By Jayant Patel
The British Committee of the Indian National Congress, 1889-1921, Prabha Ravi Shanker, Promilla & Co., Publishers and Bibliophile South Asia, Pp 348, Rs 900
Though a great deal has been written on the Indian nationalist movement and the Indian National Congress, not much attention has been paid to the British Committee of the Congress, which was an auxiliary in England for the national organisation in India from 1889 to 1921.
In this book, the author makes a study of the work of the British Committee from its inception in 1889 to its demise in 1921. In order to provide a proper historical background, the author traces briefly the history of the Indian nationalist agitation in England from the early 19th century onwards. It analyses the various factors that brought about dissension in the last three years between the Congress and the Committee, resulting in the latter’s final disbandment.
Constitutional agitation in the form of submission of memorials, petitions, circulation of pamphlets and leaflets and holding of meetings and demonstrations had become a regular feature of Indian political history since the third decade of the 19th century. But then came the realisation by the Indians that mere agitation was not enough; it had to be supplemented by a wider agitation in England.
It is this period that the author covers, beginning from the role played by nationalists and father of Indian Renaissance and Raja Rammohan Roy. He brought an Indian English orator named George Thompson to educate Bengali youth in the method of constitutional agitation. In March 1838, Theodore Dickens, a British barrister and planner in India established the Landholders’ Society in Calcutta to take up a variety of Indian issues. At the same time, prominent members of the Aborigines Protection Society in Britain, such as Joseph Pease and William Hewitt joined hands with George Thompson and other Anglo-Indians, such as Sir Charles Forbes, Robert Montgomery Martin and Major General John Briggs to agitate for Indian reforms in England. Largely due to their efforts on July 9, 1839, a new broad-based society called the British Indian Society was inaugurated at Freemason’s Hall, London. Sir Charles Forbes, before joining this society, had remarked, “I have been 17 years in this city (London), after having been 22 years in India. The more I see of the old country, the better I like the people of India.”
In this Society, apart from Rammohan Roy, it was Dwarkanath Tagore who played a very constructive role, but following his death in 1846, the activities of the Society virtually ceased. By the second half of the 19th century, Presidency Association came to be established in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. It became the first association to send a petition to British Parliament, enumerating the grievances of the people of India.
The British Indian Association approved the formation of other regional associations in the different states. Here the role of John Dickinson, a prominent English friend of India in 1850, is highlighted.
It was in 1885 that the Indian National Union was formed which later became the Indian National Congress in 1889, quickening the pace of political activity and gave it an all-India base.
In short the book provides information on how the Indian National Congress came into being due to the active role played by the British sympathisers in London to some extent.
(Promilla & Co., Publishers & Bibliophile South Asia, C-127 Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi -110 017.)