General Studies Paper 1 (Modern History): Indian capitalist class

Freedom Struggle

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Modern History)


Critically discuss the contribution of the Indian capitalist class in the freedom struggle.


The contribution of the Indian capitalist class in the freedom struggle varies in different phases of the movement. Some industrialists like Jamnalal Bajaj, VadilalLallubhai Mehta etc. were actively involved in the struggle and participated in nationalist movements. However, others like G. D Birla, Ambalal Sarabhai etc. provided financial help to the Congress but did not participate actively. Some even opposed it at times.


Most early Indian industrialists were merchants who played the role of middlemen and collaborators for British businessmen. There was a harmonious relationship between them and the British capitalists. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, the Indian capitalists began to mark their independence as beneficial effects of the British Raj started dwindling due to disruptions caused by the Bubonic Plague, currency fluctuations, famine, communal riots etc.

  • Initially, small financial donations were given by individual businessmen to the Congress. Few businessmen were also a part of the Congress in 1885.
  • However, dependence on the British support and technology led them to oppose the Swadeshi Movement despite the support of Indian goods by the movement
  • Even during the Non-Cooperation Movement, a small section of the capitalists, including Purshottamdas, openly declared themselves enemies of the Movement.
  • By the late 1920s, a dominant section of the Indian capitalist class began to support the national movement.
  • Their only concern was the nature of movement, that is, there were in favour of not completely abandoning the constitutional path and the negotiating table. They feared that prolonged mass agitation, could lead to the radicalisation of the masses and could put pressure not only against imperialism but capitalism itself.
  • Still, the capitalists refused to negotiate with the British Government on constitutional and economic issues without the approval or participation of the Congress.
    • For e.g. in 1930, the FICCI advised its members to boycott the Round Table Conference without Gandhiji’s participation.

They even mediated between the Congress and the British government when the Civil Disobedience Movement was withdrawn. Additionally, during protracted movements, they pressurized the government to stop repression of Indians, release political prisoners and remove ban on the Congress.

Even if the capitalists did not influence the national movement in a decisive way nor was the movement dependent on their support, they stayed within the nationalist camp on the whole. Further, they did not support bills that went against the overall national interest such as the Public Safety Bill, which would repress the Socialists and Communists. In fact, the threat from increasing tendency of the Congress towards the left led them not towards imperialism but towards involving themselves actively in politics to contain it.


The capitalists identified the long-term interests of Indians and remained united with them when a common front was needed. However, they simultaneously worked on guarding their commercial interests as well.


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