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Rise of Nationalism

The dark night is always followed by the dawn. Though the darkness does not disappear altogether, a faint glow permeates the early morning sky and thereby people understand the advent of a day. Such was the condition of the eighteenth century India. Bengal in particular got the benefits of an early education and therefore legendary figures arose who would shape the ideals of India for years to come. However the material condition of people deteriorated because of the continuous draining of wealth esp. from the rural areas. The economic exploitation ruined the industries and trade. Agriculture barely subsisted and famines were common. Diseases like malaria and cholera took a heavy toll on people in the villages and towns alike. Society was fragmented, caste based discriminations and superstitions dominated and meanness as a direct fallout of lack of education, reigned supreme. Those who had money, the the notorious babus, the zamindar class, lived in extreme luxury. Visiting the concubines was common among youth and old alike and condition of women in general was extremely sad.  In short, Indian society had reached its nadir. It was time to wake up, time to rise and many events happened together to contribute to a general rise from thousands of years of slumber, sloth, intertia and self hypnotism. Bengal, and later Maharastra and Madras led the tide of improvement through general education and great souls came in each of these parts to lead such transformations. Dr. R.C Majumdar opines that the most important single factor that accounts for this great transformation  is the impact of the West through introduction of the English education. 


True Nationalism is based on patriotism and the love of liberty in general. These ideas were developed in India by the impact of the Western culture. The first manifestations of it is seen in Raja Rammohan Roy's love of liberty which made him an ardent sympathizer of all popular movements across the world for gaining liberty. Rammohan Roy wrote to Lord Buckingham, "Enemies to liberty and friends of despotism have never been and never will be ultimately successful." The first notions of love for liberty and rationalism were instilled in the minds of young tidents of Hindu College of Calcutta by a half European young Professor, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, during his brief tenure from 1826 to 1831. He excercised a great influence upon his pupils, urged his students to think freely for themselves and live and die for truth. Derozio celebrated with his students the spirit of French revolution by hoisting the French flag on Ochterlony monument. He regarded himself as an Indian and wrote patriotic verses, the last stanza of which was, "My fallen country,! one kind wish for thee." However Derozio's students called themselves as Young Bengalis and denounced in strongest term what they considered as superstition ridden practices of their parent religion. Under the influence of Western education they became very much anglicised and had inordinate fondness for everything English. They adopted Western ideas and  ideals, dresses and habits, spoke in English, drank wine and advocated beef eating - a practise most repugnant to the Hindus. They had a contempt for anything Indian. Derozio, who died young, did not live to see the sorry plight of his students. Even though the Young Bengalis were agnostics and atheists, in the end some of them like Krishna Mohan Bannerjee, came under the influence of Christian missionaries like Alexander Duff and became Christian. Other luminaries included Radhanath Sikdar (who measured the height of Mount Everest), Ramgopal Ghosh, known for his fierce oratory as the Indian Demosthenes, Rasik Krishna Mallik, Peary Chand Mitra who gained prominence as an author with penname Tekchand Thakur, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, Hara Chandra Ghosh, Ramtanu Lahiri etc. The Young Bengal Movement established the Academic Association in 1828 to debate and discuss on subjects such as Free Will, Faith, Patriotosm, God and such other topics. David Hare, another renouned educationist became its President after the untimely death of Derozio. In 1838, the Society for Acquisition of General Knowledge was established, with Tarachand Chakrabarty as its President. The Young Bengalis formed later day societies like the Landholder's Society, British Indian Society and British Indian Association. Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee donated the land for Bethune College for women's education. Sib Chandra Deb and Taranath became leaders of Brahmo Samaj. 

However there was a strong progressive reaction against the propensity to embrace either Brahmo Samaj or Christianity by the leaders of the movement. An intense feeling of Nationalism grew in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The major contributing factors was the awareness of Indian History and the legacy of Hindu cultural works by the educated Hindus. Regular archeologocal explorations under the supervision of Alexander Cunningham and the writings of Max Mueller, who translated the Sayanacharya's commentary on Rig Veda, Wilson, a noted educationist, Rajendralal Mitra, who countered the claims of noted historian Fergusson, and others, brought home to education Indians a vivid picture of the glory of their motherland. Ancient India was in the same pedestal as ancient Greece or Rome, if not higher. Moreover injustices and the racial superiority exerted by the Europeans also contributed to the growing sense of resentment. Even though Radhanath Sikdar measured the height of the highest mountain peak, the peak was named after his superior Everest whose contribution was negligible. Many European scholars relentlessly attacked the Hindu culture and legacy - described Ramayana and Mahabharata as mythology and denigrated the Hindu icons like Rama and Krishna. Hindu history began with Hinduism and ended with Mughal rule, with very little if at all glorification of the reigns of the Hindu kings. Hindu art was deemed to be borrowed from the Greeks citing Gandhar art as the evidence. But even the Western scholars could not dismiss the great Sanskrit literary tradition of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti and numerous other poets. They could not denigrate the sub,ime teachings of Mahabharata, Bhagavat Gita and the Upanishads. Hence they invented  the theory of Aryan Invasion as a justification of the European conquest of India. According to their claims, Aryans came from outside, possibly Central Asia, conquered the native population of India, the non Aryans including the Dravidas of the South, established Sanskrit as the lingua franca and created the Aryan religion - the basis of Brahmanical Hinduism. They cited the similarity of Sanskrit with other European languages to establish their claim. The date of Indian history, notably the Rig Vedas, was fixed at 1400 B.C by Max Mueller, and it was accepted as a gospel truth by the Indians and the Europeans alike. Much later, the discovery of Indus Valley Civilization would falsify their claims. However the damage was done, even educated Indians subscribed to the Aryan Invasion Theory and it became a mainstay of the Indian history for years to come. However none of these could remove the ancient glory of India - the profound and lofty spiritual thoughts in Vedas and Upanishads, the great effort of Emperor Ashoka in uniting the whole of India including Afghanistan, the conquests of Chandra Gupta Maurya whose empire extended to vast stretches of Central Asia and who held the Greeks as vassals, the heroic resistance of king Puru or Parvateswara to Alexander, the expansion of Indian empire to the South East Asia, the Gupta age heralding the golden age of ancient Indian history, the light of Buddhism that spread across half the world, the great advaitic doctrine of Shankara, the rise of great institutes like Nalanda and Takshila, the strides made in the field of ayurveda and astronomy, the material progress of ancient India, its art forms as discovered in Ajanta, Ellora and numerous temple carvings across India, then majestic temples of South India created by the iconic dynasties of Chalukyas, Cholas, Pandyas, Rashtrakutas, the terracotta works of Bengal, the glory of Sasanka and the Pala dynasty of Bengal, the greatest literatures from different parts of India - all these could not fail to stir deeply the heart of the Hindus. The revelation of India's past heritage was one of the strongest foundation on which India's Nationalism was built. 

European ideas of Nationalism and the freedom struggles in different Nations, esp. France and Italy, the American War of Indepdencce, all these must have profoundly influenced the educated Indian minds. The long fight for freedom of the Irish, who, like India, were under the British flag, deeply stirred the emotions of Indians. As Indians visited Europe in large numbers, bypassing all religion imposed barriers, the freedom enjoyed by the people of these Nations and the thoughts and ideas of leading European thinkers permeated the minds of Indians and shaped their longing for similar liberty. The extent of suffering and humiliation of their fellow countrymen in the hands of the foreign rulers, was evident to atleast many of the educated Indians, who took up the cause of the ordinary people. Dinabandhu Mitra protested against the evil practises of the Indigo planters that ruined the agriculture and destroyed the economy of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and that led to frequent peasant movements and wrote his famous book - Nil Darpan. Reverend James Long translated it to English and was sent to jail for a year. The lionization of Rammohan Roy and Keshab Chandra Sen by the British evoked a sense of pride. Keshab Chandra Sen also tried to unify the whole of India on the basis of a common value system and religion and his influence was undoubtedly the strongest among the young people during the period of 1870s. However Keshab Chandra Sen, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and all the other leading luminaries of that age considered British rule as a blessing for India. The thought of gaining independence had never really taken off. Even when Indian National Congress was established in 1885, the main idea was to secure some rights from the Europeans in the field of administration.

During the fag end of nineteenth century, a class of enlightened people across India started to foster the feeling of Nationalism and patriotism among larger sections of the society. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was one of the foremost, though his work was limited to the arena of literature. His book Ananda Math became the holy bible of the later day revolutionaries who adopted its rallying cry - Bande (Vande) Mataram - the words from a poem in the novel whose first two stanzas became the National Song in Independent India. Although Bankim Chandra's novels were mostly based on the resistance against Islamic rule and oppression, his novels had profound effect on the imagination of BEngali youth as narrated by Bipin Chandra Pal himself, "Durgesh Nandini (a Bankim novel) quickened my earliest patriotic sentiments." Poets like Rangalal Bandopadhyay were even more open, "Who would like to live in slavery and bondage, who would like to get shackled?", he asked in one of his classic poems. Poet Hem Chandra Bannerjee rued the fact that China, Burma and even Japan were independent and yet India was sleeping. 

Surendranath Banerji was one of the earlier Nationalists. He passed the Civil Services in 1869 but was dismissed in 1874 owing to a minor technical issue. He then sincerely devoted himself for the political awakening of India. He was a great speakers and had formidable influence on the youth. Thus the enlightened people of the country found a new channel and leadership for expressing themselves - that of freedom of thoughts, ideas and political opinions. It is to be noted that the conception of freedom from British rule had still not taken roots. The memories of the mutiny and its consequences were too fresh and indelible. That British rule was to stay in India was taken for granted and the objective of Surendranath and like minded political leaders was to extract as much advantage as possible for the Indians and to protest against any blatantly discriminatory policies. Surendranath contributed immensely towards the rise of early Nationalism as portrayed by none other than Bipin Chandra Pal. His first lecture, "The rise of Sikh power", made a formidable impression on the attendees and fostered a sense of anti British feeling. Surendranath also organized meetings and lectures on the life and activities of Italian freedom movement leaders like Mazzini and Garibaldi. Italy undered Austria suffered the same ignominy as India under Britain. Indians could hope to get no justice in the event of disputes with Europeans. The differential treatment accorded to the Indians by the British was evident in every form of social and economic transaction. The plight of the indentured tea labourers in the tea gardens of Assam, the throttling of the freedom of press and literature, the indignity suffered by the peasants in the form of exhorbitant taxes, the kicks and bruises received by the Indians in the hands of the European masters, all fired up the imagination of the youth who lapped up every word spoken by the great man. Secret communities mushroomed everywhere, without any definite aim. 

Surendranath however was more inclined towards a Western type of ideal. He was fascinated by the spirit of Nationalism and the activities of the Europeans and asked the youth of his country to emulate them, without any specific reference to the great Indian culture and civilization and the Hindu roots. He wanted unity across all sections of the Indian communities - Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Surendranath inspired the youth to work for the good of the country. He layed emphasis on political freedom of making own decisions and not being subservient to the Europeans. However in later days of his political career, Surendranath, as a prominent moderate leader, lost his dynamism and was strongly in favour of compromizing with the British rule by continuing with the policies of appeal and solicitation. He was gradually ebbed by the rise of Aurobindo, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, and lost his appeal among the younger section. "Surrender Not" did indeed surrender to the inevitability of European dominion, or so as he thought. But his role as the early awakener of political consciousness among the educated, will certainly place him among the most venerated leaders of the Nation.

Another great personality who advanced the cause of Nationalism in India and promoted the unity across all communities was Mahadev Govind Ranade. He was an active judge and could not openly take part in politics but he devoted his effort towards social and economic uplifting. He took a middle ground between Hindu orthodoxy and the "liberal" pro changers who wanted to sweep away the evils of Hinduism. Ranade promoted the causes of industrial development of India. He inspired Gokhale to serve the cause of the motherland.

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