1. The establishment of British rule in the late 18th century prompted British officials, missionaries and scholars to acquire knowledge of the classical languages of India, of the structure of Indian society and of values and manners of her people.
  2. The economic base was primarily agricultural the tools and implements did not register any remarkable change through time, and arts and crafts mostly connected with poorly developed production grew. Socially the framework consisted of comparatively self-sufficient village communities in groups of contiguous villages.
  3. Caste was the typical Indian institution to accommodate various socio-economic strata and nascent classes, binding them together in groups and ensuring such constituents an occupational protection as well.
  4. The British rule introduced the railways, the press, and the western system of education, clubs and associations all of which shook the prevalent socio-economic order. But the processes of exploitation unleashed by them destroyed the possibilities of development of industries and a modern economic system in India.
  5. The British rule rather systematically destroyed the native industries of India for the benefit of the industries in Britain and their market in India. Even though it sought to tie down the people it ruled to colonial backwardness, it released new historical forces within the Indian fold by throwing the traditional economic system and sociocultural order out of gear.
  6. It gave birth to the desire of material advancement and better amenities and living conditions of individuals. Also it gave birth to a spirit of inquiry in the minds of Indian intellectuals who came in contact with western education. Both the social reformists and the conservatives took a fresh and critical look at their own society and culture as a reaction to western interpretation of the same.


  1. Nationalism is a sense of identity with the nation. Liah Greenfekl has defined nationalism as “an image of a social order; which involves the people as a sovereign and a community of equals “ The original use of the term nationalism refers to elite groups, but in modern usage it refers to a very large group, sometimes as large as empire. The relationship of members of a nation is, theoretically, an equal relationship between citizens. It develops differently in different national communities under different historical circumstances.
  2. Like all other social phenomena, nationalism is a historical category. It emerged in the social world at a certain stage of evolution, the life of the community when certain socio-historical conditions, both subjective and objective, matured E.H.Carr has remarked, “Nations” in the modern sense of world did not emerge until the close of the Middle ages.
  3. Before national communities, national societies, national states, and national cultures came into existence, communities in various parts of the world generally lived through tribal slave and feudal phases of social existence. At a certain stage of social economic and cultural development, nations came into being. They were generally distinguished from non-national communities of previous periods of social existence by certain specific characteristics such as, an organic welding of the members of the nation,
    • Living in a distinct territory within a single economy, conscious of common economic existence
    • Generally one common language is used by them,
    • A common culture evolved by it
  4. Though an ideal nation possessing all these traits in a state of fullest development remained an abstraction. This is because the elements of the past always survived in a varying degree, in economy social structure, psychological habits and culture of any nation. Still from the seventeenth century onward national communities, in different stages of national consolidation, have appeared.

Indian nationalism:

  1. Indian nationalism is a modern phenomenon. It came into being during the British period This came as a result of the action and interaction of numerous subjective and objective forces and factors which developed within the Indian society; under the conditions of British rule and the impact of world forces. The process of the growth of Indian nationalism has been very complex and many-sided. This is due to a number of reasons.
  2. The pre-British Indian society had a social structure quite unique and perhaps without a parallel in history. Hinduism itself was not a homogenous religion but a conglomeration of religious cults which divided Hindu people into a number of sects. These extreme social and religious divisions of the Hindus in particular and the Indians, in general, presented a peculiar background to the growth of nationalism in India.
  3. Nationalism in other countries did not rise amidst such peculiarly powerful traditions and institutions. The self – preservative will of the past social economic and cultural structure was stronger in India than perhaps in any country in the world.
  4. Another very striking thing about Indian nationalism is that it emerged under conditions of political subjugation of the Indian people by the British. The advanced British nation for its own purpose radically changed the economic structure of Indian society.
  5. They established centralized state, and introduced modern education, modern means of communication and other institutions. This resulted in growth of new social classes and the unleashing of new social forces, unique in themselves. These social forces by there very nature came into conflict with British Imperialism and became the basis of and provided motive power for the rise and development of Indian nationalism.
  6. There are several distinctive conceptual formulations of Indian nationalism both by Indian and foreign scholars. A dominant view is that of historians and sociologists who see the rise of nationalism in the context of British colonialism and the distortions it created in social structure and ideology of our society.
  7. These distortions refer to class character of nationalist leadership and its social cultural and economic policies. It is said these colonial distortions contributed to the rise of communalism, partition of the country and persistence of communal politics even after independence.
  8. The colonial contact though subversive generated social and economic forces that gave rise to nationalism and national movement in our society. In this approach the study of relationship between social structure and cultural ideology forms a relatively weaker link.
  9. It focuses on macro-historical processes, their intricate movements and patterns in the society. Some historians and social scientists show sensitively to the problem of linkages. They find macro-analysis of nationalism and national movement in India to be dominated by elitism either of liberal or Marxist variety.
  10. Such historiography of Indian nationalism suffers according to them by colonialist-elitism or bourgeois nationalist elitism an ideological product of the British rule in India. They suggest an alternative model for understanding national movement and nationalism which derives its inspiration from structuralist theory.
  11. The national movement and the ideology of nationalism according to this view suffered in India from structural cleavages between the mass mobilization on horizontal lines and its vertical mobilization by elite nationalist leadership.
  12. The mass movement was located in principles of kinship, caste, class and territory; it was spontaneous in making and allied at social resistance against exploitation. Its mobilization was not based on formal ideological or legalistic strategy and it could change course and operation in midstream.
  13. The national movement led by elite leadership made use of such subaltern mobilization selectively. The subaltern could not forge national movement all by itself. Yet the elite leadership did not help forge these movements into a united front for social mobilization due to its own class ideology.
  14. Nationalism is a process a product of historical conjuncture of social forces through which the linkages are not only established or expanded but also qualitatively strengthened. Nationalism is therefore not a finished product nor a formal structure or normative model but an organic historical process through which civilized societies strengthen themselves by qualitative differentiation from within and their superior integration organically within a territorial boundary.

Factors which prepared background of Indian nationalism:

The British government Christian mission and English education were three main sources of colonial impact on Indian society. The British government replaced the indigenous systems of administration and governance. The mission made efforts to convert Indian to Christianity. British educationists tried to spread education to bring about a change in the outlook of the indigenous population.The British community in India also had an influence on the people in different parts of the country. The port, towns and coastal areas were more affected at least in the beginning of the British Raj. The emergence of a national consciousness, the realization of the value of organization and of the importance of agitation led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Formation of Congress was a strong foundation of Indian nationalism.

  1. K.M. Pannikkar notes that “the most notable achievement of British rule was the unification of India”.This was done unconsciously by the British in the interest of the Indian people. They were interested in spreading and consolidating their rule throughout the country.The same argument can be made about the introduction of western education, means of transport, communication, technology and judiciary.
  2. Y. Singh observes that “the contact of the Indian (Hindu) tradition with the West was of a different and radical sociological significance. Historically, it was a contact between a pre-modern and a modernizing cultural system”. The western tradition had “the scientific and technological world-view based on rationalism, equality and freedom”. Consequently, the Indian tradition, which already had a sort of ‘breakdown’, became further open, liberal, equalitarian and humanistic.The western tradition posed a serious challenge to the Indian tradition. Hierarchy, the principle of social ranking based on birth in a particular caste group, and holism, the ‘organic’ interdependence between different caste groups, based on norms relating to performances of the assigned functions and duties by various groups, were considerably affected by the western tradition.
  3. M.N. Srinivas defines westernization in terms of the change in Indian society due to the impact of British rule in India. The areas of change include technology, dress, food and changes in the habits and lifestyles of people. Westernization takes place at three levels: Primary, secondary, and tertiary.
  4. At the primary level were a minority of people who first came into contact with western culture and were its first beneficiaries.
  5. The secondary level of westernization refers to those sections of Indian society who came into direct contact with the primary beneficiaries.
  6. At the tertiary level are those who came to know indirectly about the advices introduced by the British.

However, the spread of westernization has been uneven and unequal among different sections of Indian society. Though Srinivas has mentioned humanitarianism and egalitarianism as its positive features, there are others who consider westernization as a process of cultural and cognitive colonialism and as a model of an “impersonal non-cultural and non-sovereign state”.

Westernization has contributed to the re-emergence of a pan-Indian culture on new grounds. Some areas of western impact include education, law, science, technology, new forms of politicization, urbanization, industrialization, the press, means of transport and communication.

Y. Singh calls this the process of ‘cultural modernization, The western impact has brought about “a new great tradition of modernization”. Certainly, this poses the problem of conflict between the indigenous tradition and the western tradition on Indian soil. A synthesis between the two has occurred particularly in regard to the elite sections of Indian society. Today, globalization has far more impact on indian society. In fact India is in the process of becoming a global market/centre of economic and professional activities.

The British rule created a new consciousness and structure of values. As observed by Y. Singh westernization has created the following: the growth of an universalistic legal superstructure, expansion of education, urbanization and industrialization, increased network of communication and growth of nationalism and politicization of the society. These elements contributed to modernization throughout the country. The judiciary, law courts, legislations for prohibiting child marriage, infanticide and sati, etc., law commissions, land rights, trade, commerce, industries, labour, etc., were enacted.

Social background of Indian national movement

Indian Nationalism and its Chief Phases

  1. Indian nationalism has grown and developed in a complex and peculiar social background.
  2. It has passed through various phases of development. As it advanced from one phase to another its social basis broadened its objective became more clearly defined and bold Its forms of expression became more varied.
  3. As a result of the impact of forces of Indian and world development, increasing strata of the Indian people evolved a national consciousness and outlook and were drawn into the orbit of the nationalist movement. This national awaking found expression in varied spheres of national life-social political cultural.
  4. As the nationalist movement grew and gathered strength, new classes increasingly organized themselves on a national scale and started various movements to remove the obstacles impeding their growth. These new classes were offspring of the new economic structure which were living under the same state regime.
In its first phase,
  1. Indian nationalism had a very narrow social basis. The Intelligentsia was the product of the modern education imparted in the new educational institutions, established by the British in India in the first decades of the nineteenth century.
  2. They had studied western culture and greatly assimilated its democratic and nationalist ideas. They formed the first stratum of the Indian society to develop a national consciousness and aspirations.
  3. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and his group of enlightened Indians were the pioneers of Indian nationalism. They were the exponents of the concept of the Indian nation which they propagated among the people.
  4. They initiated social-reform and religious-reform movements which represented endeavours to remould the Indian society and religion in the spirit of the new principles of democracy, rationalism, and nationalism. In fact, these movements were the expression of the rising national democratic consciousness among a section of the Indian people.
  5. These founders and first fighters of Indian nationalism stood up for democratic rights, such as the freedom of the Press, and put forth demands like the right of the nation to have a voice in the administration of the country.
Second phase
  1. The first phase extended till 1885 and culminated in the rise of the Indian National Congress in that year. The second phase roughly covered the period from 1885 to 1905.
  2. The Liberal intelligentsia who were at the helm of the Congress were the leaders of the Indian nationalist movement during the second phase. Their ideology and method determined the programme and forms of the movement which reflected the interest of the development of the new bourgeoisie society in India.
  3. The social basis of the movement was extended during this period to the educated middle class which, by the end of nineteenth century, had appreciably grown as a result of the expansion of modern educating, and to a section of the merchant class which had developed during this period as a result of the growth of Indian and international trade.
  4. Modern industries also grew steadily during this period as a result of which the class of industrialists emerged and began to gain strength they started orienting towards the Congress which adopted the programme of industrialization of the country and in 1905 actively organized the Swadeshi campaign.
  5. The Indian National Congress, under the leadership of the Liberals, mainly voiced the demands of the educated classes and the trading bourgeoisie such as the Indianization of Services, the association of the Indians with the administrative machinery of the state, the stoppage of economic drain etc.
  6. It also set forth such democratic demands as those of representative institutions and civil liberties. Its methods of struggle dominated by Liberal conceptions were principally constitutional agitation, effective argument, and fervent appeal to the democratic conscience and traditions of the British people.
  7. Since the British government did not satisfy the most vital demands of the Indian nationalist movement, disillusionment set in among a section of the nationalists regarding the ideology and methods of the Liberals. A group, with a new philosophy, political ideology and conception of the methods of struggle crystallized within the Congress.
  8. Increasing unemployment among the educated middle class youths due to the inability of the social and state apparatus to incorporate them, and further, economic misery among the people due to devastating epidemics and famines at the close of the nineteenth century, created favourable conditions for the growth of the influence of the new group, the Extremists.
  9. Various unpopular measures during the viceroyalty of Lord Curzon, such as the Indian Universities Act and the Partition of Bengal further estranged the people from the government and made the politically conscious middle class rally round the Extremists who possessed such capable and self-sacrificing leaders as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai. By 1905, even some of the Liberals began to lose faith in the British government However, they did not renounce their political philosophy and methodology of struggle.
  10. The ideology of the Extremists was, in vital respects, the antithesis of that of the Liberals. While the Liberals had a profound faith in the mission of Britain to raise the Indian people to a high level of progressive social political and cultural existence, the Extremists interpreted the British rule in India as the means of the British to keep the Indian people in a state of subjection and economically exploit them. Further, while the Liberals glorified the western culture, the Extremists looked back to India’s past, idealized the ancient Hindu culture and desired to resuscitate it.
  11. Again the Extremists had no faith in the political efficacy of the Liberal method of appealing to British Democracy. Instead, to secure a demand, they stood for organizing extra-parliamentary pressure on the government such as the Boycott campaign. The Extremists were also not satisfied merely with the demand of administrative reform but set forth the goal of self-government which was endorsed by the Liberals in 1906.
  12. Political discontent, during the second phase, also expressed itself in the growth of the terrorist movements. A small section of nationalist youths organized themselves in terrorist bands and relied upon such methods such as assassination of individual officials and sometimes fomenting of mutinies in the army for achieving political freedom.
Third phase
  1. The third phase in the development of the nationalist movement extended from 1905 to 1918. During this phase, the Liberals were supplanted by the Extremists as the nationalist movement progressed.
  2. In spite of the strong government repression, the nationalist movement registered an advance.The political propaganda of the Extremists instilled a feeling of national self-respect and self-confidence among the people who, instead of looking to the British for political freedom as counselled by the Liberals, began to rely on their own strength for achieving it.
  3. The movement, however, suffered from the defect that its leaders attempted to base it on a resurrected Hindu philosophy. This, to some extent, mystified the movement and weakened its secular character. It was also one of the reasons why it could not appeal to the Muslims.
  4. During the third phase, the Indian nationalist movement became militant and challenging and acquired a wider social basis by the inclusion of sections of the lower-middle class. The agitation for Home Rule during wartime further strengthened the political consciousness of the people.
  5. It was during this phase that sections of upper class Muslims developed political consciousness and founded their all-India political organization in 1906, the Muslim League. Due to a number of reasons, the rising political consciousness of the Muslim upper and educated middle classes took a communal form, and resulted in the formation of their organization on a communal basis.
Fourth phase
  1. The fourth phase in the evolution of the Indian nationalist movement commenced from 1918 and extended roughly up to the Civil Disobedience Movement. One striking development during this phase was that the nationalist movement gained a broad mass basis and added to its arsenal the weapon of direct mass action.
  2. The nationalist movement, which was hitherto restricted mainly to upper and middle classes, further extended during this phase, to sections of the Indian masses. There were a number of factors which brought about national awakening among the Indian masses during the years immediately succeeding the war.
  3. The post-war economic crisis, the disillusionment about the government promises, and the increased repression by the state had seriously affected the people including the peasantry and the working-class and they were in a state of great ferment.
  4. The great events in the international world such as a number of democratic revolutions in European countries and the socialist revolution in Russia had deeply stirred the consciousness of the Indian people.The Home Rule agitation during wartime also had the effect of intensifying and extending political consciousness among the Indian people.
  5. The Indian capitalists who had become economically stronger during the war as a result of industrial expansion, also, more actively than before, supported the Indian National Congress.The Swadeshi and Boycott slogans of the Congress objectively served the interests of industrialists who financially supported it.
  6. Gandhi’s doctrine of class harmony and social peace and his support to the Swadeshi resolution at the Calcutta Congress in 1919 made sections of the Indian bourgeoisie support Gandhi, the Congress, and the nationalist movements organized by the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership from this time onward.
  7. It was from 1918 that the Indian industrial bourgeoisie began to exert a powerful influence in determining the programme, policies, strategies, tactics and forms of struggle of the Indian nationalist movement led by the Congress of which Gandhi was the leader.
  8. Another development during this phase was the growth of socialist and communist groups in the country. By 1928, these groups succeeded in initiating independent political and trade union movements of the working class based on the doctrine of class struggle.
  9. They further stood for a socialist state of India declaring it as the objective of the India national movement While in the non-cooperation movement, politically conscious workers, who participated in it ,lacked an independent class programme, after 1926 those who joined movements like the Simon Commission Boycott, did so with their own slogans and flag, and frequently under their own leaders. Thus, after 1926, the Indian working class increasingly entered the nationalist movement as an independent political unit. This was a new phenomenon in the history of the nationalist movement.
  10. It was during this period Congress defined its political objective from the nebulous term Swaraj to that of Independence. Various Youth and Independence Leagues which sprang up in the country also adopted Independence as their political goal.
  11. Parallel to these developments, reactionary communal forces also began to organize themselves during this period. The period witnessed a number of communal riots. The phase culminated in the Civil Disobedience Movement organized by the Congress under the leadership of Gandhi. It was the second mass movement in the history of India nationalism.
  12. The principal gains to the Indian nationalist movement during this phase were the acquisition of a mass basis, the definition of its goal as Independence, the entry of a section of the working class into the movement as an independent political force, the growth of various Youth and Independence Leagues, and the wider participation of peasants in the movement.
  13. The factors which had a retarding influence on the movement were mainly the combining of religion with politics by Gandhi, with the result that the national consciousness was befogged and national movement confused; the increased grip of the capitalists over the congress organization and the resultant modulation of its programme and policies to serve their sectional interest at the expense of national advance; and the accentuation of communal feelings.
Fifth phase
  1. The next phase covers the period from 1934 to 1939, the year of the outbreak of World War II. There were a number of new developments during this period. A section of Congressmen lost their confidence in the ideology, programmes and methods of Gandhi and formed the Congress Socialist Party which stood for the organization of the workers and peasants on class lines, and made them the motive force of the nationalist movement.
  2. The party, however, remained heterogeneous, being composed of groups who broke from Gandhism in varying degrees and having a petty-bourgeois social basis. There also grew up other dissident tendencies from Gandhism like the Forward Bloc led by Subhas Chandra Bose.
  3. Another development was the steady growth of the movements of the depressed classes. The Muslim League also, organizationally and politically, grew stronger in the final years of this period Further, a number of other Muslim organizations, both of nationalist and communal politics, also sprang up.
  4. The rapid growth of the Communist Party increasingly spreading its influence among students, workers and Kisans, also was another significant development. The rapid growth of the peasant movement was one of the striking developments during this period Larger and larger sections of peasantry developed national and class consciousness.
  5. Further, they began to evolve their own class organization, class leadership, programmes, slogans and flags. Hitherto, the politically awakened peasants had followed the Congress leadership; henceforth, a large section of them followed its own leaders, put forth their own class demands including those of the abolition of landlordism itself and the repudiation of all debts.
  6. The All India Kisan Sabha, the organization of the conscious section of the Indian peasantry, formulated for its objective the socialist state of India. It organized independent struggles of the Kisans and joined the nationalist movement as an independent unit.
  7. Another remarkable development during this phase was the growth of the democratic struggle of the people of the Indian states with a programme of demands such as the abolition of state monopoly, representative institutions, civil liberties, and others. The states ‘peoples’ movement was mainly controlled by the merchant class of these states. The Indian National Congress supported and aided the struggle of the people of these states.
  8. Another development of importance during this period was the growing awakening among the nationalities constituting the Indian people.This awakening was reflected in their demands of the reconstitution of provinces on a linguistic basis. The movements of such nationalities as the Andhra, the Oriyas, the Karnatakis, and others, which had awakened to life and which felt and expressed the urge to be integrated into distinct political administrative zones based on common language, revealed this new development.
  9. The rise of an independent Kisan movement, the growth of socialist forces, the movements of awakened nationalities and other developments, however still represented only minority tendencies within the nationalist movement. The national movement still remained essentially determined and dominated by the Gandhian outlook and Gandhi’s political philosophy and leadership. It still, in the main, reflected the interests of the capitalists and other upper classes.
  10. However, the new forces and movements had begun to exert some pressure of the Indian National Congress as a result of which the latter included in its programme a charter of fundamental rights guaranteeing civil liberties and alleviatory economic measures to the workers and peasants.
  11. The Indian National Congress, the premier national organization in the country and the principal leader of the nationalist movement, also recognized the cultural and other aspirations of awakened nationalities, stood for cultural autonomy and linguistic provinces and even recognized the right of the populations of the provinces reconstituted on the linguistic basis to secede from the Indian Federation of the future free India if they so desired.

However, a struggle that was increasingly sharpening went on among the various social classes within the nationalist movement for the hegemony of the movement. The political groups representing workers, Kisans and left sections of the middle classes, were striving more and more; as they gathered more political consciousness and independent organizational strength, to influence the programme and policies of the Congress which had hitherto been appreciably controlled by the capitalist class. The awakened nationalities were also increasingly pressing their demands vigorously for the removal of the obstacles which thwarted their free and full development.

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