Role of Indian Business Class in the National Movement

Initial phase (Till Non-Cooperation movement)

  • In 19th century: There was hardly any consolidated business class. Indian capitalists desired the end of imperial bias but due to structural weakness could not stand against the might of colonial power. Big industrialists generally opposed Swadeshi movement of 1905-1908.
  • Early 20th century: Therefore, when a substantial class emerged during early 20th century, there were efforts to bring together indigenous industrialists together. E.g.: Indian Merchants’ Chamber in Bombay in 1907.
  • Initially, Indian Capitalists followed a policy of equidistance from Congress and British government, to antagonise either.
  • However, World War 1, brought mixed fortunes. The collapse of Rupee threatened the importers, but this helped the exporters and the mill owners.
  • Montford Reforms in 1919, gave representation to Indian Businesses in central and provincial legislatures and therefore, during Gandhi’s call for a mass movement, the response was mixed.
  • Merchants and traders were supported because of Gandhi’s emphasis on Non-violence and trusteeship. Constructive program was supported, even by a few big industrialists such as G.D. Birla and Jamnalal Bajaj. Business groups realised Gandhi’s instrumental role in preventing Congress from becoming anti-capitalist.
  • During Rowlatt Satyagraha of 1919, they remained sceptical because of mass movement. During Non-Cooperation Movement, traders and merchants remained active and donated to Tilak Swaraj Fund, but big industrialists opposed the agitational politics of Congress. P. Thakurdas and R.D. Tata started the Anti Non-Cooperation Society in Bombay.
  • Split in Business community became apparent in 1920-21 in Bombay. They were divided on the issue of council boycott and welcoming of Prince of Wales.

Post Non-Cooperation Movement

  • Post-1922, deteriorating economic conditions brought most business communities closer to nationalist ranks.
  • Several factors were at play: Wartime boom collapsed, unsold stocks and declining prices, import of cheap Japanese goods, biased attitude of government as it did not pay any heed to the recommendations of Indian Tariff board to raise import duty from 11 to 15% due to opposition of the Lancashire lobby.
  • In 1927, to build pressure on Government, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) was formed under the leadership of Purshottam Das Thakurdas and Ghanshyam Das Birla.
  • The currency debate brought Congress and Business much closer to collaboration. Government artificially fixed high Rs and Sterling exchange rate to 1s to 6d as suggested by the Hilton Young commission. This favoured the English exporters and put the Indian importers at a disadvantageous position.
  • When congress reverted to constitutional politics, business representatives came together in support of Nationalist ideas. E.g.: donated generously to Gandhi’s constructive program.
  • In 1930s, they were further drawn towards Congress and Congress leaders too were sensitive towards their concerns. E.g.: Gandhi’s 11 demands included three specific capitalist demands which included- Rupee-sterling exchange rate of 1s 4d and the protection of cotton industries.

Civil Disobedience Movement

  • During Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a mixed response came due to agitational politics. Cloth merchants were at the forefront to boycott foreign cloth and goods. Bombay industrialists like Tata were sceptical. However, neutrality was avoided and FICCI pragmatically supported the movement and condemned the brutalities of government.
  • Civil unrest hampered daily business and loss of respect for authority creating nervousness among Industrialists about possible social revolution. Therefore, when Congress launched Second Civil Disobedience Movement(CDM), support did not come uniformly.
  • Ahmedabad millowners were in support of CDM but Bombay millowners and those in South opposed it. Bombay business group split into four factions with Tata & Sir Homi Mody openly condemning the movement.
  • Gandhi suspended the movement in 1934, and this was welcomed by business community, due to expected return to Constitutionalism and pressure politics.

After CDM and Quit India Movement

  • During this time, socialism ideas rose under Nehru, Bose and J.P. Narayan. They formed Congress Socialist Party in 1934, but this did not throw business class into the arms of imperialist forces and in the 1937 elections Congress was even provided with financial backing.
  • Bombay manifesto 1936, was signed by twenty-one Bombay businessmen. They condemned socialism and threw their lot behind the moderates-Vallabhbhai Patel and C. Rajagopalachari.
  • Congress ministries were formed in 1937. They faced the dilemma to balance the interests of labour and industrialists. Initially, some labour welfare resolutions were taken but in 1938, a shift in attitude was visible with the passage of Bombay trade disputes act which favoured the Business group.
  • Even during Quit India Movement, they were reluctant due to its revolutionary overtone but returned to the Congress fold when negotiations for the transfer of power began.
  • Participated actively in economic planning program which was a vision of Nehru and Bose. Bombay plan of 1944, drawn by eight industrialists, strongly supported state intervention in the economy to protect the domestic industries. This included interestingly those who were chief architects of Bombay manifesto, Purshottamdas Thakurdas and W. Hirachand, condemning socialism during 1930s.

Attitude of Business Class Towards Socialism, Left & Mass movement

  • Considered agitational politics as fertile ground for civil unrest and bolshevism.
  • Congress decided to boycott the first Round Table Conference created disappointment among Industrialists but still, they remained with Congress due to fear of communism. They viewed AITUC under the neutral stance of Gandhi as an effective tool to contain the spread of communism.
  • Most businesses were in support of National Movement but within limits and in reliable hands of right-wing/moderates, as they wanted to overthrow imperialism but maintain capitalism.
  • Fear of Communism, increasing popularity of CPI and organised labour determined their conditional support to Congress.
  • Bombay Manifesto of 1936 openly indicted Socialist ideals of Nehru as being a threat to private property, peace and prosperity of the nation. This effectively made moderates tone down the voice of socialists.

Business Class Contribution to National Movement

  • Strategic, issue-based and even pragmatic relationship with Congress.
  • Divide among the business groups- Merchants/traders and Industrialists due to varied impacts on the two sections.
  • Neither loyalists of government nor unpatriotic despite reservations agreed with many of the aspects of the congress program.
  • Initially, they followed the policy of cooperation and opposition, which can call as a policy of equidistance between Congress and the government, so as not to antagonise either.
  • The capitalist was not averse to nationalism but feared insurrectionary revolution, hence preferred constitutionalism. Their commitment to nationalism was not above business interests.
Free UPSC MasterClass
This is default text for notification bar