India’s poverty. They began to complain of the extreme costliness of the Indian administration, of the excessive burden of taxation especially on the peasantry, of the destruction of India's indigenous industries, of official attempts to check the growth of modern industries through a pro-British tariff policy, of the neglect of nation-building and welfare activities such as education, irrigation, sanitation, and health services.
The Indian intelligentsia suffered from growing unemployment. The few Indians who were educated were not able to find employment and even those who did find jobs discovered that most of the better paid jobs were reserved for the English middle and upper classes, who looked upon India as a special pasture for their sons.
The educated Indians found that the economic and cultural development of the country and its freedom from foreign control alone could provide them with better employment opportunities.
Instead, the Government and its bureaucracy favored foreign capitalists who came to India with their vast resources and appropriated the limited industrial field.
The Indian capitalists were particularly opposed to the strong competition from foreign capitalists. In the 1940's, many of the Indian industrialists demanded that "all British investments in India be repatriated."
In 1945, M.A. Master, President of the Indian Merchants' Chamber warned: "India would prefer to go without industrial development rather than allow the creation of new East India Companies in this country, which would not only militate against her economic independence, but would also effectively prevent her from acquiring her political freedom."
The Indian capitalists, therefore, realized that there existed a contradiction between imperialism and their own independent growth, and that only a national government would create conditions for the rapid development of Indian trade and industries.
The British had gradually introduced a uniform and modern system of government throughout the country and thus unified it administratively.
The destruction of the rural and local self-sufficient economy and the introduction of modern trade and industries on an all-India scale had increasingly made India's economic life a single whole and inter-linked the economic fate of people living in different parts of the country. For example, if famine or scarcity occurred in one part of India, prices and availability of foodstuffs were affected in all other parts of the country.
Introduction of the railways, telegraphs, and a unified postal system had brought the different parts of the country together and promoted mutual contact among the people, especially among the leaders.
The anti-imperialist feeling was itself a factor in the unification of the country and the emergence of a common national outlook.
As a result of the spread of modern western education and thought during the 19th century, a large number of Indians imbibed a modern rational, secular, democratic, and nationalist political outlook.
The Indians began to study, admire, and emulate the contemporary nationalist movements of the European nations. Rousseau, Paine, John Stuart Mill, and other western thinkers became their political guides, while Martini, Garibaldi, and Irish nationalist leaders became their political heroes.
The educated Indians were the first to feel the humiliation of foreign subjection. By becoming modern in their thinking, they also acquired the ability to study the evil effects of the foreign rule. They were inspired by the dream of a modern, strong, prosperous, and united India. In a course of time, the best among them became the leaders and organizers of the national movement.
In fact, in the schools and colleges, the authorities tried to inculcate notions of docility and servility to foreign rule. Nationalist ideas were a part of the general spread of modern ideas.
Modern education also created a certain uniformity and community of outlook and interests among the educated Indians. The English language played an important role in this respect. It became the medium for the spread of modern ideas. It also became the medium of communication and exchange of idea, between educated Indians from different linguistic regions of the country.
Political leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Justice Ranade, Tilak, and Gandhiji agitated for a bigger role for the Indian languages in the educational system.
The chief instrument through which the nationalist-minded Indians spread the message of patriotism and modern economic, social, and political ideas and created an all-India consciousness was the press.
In their columns, the official policies were constantly criticized; the Indian point of view was put forward; the people were asked to unite and work for national welfare; and ideas of self-government, democracy, industrialization, etc., were popularized among the people.
Some of the prominent nationalist newspapers of the period were the Hindu Patriot, the Amrita Bazar Patrika, the Indian Mirror, the Bengalee, the Som Prakash and the Sanjivani in Bengal; the Rast Goftar, the Native Opinion, the Indu Prakash, the Mahratta, and the Kesari (in Bombay); the Hindu, the Swadesamitran, the Andhra Prakasika, and the Kerala Patrika (in Madras); the Advocate, the Hindustani, and the Azad (in U. P.); and the Tribune, the AkhbarI-Am, and the Koh-i-Noor (in Punjab).
National literature in the form of novels, essays, and patriotic poetry also played an important role in arousing the national consciousness.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali, Lakshminath Bezbarua in Assamese; Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar in Marathi, Subramanya Bharati in Tamil; Bharatendu Harishchandra in Hindi; and Altaf Husain Hah in Urdu were some of the prominent nationalist writers of the period.
Many Indians had fallen so low as to have lost confidence in their own capacity for self-government.
Many British officials and writers of the time constantly advanced the thesis that Indians had never been able to rule themselves in the past that Hindus and Muslims had always fought one another, that Indians were destined to be ruled by foreigners, that their religion and social life were degraded and uncivilized making them unfit for democracy or even self-government.
Many of the nationalist leaders tried to arouse the self-confidence and selfrespect of the people by countering this propaganda. They pointed to the cultural heritage of India with pride and referred the critics to the political achievements of rulers like Asoka, Chandragupta Vikramaditya, and Akbar.
Unfortunately, some of the nationalists went to the other extreme and began to glorify India's past uncritically ignoring its weakness and backwardness. Great harm was done, in particular, by the tendency to look up only to the heritage of ancient India while ignoring the equally great achievements of the medieval period.
The ignorance of medieval period encouraged the growth of communal sentiments among the Hindus and the counter tendency among the Muslims of looking to the history of the Arabs and the Turks for cultural and historical inspiration.
In meeting the challenge of cultural imperialism of the West, many Indians tended to ignore the fact that in many respects, the people of India were culturally backward.
A false sense of pride and smugness was produced, which tended to prevail Indians from looking critically at their society.
The growth of communal sentiments weakened the struggle against social and cultural backwardness, and led many Indians to turn away from healthy and fresh tendencies and ideas from other people.
An important factor in the growth of national sentiments in India was the tone of racial superiority adopted by many Englishmen while dealing with Indians.
Many Englishmen openly insulted even educated Indians. A particularly odious and frequent form taken by racial arrogance was the failure of justice whenever an Englishman was involved in a dispute with an Indian.
The Indian newspapers often published instances in which an Englishmen had hit and killed an Indian but escaped very lightly. This was not only because of conscious partiality by the judges and administrators but even more because of racial prejudice.
Racial arrogance branded all Indians irrespective of their caste, religion, province, or class with the badge of inferiority.
The Indians were kept out of exclusively European clubs and were often not permitted to travel in the same compartment in a train with the European passengers. This made them conscious of national humiliation.
By the 1870's, it was evident that Indian nationalism had gathered enough strength and momentum to appear as a major force on the Indian political scene. However, it required the reactionary regime of Lord Lytton to give it visible form and the controversy around the Ilbert Bill gave it an organized form.
During Lytton's viceroyalty from 1876-80, most of the import duties on British textile imports were removed to please the textile manufacturers of Britain. This action was interpreted by Indians as proof of the British desire to ruin the small but growing textile industry of India. It created a wave of anger in the country and led to widespread nationalist agitation.
The Second War against Afghanistan aroused vehement agitation against the heavy cost of this imperialist war, which the Indian Treasury was made to bear.
The Arms Act of 1878, which disarmed the people, appeared to them as an effort to emasculate the entire nation.
The Vernacular Press Act of 1878 was condemned by the politically conscious Indians as an attempt to suppress the growing nationalist criticism of the alien government.
The holding of the imperial Durbar at Delhi in 1877 at a time when the country was suffering from a terrible famine led people to believe that their rulers cared very little even for their lives.
In 1878, the government announced new regulations reducing the maximum age limit for sitting in the Indian Civil Service Examination from 21 years to 19.
Already Indian students had found it difficult to compete with English boys since the examination was conducted in England and through English medium. The new regulations further reduced their chances of entering the Civil Service.
The Indians now realized that the British had no intention of relaxing their near-total monopoly of the higher grades of services in the administration.
Lytton’s viceroyalty helped to intensify discontent against foreign rule.
In 1883, Ripon who succeeded Lytton as the Viceroy, tried to pass a law to enable Indian district magistrates and session judges to trial Europeans in criminal cases.
Under the existing law, even Indian members of the Indian Civil Service were not authorized to try Europeans in their courts.
The Europeans in India organized a vehement agitation against this Bill, which came to be known as Ilbert Bill (after Ilbert, the Law Member).
The Ilbert Bill poured abuse on Indians and their culture and character. They declared that even the most highly educated among the Indians were unfit to trial a European.