In the year 1876, an organization which called itself the Indian Association, came into being in Bengal. Its aim was to unify the people of India on the basis of their political interests and aspirations. Calcutta was the headquarters of this organization.
The Madras Mahajan Sabha was brought into existence in 1881 at Madras. Another association, named the Bombay Presidency Association was founded on 31 January 1885 at Bombay with the joint efforts of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Justice K.T.Telang ans Shri Badruddin Tayabji. The need for a common platform for these provincial associations was being felt by all. In the meantime, Mr. Allen Octavian Hume, a retired officer of the Indian Civil Service had organized a body called the Indian National Union. On 23 March 1885, he announced that the maiden session of the Indian National Union would be held from December 25 to 31 at Poona. Mr. Hume was of the opinion that the governor of the province, in which the session was to be held, should be designated as the ex-officio President of the session of the union. He consulted the then Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, who heartily appreciated and supported the idea of such an organization, but did not agree to the proposal of the Governor taking the chair. He feared that people might feel shy of expressing themselves boldly and fearlessly in the presence of the Governor. Mr. Hume conceded this idea and statesmen from all over India approved of this. Consequently, the Association was started with two stated aims: namely, (1) to make all those persons who were engaged in the task of national progress acquainted with one another, and (2) to chalk out a political programme for the subsequent year.
But Poona was not destined to be the venue of the first meeting of this national organization. Just a few days before the session, cholera broke out in epidemic form in the city, and the venue of the session had to be shifted from Poona to Bombay. The first session of the Indian National Congress was held at 12 noon on 28 December 1885 in the Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College Hall at Bombay. The session commenced with a speech by Mr. Hume, who proposed the name of Mr. Woomesh Chandra Bonnerji for the Presidentship of the session, Subrahmanya Iyer and K.T.Telang seconded and supported the proposal. From that time onwards Mr. Hume began to be called the ‘Father of the Congress’.
The second session of the Indian National Congress was held at Calcutta on 28 December 1886, under the Presidentship of Shri Dadabhai Naoroji. Four hundred and forty delegates from all over the country assembled to take part in the deliberations of the Congress. A number of speakers had spoken on the reform of legislatures, when suddenly the audience observed a young fair complexioned person coming forward to speak. He was a bit short-statured. Hence, Mr. Hume held him up with both of his hands and placed him on a chair. The person with a white turban, a white long coat, a white scarf around his neck and a white mark of sandal paste on his forehead immediately caught the attention of the audience. He spoke in chaste and well-intonated English. His speech was so much appreciated by the audience that he was cheered twenty-two times during his short speech. Mr. Hume described this incident in his report of the Calcutta Congress in these words: “The speech which won cheers many times in the Congress pandal and which was heard by the audience with rapt attention was that of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a high class Brahmans, whose fair complexion and charming personality attracted everybody and who delivered such a forceful and flowing speech after he jumped up on the chair adjacent to the president’s, that all people sat enchanted.” One sentence of his speech has become immortal in the political world, “No taxation without representation. This is the first commandment of the political Bible of the English.” The President, Dadabhai Naoroji, after hearing Malaviyaji speak, rose from his seat and said: “Mother India is herself resonant in the voice of this young man.” Malaviyaji himself believed that he never speak so well afterwards as he did in the Calcutta session of the Congress. He attended the next session, held in 1887 in Madras. Malaviyaji’s performance at the Madras session was reported by Mr. Hume in these words: “Then stood up Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who was the youngest and the most zealous worker, and we are obliged to quote extensively from his speech because though the speech became very sentimental at the very end, yet it contains facts which need careful consideration.” Soon after the Madras Congress, Malaviyaji was designated as the Secretary of the North West Province and the Standing Committee of the Congress, a post on which he continued to work for many years.
Shri Surendranath Banerjee thus describes Malaviyaji’s first feat of eloquence: “My memory goes back to the events of 1886 when my young friend having just left college for the first time spoke at a meeting of the Calcutta Congress. He was so young that he had to be lifted up on a chair in order that the audience might have an opportunity of having a look at him. He had fascinating appearance, but the audience was more charmed by the eloquence of the youthful orator than by his good looks and that speech, -one of the very best that I have heard- made a deep impression upon the minds of the Congress gathering and pointed him out as one of the future leaders of the Congress movement.”
After Madras, came the turn of Prayag. Mr. Hume wanted to entrust to Malaviyaji the task of making the Prayag session of the Congress successful. By that time, the British Government had begun to watch the activities of the Congress with suspicion. In spite of a number of abstacles, the Congress met at Parayag on the 26 December 1888, under the Presidentship of George Yule by the singular efforts of Malaviyaji who was the Secretary of the Reception Committee.
The growing popularity of the Congress and the upsurge of the nationalism caused some consternation in the Government circle. A long correspondence passed between the Governor of the North West Province and Mr. Hume. Although Lord Dufferin was critical of the Congress in public, he left a confidential note at the time of his retirement in 1888 that due consideration should be given to the demands of the Congress and the Legislative Assemblies be recognized. A few privileges were promised by the India Council’s Act of Lord Cross. The result was that the leaders vied with each other in securing seats in the new councils and paid less heed to realize political aspirations. This gave relief to the British Government and the suspicion was averted for the time being, because, thenceforward. Political leaders merely assembled at the annual Congress Session, passed resolutions and remained inactive for the whole year. The Prayag Session was followed by sessions at Bombay, Calcutta and Nagpur. It was resolved to hold the Congress Session again at Prayag in 1892. Malaviyaji worked day and night to make the session a success which was held under the Presidentship of Woomesh Chandra Bonnerji.
Subsequent sessions of the Congress were held at Lahore, Madras, Poona, Calcutta, Amaravati, Lucknow, Ahmedabad and Bombay. As usual, resolutions were carried and powerful speeches were made but the British Government did not care to take notice of the same. This indifference on the part of the Government greatly enraged the people and they decided to react sharply. To begin with, it was decided to boycott all British goods. At first, some Congress leaders were doubtful about the propriety of such a move. But when Lord Curzon came to India and divided Bengal into two, the Congress, under the Presidentship of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, decided to boycott British goods as a protest against the partition of Bengal, though the Congress did not include this in their programme.
The next session of the Congress was held at Calcutta. The name of Lokmanya Tilak was proposed for its Presidentship. Just then, The Times Of India wrote a leading articles classifying the Indian national leaders into two groups, the extremists and the liberals. Tilak, according to this classification, belonged to the extremists group. Hence, the moderates among congressmen mamaged to get Dadabhai Naoroji elected as President. Dadabhai Naoroji did not prefer to lower down the national flag raised up by the extremists and got its resolved that ‘the aim of Congress was Swaraj or self-Government.’
Next year, the Congress Session was held at Surat under the Presidentship of Dr. Rash Behari Ghose. The conflict between the liberals and the extremists took an ugly turn at this session. The Congress pandal became a scene of fracas and rowdyism. Chairs were thrown at each other freely. In the meantime someone hurled a shoe at Sir Pherozeshah Mehta which unfortunately struck Shri Surendranath Banerjee, the Lion of Bengal, who picked it up and tucked it up in his room as a ‘reward of his patriotism’. Soon police appeared on the scene and the whole pandal in confusion except only one fair-complexioned gentleman clad in snow-white dress shedding tears by a pole. He was Malaviyaji, who was sorely hurt by the ugly incidents that took place in the pandal, for the hard work that he had so far done for the solidarity of the Congress for so many years, was marred by this ugly incident. Thenceforward, the Congress entered into a new phase of open rebellion against the British Government.