How did the Indian National Congress win support and what part did it play in ending British rule?
The Indian Independence Act of 1947 marked a watershed upon the history of India and imperialism, predicating the protracted, but evident, retreat of empire. A body of influences are readily available in providing a depth of understanding of the event; it is, however, the permeating legacy of the Indian national congress that has been routinely identified as a political organisation synonymous with the departure of empire and colonialism. The remit of this essay focuses our attention upon the development and narrative of the Indian National Congress, and the use of its political structure in exercising and mobilising nationalist sentiments throughout the Asian subcontinent. Although instrumental and inherently central to the discussion of Indian independence, one must retain an open and wider view of the multitude of pressures, from within and without, that ultimately led to British withdrawal. It would be prudent therefore to accommodate the international economic and political circumstances that restricted the manoeuvrability of the British following the Second World War, and its noticeable influence upon the retreat of imperialism, upon the wider discussion of the end of British rule. Although providing the structure of national identity, the degree to which the congress had a direct impact upon the redirection of imperial policy is subject to speculation. The narrative of the Congress developing into an organisation, during the interwar period, that directed a mass nationalist movement is nevertheless fundamental to the discussion of the end of imperialism in India. Despite the inherent structural weaknesses of British control over the subcontinent, the role of the Congress in mobilising the masses as a political instrument was significant in the transformation of prevalent anti-imperialist sentiments into a powerful nationalistic force. The narrative of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is therefore intimately linked to this process. Through his novel liberalising strategies of Satyagraha and non-cooperation he moulded a fractured body of existing hostilities to imperial rule into a cohesive unifying beacon of liberty, dramatically transforming the dialogue between nationalism and imperialism. The Indian National Congress emerged upon the political landscape in 1885 as the natural culmination of the politicisation and education of an Indian middle class, its nucleus formed from a growing body of English educated professionals and artisans. Although a landmark in the formation of political and national identity on an all-India scale, the resonance of this political organisation in Indian society and its ability to mobilise existing anti-imperialist sentiments is marked by distinct periods in its narrative. Indeed even before the foundation of the Congress, there was an existing body of politically active organisations, such as the Indian Association, pursuing an all-India programme, promoting greater autonomy1. The early composition of the Congress leaders and participants tended to be Anglicized in their personal life and highly successful in their profession, consequently their ambitions of political change reflected these influences2. Prominent among these national issues were the progressive Indianization of the civil services and the army; the dissemination of mass literacy; and the growth of swadeshi industry3. The foundation of its support therefore was echoed by its initial objectives of social reforms, restricted to the urban middle and lower classes in the cities and towns. Such resistance to subjugation was not limited to the realm of expanding political ideals, throughout the latter half of the 19th century there was a recognisably growing consciousness of the social and economic exploitation experienced throughout the lower classes. Even after the violent suppression of the 1857 uprising, the rural classes of...
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