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The Development of the Indian National Congress as a Mass Organization, 1918–1923

  • Gopal Krishna


The Indian National Congress came into being as an organization of the new educated, professional and commercial classes which had developed in India during the course of the nineteenth century. Its early leadership consisted of men steeped in British liberal thought who endeavored to learn the British art of governing and to benefit from the blessings of the British constitution. They demanded representation in the legislative councils, a greater share for Indians in the civil service, protection for Indian industries and reduction in unproductive public expenditure. Since the franchise was very restricted, it was not necessary for the aspirants to membership of legislatures to build a mass electoral organization. Their social base remained relatively small. Apart from holding annual sessions and passing resolutions on a variety of public issues, the Congress had no program, except in Bengal during the anti-partition agitation, which required for its implementation a well-developed party organization with a large membership, a body of full-time functionaries, financial resources and agencies to direct and coordinate its activities.



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1 See McCulley, Bruce T., English Education and the Origins of Indian Nationalism (New York, Columbia University Press, 1940); Desai, A. R., Social Background of Indian Nationalism (Second Revised Edition, Bombay, Popular Book Depot, 1954). For an excellent critique of Desai's vulgar Marxist formulations see Dumont's, Louis “Nationalism and Communalism” in Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol. VII (The Hague, Mouton & Co., March 1964). For a general account of the growth of the middle classes see Mishra, B. B., Indian Middle Classes (London, Oxford University Press, 1961).

2 See Banerjee's, S. N.A Nation in Making (London, Oxford University Press, 1925), Masani's, R. P.Dadabhai Naoroji (London, Allen & Unwin, 1939), Mody's, H. P.Sir Pherozshah Mehta (Bombay, Times of India Press, 1920). See also Buch's, M. A.Rise and Growth of Indian Liberalism (Baroda, Good Companions, 1938).

3 See Report of the Special Session of the Indian National Congress, Bombay, 1918, pp. 7982, for the full text of the Congress resolution on die 1918 reform proposals.

4 Ramana Rao, M. V., Development of the Congress Constitution (New Delhi, All-India Congress Committee, 1958), p. 33.

5 For the full text of the new constitution, see Indian National Congress 1920–1923 (Allahabad, All-India Congress Committee, 1924), pp. 3851.

6 See Lala Lajpat Rai's views on this question expressed in his Presidential address to the Congress session held at Calcutta in September 1920; Mitra, H. N. (ed.), Indian Annual Register, Calcutta, 1921, Part IV, p. 75.

7 For example Mr. C. R. Das offered to resign when his policy on the council-entry question was rejected by the Congress at Gaya in 1922, but he was persuaded not to press his resignation and remained Congress President until May 1923.

8 This position prevailed from 1885 and was accepted by incumbents to the office until 1920. The first crisis over the powers of the President occurred in 1921. There had been complaints about the elections of members of the All-India Congress Committee from Bengal and Madras. The President, C. Vijayaraghavachariar, held that these elections were invalid. The Working Committee passed a resolution to the effect that since fresh elections to the A.I.C.C. were due to be held by November, it was desirable to put the dispute aside. The controversy about the President's power became acute when the Working Committee on 5 October 1921 called a meeting of the A.I.C.C. to be held in Delhi in the first week of November. The President claimed that he alone had the authority to convene a meeting of the A.I.C.C, and therefore, in a notice to die Press on 15 October, contended that the meeting convened by the Working Committee had to be postponed. Pandit Motilal Nehru, one of the General Secretaries, backed by Mahatma Gandhi, declared that the President had no right to override the decisions of the Working Committee, whether relating to the organizational elections or the convening of the A.I.C.C. The A.I.C.C. at its meeting in Delhi on 4 and 5 November endorsed the decisions of the Working Committee on both issues; on the controversy over elections in Bengal and Madras, see Vijayaraghavachariar's statement to the Press, The Hindu (Weekly Edition), 18 August 1921; for the Working Committee's decision, see Indian National Congress 1920–1923, pp. 106–108. On the question of convening a meeting of the A.I.C.C. see the General Secretary's confidential circular and attached telegrams to the members of the All-India Congress Committee, dated Allahabad, 24 October 1921; Archives of the All-India Congress Committee, 1921, and for its decision see Indian National Congress 1920–1923, p. 72.

9 Young India, Ahmedabad, June 29, 1921.

10 These were Ajmer-Merwara and Central India, Andhra, Assam, Bengal and Surma Valley, Berar, Bihar, Bombay City, Burma, Central Provinces (Hindustani), Central Provinces (Marathi), Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab, Sindh, Tamil Nad, United Provinces and Utkal. Each linguistic group was not always given one provincial unit but the new provincial units were linguistically homogeneous. The Congress organization did not extend to the Gilgit Agency, Sikkim and Bhutan nor to Baluchistan. In the North-West Frontier Province it became extremely difficult to conduct Congress activity because of the hostile policies of the local authorities and therefore for purposes of Congress work the province, was merged into the Punjab in 1922. In Burma the Congress activity was confined to the Indian community.

11 See the resolution of the Working Committee, passed at its meeting in Calcutta, January 31 to February 3, 1921; Indian National Congress 7920 to 1923, p. 89.

12 See the constitution of Tamil Nad Provincial Congress Committee, The Hindu (Weekly Edition), Madras, January 27, 1921.

13 The A.I.C.C. Report on Congress Organisation, No. 1, 1922 (Allahabad, 1922).

14 Provisional Rules of Gujarat Provincial Congress Committee, Young India, February 2, 1921.

15 The A.l.C.C. Report on Congress Organization, op. cit.

16 The Provisional Rules of Gujarat P.C.C., op. cit.

17 Rules of the Provincial Congress Committee and Committees subordinate to it in Bihar, Bihar Provincial Congress Committee, Patna, 1921.

18 Constitution and Rules of the United Provinces Congress Committee, United Provinces Provincial Congress Committee, Allahabad, 1921.

20 See Appendix G to the Report of the Thirty-third Session of the Indian National Congress, Delhi, 1918.

21 See Appendix F to the Report of the Thirty-fourth Session of the Indian National Congress, Amritsar, 1919.

22 The nine Provinces of British India (excluding Burma) had 220 districts; Delhi and Ajmer-Merwara were treated as separate administrative units.

23 See die A.I.C.C. Report on Congress Organization, No. 1, 1922. In many provinces some of the city/town committees and in Bombay and Delhi the area committees had been accorded the status of District Congress Committees. No information is available with regard to the number of District Congress Committees in Assam, Bihar, Burma, Karnatak and Kerala.

24 See the Weekly Report of the Director, Central Intelligence, dated Simla, 26 October 1918; Home Department Proceedings-Political—Part B—November 1918—Nos. 202–204. In 1919 of the 1000 copies printed of its weekly organ INDIA, only 300 were distributed in Britain and 700 in India. The Hindu (Weekly Edition), January 16, 1919. In 1920 the situation of the paper worsened. Its circulation had fallen to 500, of which 220 copies were distributed in Britain, and the rest in India. See Gandhiji's articleIndia and the British Committee,” in Young India, January 19, 1921.

25 For several years since 1890 the Congress voted large sums of money for the British Committee (Rs. 40,000 per year in 1890, 1891 and 1892 and Rs. 60,000 from 1893 onward), though sometimes only a part of the voted sum was actually made available to die British Committee.

26 Appendix G to the Report of the Thirty-third Session of the Indian National Congress, Delhi, 1918; Appendix F to the Report of the Thirty-fourth Session of the Indian National Congress, Amritsar, 1919; Appendix E to the Report of the Thirty-fifth Session of the Indian National Congress, Nagpur, 1920.

27 Appendix V to the Report of the Thirty-sixth Session of the Indian National Congress, Ahmedabad, 1921, Report of the Thirty-seventh Session of the Indian National Congress, Gaya, 1922, Appendix III to the Report of the Thirty-eighth Session of the Indian National Congress, Cocanada, 1923.

28 However, the Working Committee was compelled to modify the decision before the end of 1921, less than a year after the adoption of the new constitution. While holding that the use of Hindustani in Congress affairs was desirable, it considered it “premature to set down any hard and fast rules imposing Hindustani on members of various Congress organisations.” (The resolution of the Working Committee adopted at its meeting in Bombay held on November 22 and 23, 1921. See Indian National Congress 1920 to 1923, p. 139.) Two years later in 1923 another Constitution Revision Committee, appointed by the special session of the Congress held in Delhi in September 1923 and consisting of George Joseph, Subhas Chandra Bose, Purshottamdas Tandon, B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya and Jawaharlal Nehru, came to the same conclusion. (The report was drafted by Pattabhi Sitaramayya and Jawaharlal Nehru, and was submitted to the Congress at Cocanada on behalf of them, and not of the whole Committee.) For the text of the Report, see Mitra, J. N., (ed.) the Indian Annual Register, 1923, Vol. II, Supplement, pp. 114118.

29 See the resolution of the All-India Congress Committee at Bezwada in Indian National Congress 1920 to 1923, p. 60.

30 The A.1.C.C Report on Congress Organisation, op. cit. No information about Congress member ship in Assam, Burma and Sindh is available.

31 There is no reason to doubt the substantial accuracy of these figures, for there appears to be no reason why Provincial Congress Committees should wish to exaggerate them, especially since the number of delegates they could send to Congress sessions did not depend upon the number of Congress members in a Province, but on its population. The figures cannot be checked by reference to membership fee raised by the P.C.C.'s because no statements of accounts of the Provincial Congress Committees for this period are available, and since the A.I.C.C. received no part of the membership fee its accounts are of no help.

32 See statement published in Young India, April 5, 1923.

33 Nehru, Jawaharlal, The Discovery of India, (London, Meridian Books Limited, 1951), p. 343.

34 Appendix G to the Report of the Thirty-third Session of the Indian National Congress, Delhi, 1918, and Appendix F to the Report of the Thirty-fourth Session of the Indian National Congress, Amritsar, 1919.

35 See notes 26 and 27 above.

36 The fact that the session was held in a relatively remote town in South India (Cocanada in Andhra Pradesh) may also partially account for the smaller number of Muslim delegates; the centres of nationalist Muslim activity were in North India.

37 The elections to the All-India Congress Committee took place some weeks before the Congress session of the year, and the elected held office for the year following the annual session. Thus members elected in 1918 held office in 1919, and so on. The impact of events in 1920–21 is therefore to be seen in the composition of die A.I.C.C. in 1922 and 1923 and not in 1920 or 1921.

38 The changes that took place in 1922 and 1923 have not been considered here because the new Constitution of the Congress, which became effective only in 1922, greatly altered the composition of the A.I.C.C. and also because changes in those two years were caused largely by the imprisonment of many of its members and were not the result of policy differences. These factors make comparison between the 1919–1921 and 1922–23 membership of die A.I.C.C. bodi difficult and unenlightening.

39 See the Working Committee's resolution adopted at its meeting in Bombay on June 14–15, 1921, with regard to Muslim representation on Congress bodies; Indian National Congress 1920 to 1923, p. 100.

40 Census of India: 1921, Vol. I—Report, p. 110.

41 The table is derived from the information given in the lists of members of the All-India Congress Committee published in the Reports of the Thirty-third (1918), Thirty-fourth (1919) and Thirty-fifth (1920) sessions of the Indian National Congress, and from the separate lists issued by the A.I.C.C. office in 1922 and 1923. The caste affiliations of the members are inferred, where possible, from their names and checked with the lists of the delegates attending Congress sessions, available for the Special Session of the Congress in Bombay in 1918 and the sessions held in Delhi in December 1918 and in Amritsar in December 1919, which specifically list the caste of each delegate. There is however, likely to be a certain margin of error in the caste classification given in the table.

42 The table is derived from the addresses given in the lists of members of the A.I.C.C. referred to in note 45. The category “Towns” includes die capitals of die Provinces and Delhi.

43 At the Bezwada meeting of the A.I.C.C. on March 31-April 1, 1921, Gandhiji moved that in the organization of die Congress Committees under die new constitution no person who did not conform to die resolution on non-cooperation as applicable to himself should hold any office. The proposal was vehemently opposed by V. Ramdas, N. C. Kelkar, Kasturiranga Iyengar and others, and supported by Motilal Nehru. Because of diis strong opposition it was not pressed. Mitra, H. N. (ed.) Indian Annual Register, 1922, Vol. I, pp. 1950–52. The Congress Committees nevertheless resorted to the practice of excluding practicing lawyers from holding office in die Congress organization, and diere were numerous complaints on mis score. The Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee appointed by the A.I.C.C. in 1922 in its report recommended diat die rigor with which practicing lawyers were excluded should be relaxed. See the Report of the Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee, (Allahabad, All-India Congress Committee, 1923), p. 135. After die collapse of die non-cooperation movement in 1922 some of the Congress leaders resumed dieir law practice, notable among diem being C. Vijayaraghavachariar and J. M. Sen Gupta.

44 See note 41 above. For 1922 and 1923 adequate data with regard to professions are not available for a very large number of members of die A.I.C.C. It should be noted mat diose classified as lawyers did not practice law in 1921 and 1922.

45 By “leaders” are meant such persons who had occupied responsible positions in the Congress organization at either the national or the provincial level or both. Of the 61 persons considered here, 60 were members of the All-India Congress Committee at one time or the other between 1919 and 1923; 30 of them were members of the Congress Working Committee between 1921 and 1923; 11 had held the office of the President of the Congress between 1918 and 1923; during the same period 2 had been the treasurers of the Congress, 11 had been its General Secretaries, 15 had been Presidents and 7 Secretaries of the various Provincial Congress Committees; 1 was Secretary of the Central Khilafat Committee.

46 The province-wise breakdown of the 61 is as follows: Ajmer-Merwara 1, Andhra 2, Assam 1, Bengal 5, Berar 1, Bihar 5, Bombay City 6, Central Provinces (Hindustani) 1, Central Provinces (Marathi) 2, Delhi 4, Gujarat 3, Karnataka 2, Kerala 1, Maharashtra 1, Punjab 6, Sindh 2, Tamil Nad 8, United Provinces 9, Utkal 1.

47 Except 3; Hasan Imam temporarily, and Jinnah and Mrs. Besant permanently, drifted away from the Congress after 1920.

48 Report of the General Secretaries of the All-India Congress Committee for 1918, 1919, 1920.

49 At the end of 1918 the arrears from the P.C.C.'s amounted to Rs. 32,440–9–9. See the Report of the General Secretaries, 1918, p. 13. The same note was struck in the Report of the General Secretaries, 1919 (p. 6) and in 1920 they reported that their endeavours to recover the arrears from the Provincial Congress Committeesended in failure”; see the Report of the General Secretaries, 1920, p. 4.

50 See The Hindu (Weekly Edition), January 9, 1921.

51 Archives of the All-India Congress Committee, 1924.

52 The Hindu (Weekly Edition), February 3, 1921.

53 Young India, August 11, 1921.

54 Krishnadas, , Seven Months with Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. I (Madras, S. Ganesan, 1924), p. 143.

55 The Hindu (Weekly Edition), June 30, 1921.

56 Krishnadas, , op. cit., p. 129.

57 Argus, , Gandhism cum Non-cooperation Exposed (Calcutta, the Author, 1922), p. 22.

58 Young India 19191922, (Second Edition, Madras, S. Ganesan, 1924), p. 429.

59 The Hindu (Weekly Edition), June 30, 1921.

60 Young India 19191922, op. cit., p. 429.

61 See reports of collections for the Tilak Swaraj Fund in all parts of India in The Hindu (Weekly Edition), April 9, June 2, June 9, June 23, June 30, July 7 and July 28, 1921.

62 See Abstract of accounts for 1921, 1922 and 1923 (Annexures I-VI), Indian National Congress 1920 to 1923, pp. 331–338. The total sum of Rupees thirteen million includes the A.I.C.C.'s share of the delegates’ fees collected at the various sessions of the Congress, and some other funds. The total so received between 1921 and 1923 amounted to Rs.542,332–5–7½.

63 The total earmarked collections between 1921 and 1923 amounted to Rs.5,388,583–14–6.

64 Gandhiji, , My Experiments with Truth (Ahmedabad, Navjavan, 1927), pp. 143–44.

65 See the statement issued by the General Secretaries of the Indian National Congress on April 3, 1924. Archives of the All-India Congress Committee, 1924.

66 See Abstract of Accounts for 1921, 1922 and 1923 (Annexures I-VI) Indian National Congress 1920 to 1923, pp. 381–338.

67 See the resolution passed by the Congress Working Committee at its meeting at Calcutta on January 31 to February 3, 1921, asking the Provincial Congress Committees to set up an Indian National Service; Indian National Congress 1920 to 1923, pp. 87–89.

68 When the number of full-time workers engaged in the work of the national movement in this period is considered, those working for the Khilafat movement must also be included. Their number too was large.

69 See the resolution of the Congress Working Committee on this question; Indian National Congress 1920 to 1923, p. 84.

70 Young India, April 28, 1920.

71 Ibid., August 4, 1920.

72 Jawaharlal Nehru has drawn attention to Gandhiji's use of military terminology in his demands for obedience to accepted policy. See his An Autobiography, (New Edition), (London, Bodley Head, 1942), p. 46.

73 Young India, March 30, 1921.

74 The challenge came from Maharashtra. N. C. Kelkar, President of the Maharashtra P.C.C., argued that the members and officers of the Congress need not, in his view should not, accept the Congress policy in its entirety. Hakim Ajmal Khan, the Acting President of the Congress in part of the year 1922, held that the policy of the Congress must be wholly accepted by its officers. Kelkar resigned the Presidentship of the Maharashtra P.C.C.; see The Hindu (Weekly Edition), August 17, 1922. The Maharashtra P.C.C. endorsed Kelkar's views, but accepted his resignation. See The Hindu (Weekly Edition), September 14, 1922.

75 Kripalani, J. B., The Indian National Congress, (Bombay, Vora & Co., 1946), p. 20.

76 Thompson, E. and Garratt, G. T., Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule in India (London, Macmillan & Co., 1934), pp. 606607.

77 Shiva Rao, B., The Industrial Worker in India (London, Allen & Unwin, 1939), p. 35.

The Development of the Indian National Congress as a Mass Organization, 1918–1923

  • Gopal Krishna


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