National Consciousness was an outcome of the overall impact of British rule and its exploitative policies. The British colonial rule not only affected various sections of the Indian society, it also encouraged the emergence of national consciousness as a response and reaction to the British policies. At the mass level it found expression in the form of popular revolts and uprisings which were sporadic and transient in nature. In the latter half of the nineteenth century it led to the development of national political consciousness, and ultimately it gave birth to an organized national movement. Basically, the Indian nationalism arose to meet the challenge of foreign domination. The important causes or factors that led to the development of national consciousness among Indians were as follows:
- British Imperialism and Colonialism played a key role in the promotion of the feelings of patriotism and nationalism among the Indians. The understanding that colonial rule had been the major cause of India’s economic backwardness further intensified such feelings. The British not only occupied Indian Territory, rather they also used their political hold to ruin Indian agriculture, trade and industries in a systematic manner. They tried to squeeze out as much money as possible through different kinds of taxes, duties, and monopolies beyond the normal capacity of the people.
- The British policy of Economic Exploitation led to drainage of Indian wealth to Britain and immense poverty of the Indian people. The subordination of Indian economic interests and welfare to the British colonial interests was recognized by almost all the sections of Indian society such as peasants, artisans, handicraftsmen, workers, intellectuals, educated middle class, and the capitalists. All of them suffered at the hands of a common enemy i.e. the British rule. The Indian Nationalism was born as a sharp reaction to meet the challenges thrown to the contradictions inherent in the exploitative tendencies of British economic and fiscal policies.
- The British were also responsible for Political, Administrative and Economic Unification of India. They brought the whole of India under their sovereign authority and united it, which the country has not experienced so far. Numerous factors like the vastness of the country, poor means of communication, differences in the nature of grievances, lack of education and awareness restricted the scope of generating a national consciousness. But they were diluted due to the introduction of new administrative measures. A centralized system of administration introduced by the British authorities meant for efficient exploitation of Indian resources led to a boomerang effect in the form of generation of a common set of grievances among Indians which prepared them to fight against British exploitation in a united manner. A professional civil service, a unified judiciary, codified civil and criminal laws throughout the length and breadth of the country imparted political unity to the hitherto cultural unity existing since centuries in India. The economic as well as political fate of the Indians from different regions was interlinked. Any significant political or economic event in one part of the country started influencing the people in another part of the country.
- The British introduced the Modern Means of Transport and Communication to promote their own interests and strengthen their hold on Indian administration. Administrative necessities, defense considerations and an urge for economic penetration and commercial exploit were driving forces behind the development of modern transport and communication such as railways, roads, posts, electricity and telegraph. But these means of transport and communication brought people, essentially the leaders, from different regions together. This was important for the exchange of political ideas and for mobilization and organization of public opinion on political and economic issues. It also helped in eliminating some of the social barriers which otherwise kept the people divided. Edwin Arnold correctly observed in 1865 that such means have made India a nation.
- The Social and Religious Reform Movements of the nineteenth century were themselves a response to the colonial ideological hegemony. These movements endeavored to acquaint the people of India with their rich cultural heritage and past glory. They also created a sense of self respect among Indians and made them averse to the idea of blindly adopting the British institutions. The reformers were able to draw people’s attention to the need of social reforms and modernization, and sought to remove the social evils which had divided the Indian society. In an attempt to reform the society, various sections of people came together which thus became an important factor in the growth of Indian Nationalism.
- The Revolt of 1857, though suppressed by the British, left a deep impression on the minds of the Indian people. Their common suffering united them against a common enemy and developed the notion of belonging to a common motherland. In forthcoming years, it inspired them to come together and fight for their independence from the clutches of British rule.
- The Introduction of English Language by the British facilitated the process of import of Modern Nationalistic and Liberal ideas from the west. English emerged as a lingua franca among the Indian intelligentsia. It enabled the Indian leaders from various parts of the country to come close to each other. They could now hold common deliberations, share their views and work together for a common cause. The modern nationalistic and liberal ideas were later percolated to the masses, especially young Indians, and inspired them to admire democratic system of governance and transplant the same in India with required modifications.
- The Modern System of Education was introduced to serve the colonial interests by producing cheap clerks to economize the cost of administration at the lower levels of administration. But this new system along with English language emerged as an important instrument for assimilation of modern and liberal ideas of freedom, equality and democracy. The liberal and radical thought of European writers such as Milton, Rousseau, Marx, and Voltaire opened for Indians the floodgates of modern, rational, secular, democratic and nationalist ideas. And more significantly these ideas emerged amidst growing disillusionment and dissatisfaction with British rule.
- The conspicuous impact of the new system of education was the development of middle class consciousness which became the chief vehicle for the channelization of popular discontent and resentment culminating in the rise of national consciousness. The ever expanding English educated class led to the Rise of Middle Class Intelligentsia. It could comprehensively understand the true nature and character of the imperial rule and analyze their real motives on a logical basis. The middle class intelligentsia became the pioneer in giving expression to popular discontent. They formed a number of political associations and social organizations which emerged as platforms for collective action against British policies. They also made attempts to awaken the masses and exchanged views on national issues. It finally paved way for the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885 which spearheaded the Indian National Movement till the attainment of independence.
- The Introduction of Printing Press made the transmission of ideas and learning less expensive. The second half of nineteenth century saw unprecedented growth of newspapers, both English and vernacular, despite numerous restrictions imposed by the colonial rulers. In 1877, there were approximately 200 newspapers and journals in English and vernacular languages and their circulation touched more than one lakh. The Indian press became an important vehicle for the mobilization of public opinion. The press not only exposed the shortcomings, lapses, and atrocities of the British Indian Administration, it also popularized the ideas of representative government, democratic institutions, and home rule along with the issues of foreign policy and international developments. Many political organizations used the press to present and popularize their programs with the masses. The newly educated Indians communicated their ideas of liberty and equality to the masses through vernacular literature and art, which in turn helped in the growth of nationalist literature, vernacular press and the spirit of nationalism.
- The Historical Researches on Ancient India by European scholars like Max Mueller, William Jones, Monier Williams, Roth and Sassoon on one hand, and by Indian Scholars like R.G. Bhandarkar, R.L. Mitra and Swam Vivekananda on the other hand led to rediscovery of India’s past. It presented an altogether new picture about India’s rich cultural heritage. The Excavations in Indus valley established the greatness of the Indian Civilization at par with the civilizations of Rome and Greece. This gave a psychological boost to the educated Indians and helped them to demolish the colonial propaganda that India had a long history of servitude to foreign rulers. Finally, it inspired the Indians with a new spirit of patriotism and nationalism.
- The Indians were treated as an inferior breed, no better than dogs, both in their homeland as well as in foreign lands. This was an important though secondary factor in the growth of nationalist sentiments. The myth of racial superiority was perpetuated by a deliberate policy of Racial Discrimination and Segregation. It was visible in every walk of life, be it travelling in railway compartments, working in plantations, jobs, or in the dispensation of justice. This made Indians conscious of national humiliation and think of themselves as one people. The educated Indians were thoroughly convinced that the only remedy lay in overthrowing the British rule.
- Various Foreign Events also influenced and inspired the educated Indians. The rise of a number of nations on the ruins of Spanish and Portuguese empires in South America in general and political events in Germany, Italy, France, and Ireland in particular encouraged them to work for the freedom of their own country.
- Besides the above mentioned causes, there were some other Immediate Factors which greatly offended the Indian sentiments. The most important ones came in the form of Repressive Policies of Lord Lytton (1876-80). He passed the Arms Act of 1878 which made an unfair attempt to disarm Indians. Under this act, the English and Europeans were allowed to freely keep arms, but the Indians had to obtain a license. The act clearly imposed a badge of racial inferiority on the Indians hurting their self-respect. In the same year the Vernacular Press Act was also passed with the intent of imposing restrictions on the newspapers and magazines published in local languages, a discriminatory step taken by Lord Lytton to curb the views expressed through vernacular press. According to Erskine Perry, it was a retrograde and an ill-conceived measure injurious to the future progress of India. By another act, Lord Lytton permitted the revocation of the import duties on British textiles at the cost of Indian textiles. All the above steps smacked of open discrimination against Indians. The Indian resentment was, therefore, a natural outcome which manifested itself in the birth of numerous political organizations. Since there was an enormous increase in the anti-British sentiments during Lytton’s regime, his period has been rightly described as the seeding time of nationalism in the history of India.
Lord Lytton was succeeded by Lord Rippon (1880-84), a liberal viceroy who withdrew the vernacular press Act and introduced Illbert Bill in order to place the Indian judges on an equal footing with the European judges. But the Bill became controversial and was withdrawn due to strong opposition by the Europeans and Anglo-Indians. The Ilbert Bill Controversy acted as the final point. It convinced Indians that they are never going to be treated as equals by the English and they could also attain freedom through strong opposition and agitation just like the agitation of Europeans against the Illbert Bill. Thus, we can conclude that the rise and growth of the Indian National Movement was an outcome of a combination of many factors. The British imperialism and colonialism being the key factor, but other factors also played a significant role. The National Movement united people of different classes and sections against a common enemy which they successfully ousted from their motherland.