The Indian National Congress (INC), founded in December 1885, was the first organized expression of the Indian National Movement on an all-India scale. It had, however, many predecessors.
Following are the important public associations, established before the Indian National Congress −
The Landholders' Society − founded in 1837, it was an association of the landlords of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. Its purpose was to promote the class interests of the landlords.
The Bengal British Indian Society − founded in 1843, it was organized to protect and promote general public interests.
In 1851, the Landholders’ Society and the Bengal British Indian Society merged to form the British India Association.
The Madras Native Association and the Bombay Association were established in 1852.
The Scientific Society founded by Sayyid Ahmad Khan, were established in different towns of the country.
All the above-discussed associations were dominated by wealthy and aristocratic elements — called in those days’ prominent persons and were provincial or local in character.
The members of public associations worked for reform of administration, association of Indians with the administration, and spread of education, and sent long petitions, putting forward Indian demands, to the British Parliament.
In 1866, Dadabhai Naoroji organized the East India Association in London to discuss the Indian question and to influence British public men to promote Indian welfare. Later he organized branches of the Association in prominent Indian cities.
Born in 1825, Dadabhai Naoroji devoted his entire life to the national movement and soon came to be known as the 'Grand Old Man of India.'
Dadabhai Naoroji was the first economic thinker of India. In his writings on economics, he showed that the basic cause of India’s poverty lay in the British exploitation of India and the drain of its wealth.
Dadabhai was honored by being thrice elected president of the Indian National Congress.
Surendranath Banerjea was a brilliant writer and orator. He was unjustly turned out of the Indian Civil Service as his superiors could not tolerate the presence of an independent-minded Indian in the ranks of this service.
Banerjea began his public career in 1875 by delivering brilliant addresses on nationalist topics to the students of Calcutta.
Led by Surendranath and Anandamohan Bose, the younger nationalists of Bengal founded the Indian Association in July 1876.
The Indian Association set before itself the aims of creating a strong public opinion in the country on political questions and the unification of the Indian people on a common political program.
In order to attract large numbers of people to its banner, the Indian Association fixed a low membership fee for the poorer classes.
The first major issue that the Indian Association took up for agitation was the reform of the Civil Service regulations and the raising of the age limit for its examination.
Surendranath Banerjea toured different parts of the country during 1877-78 in an effort to create an all-India public opinion on this question.
The Indian Association also carried out agitation against the Arms Act and the Vernacular Press Act and in favor of protection of the tenants from oppression by the reminders.
During 1883-85, the Indian Association organized popular demonstrations of thousands of peasants to get the Rent Bill changed in favor of the tenants.
The Indian Association agitated for better conditions of work for the workers in the English-owned tea plantations.
Many branches of the Indian Association were opened in the towns and villages of Bengal and also in many towns outside Bengal.
Some other Important Public Associations were −
Justice Ranade and others organized the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha in the 1870's.
The Madras Mahajan Sabha was started in 1881 and the Bombay Presidency Association in 1885.
The most important of the pre-Congress nationalist organizations was the Indian Association of Calcutta.
The Poona Sarvajanik Sabha brought out a quarterly journal under the guidance of Justice Ranade. This journal became the intellectual guide of new India, particularly on economic questions.
These organizations were mainly devoted to criticism of important administrative and legislative measures.