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A.O. Hume in The Hindu 2015

This article is reprinted from the January 25, 2015 issue of The Hindu. Its author, S. Muthiah, writes about our very own A. O. Hume, calling him “The Father of the Congress,” and about other prominent theosophists of the day. The article highlights the connection between Indian independence and the Theosophical Society – a connection in which we can take pride. It is also noteworthy that the article mentions Col. Olcott and his revival of Buddhism in Ceylon – although, we find it ironic that the writer throws Olcott and Anagarika Dharmapala into the same bag as the missionaries – the very people whose influence HPB and Olcott were so determined to combat in India.

January 25, 2015 

‘The Father of the Congress’ by S. MUTHIAH

It’s Republic Day today, but to me today is the day a united India was born, the day when the whole country became a political unity, which it wasn’t on Independence Day, when several princely States were still deciding what to do. Leading India into this new age was the Indian National Congress founded 130 years ago after the seeds for it were sown at a Theosophical Society Convention in Madras in 1884 when Col. H.S. Olcott and A.O. Hume called for the founding of an Indian political party to speak for the people of India. With Hume travelling throughout India to champion this suggestion and helping organise the first Indian National Congress convention in Bombay on December 28-30, 1885, he became known as the ‘Father of the Indian National Congress’.

Allan Octavian Hume arrived in India in 1849 to serve in the Bengal Civil Service. He was only 20 years old. He was to become a Secretary in the Government of India in 1870 but was virtually hounded out of the Service in 1882 because of his criticisms of the Government. His concerns about the attitudes of the British began after the Great Revolt of 1857 when many of the promises made to India by Queen Victoria’s Government were not kept or only half-heartedly implemented. He wrote a book called Awakening that predicted an even bloodier uprising if ways were not found to give India self-government. He told the newly arrived Viceroy, Lord Northbrook, that the British were not welcome in India because “a studied and invariable disregard, if not actually contempt, for the opinions and feelings of our subjects is at present the leading characteristic in every branch of the administration.”

He met Mme. Blavatsky and Olcott soon after they arrived in India in 1879 and before long became a Theosophist. And it was as a delegate that he came to the convention under the Adyar banyan tree in 1884 and met the ‘Mylapore 17’ who had resolved that “a national movement for political ends” should be created. Hume made a clarion call of that. And the Indian National Union the ‘Mylapore 17’ sowed the seeds for what became the Indian National Congress a year later. Hume never sought to be its leader but served as its General Secretary till he left for England in 1894. What Hume started Annie Besant took over.

Today, on Republic Day, how many remember their contributions? In fact, how many, till Gujarat appropriated him last year, remember Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who truly made India one?

Tailpiece: Whenever I speak about ethnicity in Ceylon I half-jokingly say, it is ‘The Ugly Americans’, those do-gooders, who are responsible for the Island’s ethnic problems. It was the Scudders and Greens and other missionaries who brought first-rate Western education to Jaffna and created a well-educated class of Tamils who went to Colombo and got plum Government jobs. Later, Olcott, with Anagarika Dharmapala, last year honoured with an Indian stamp, revived Buddhism in the island, established Buddhist schools and designed the Buddhist flag, following which a new Buddhist militancy developed in Ceylon. Ergo!

Comments by Michael Gomes, our scholarly fact checker:

Though this article makes a good read, some facts are sacrificed for the story line. Certainly Olcott had nothing to do with the founding of the Congress as he worked to assure the British that the Society was not connected with politics. 

By the beginning of 1885 Hume had lost all faith in HPB and Olcott and worked to have them removed from the leadership of the TS. When the membership refused to accede to his demands he threw his energy into the founding of the Congress Party which was meant to replace the TS.

Olcott wrote HPB on Jan 19, 1886:
“Hume will probably leave us alone now. He has his heart's desire in being Boss-General in Native politics and is humbugging them with sweetness as he did us. He got together about a 100 Delegates at the Bombay "National Congress" and one fine day will leave them all sitting in the mud while he walks off with the band playing and colours flying to do some fresh deviltry. But meanwhile he will have helped Indian evolution, as he did with us.”

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