The Safety Valve Theory Of Congress

Evolution Of Safety Valve Theory

 The Safety Valve theory in political science implies a mechanism in which citizens can express their displeasure through freedom of speech against legislation and government policies. But the point of discussion of this article is that, does the Safety Valve theory apply to the formation of Indian National Congress?

Safety Valve Theory
Safety Valve Theory

 The Safety Valve theory of formation of Indian National Congress hovers around the myth that Congress was created by A.O.Hume under the official guidance of Viceroy Dufferin in 1885. Lord Dufferin according to this theory wanted to create an organization to provide a safe, mild, peaceful and constitutional outlet or safety valve for the simmering discontent among the masses which might lead to a violent revolution larger than the Revolt of 1857.

 Generations of political analysts and students have been fed with this myth. The core of the myth is that a violent revolution was on the cards. This myth was thus interpreted by various sections according to their own convenience to justify the Safety Valve theory for the formation of Indian National Congress. This can be seen as:

  • The liberals welcome this view as it provides a food for thought and that unnecessary bloodbath was avoided by it.
  • The radicals use it to blame Congress as a compromising organization vis-a-vis imperialism if not loyalist.
  • The extreme right wing uses it to brand Congress as an anti national organization.
  • The leftists use it to prove that the Congress was created to safeguard the capitalist and British interests.

 But despite popular belief, the Safety Valve theory for formation of Congress has little basis in historical facts.

{Also Read : How to read Bipin Chandra India’s Struggle For Independence}

Proponents Of Safety Valve Theory Of formation Of Congress

  • Lala Lajpat Rai in 1916, in his ‘Young India’ used the Safety Valve theory to attack the moderates in the Congress. In this he argued that Congress was started by Lord Dufferin with the intention of saving the British empire rather than winning political liberties for India.
  • R. Palme Dutt in his authoritative work ‘India Today’  used the Safety Valve theory. He argued that Congress was created under a secret prearranged plan with the Viceroy to safeguard the British empire against the rising forces of popular discontent and anti British feeling. He also stressed that Congress was created as a vehicle or an organ of opposition of a real mass based revolution.
  • In 1939, M.S.Golwalkar the then RSS chief also used the Safety Valve Theory to attack Congress for its secularism and thus branded it as an anti national organization. In his pamphlet ‘We’, he argued that by leaning towards secularism, Congress has created a false notion that Muslims and Hindus are brothers. Muslims according to him are the real foes of Hindus. He also advocated a triangular fight in which Hindus were in conflict with the Muslims on one hand and with the British on the other.
  • Liberals like C.F.Andrews and Girija Mukherjee in their work ‘The Rise and Growth of the Congress in India’ fully accepted the Safety Valve theory of formation of Indian National Congress. According to them, the formation of Congress as a Safety Valve avoided the unnecessary bloodbath before and after 1947. 
  • Surprisingly Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee the first president of the INC, in 1898 gave a statement in ‘Indian Politics’ that the Congress as it was carried out in the later years is in reality the work of Lord Dufferin. In this he stated that A.O.Hume gathered Indian leaders to discuss social matters and not politics, but it was Lord Dufferin who asked Hume to do the opposite. Dufferin wanted Congress to be a political organization that would function as an opposition party albeit the opposition that would never come to power.

Historical Proof Of Safety Valve Theory Of Congress Formation

 The advocates of Safety Valve Theory of Congress formation give a historical proof that A.O.Hume was in possession of 7 volumes of secret reports while in Simla which claimed of a simmering discontent in Indian society. This discontent was soon to manifest in the form of a violent revolution of much bigger magnitude as compared to the Revolt of 1857. The genesis of the 7 volumes of secret reports lies in William Wedderburn’s (Retd. ICS Officer) biography of A.O.Hume. Wedderburn was privy to Hume’s papers that contained some interesting facts.

  • Hume was in touch with some advanced initiates called Gurus who had occult powers.
  • These Gurus had thousands of disciples spread all over the country and they communicated with each other through telepathy.
  • In 1881, Hume came under the spell of Madam Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophical Society of India.
  • Madam Blavatsky introduced one of the Gurus to Hume. It was this guru who informed Hume of a simmering discontent against the British rule in India even in the remotest parts.

Thus William Wedderburn’s biography of A.O.Hume was taken as the gospel truth by the advocates of Safety Valve theory of Congress formation. The secret volumes were taken as a historical fact by a generation of scholars and historians. But when they were searched in the National archives, nothing was found. The argument for their absence in the National Archives was that the British might have destroyed them before their departure from India. 

Counter Arguments For The Existence Of Secret Volumes

 Some logical questions arise when it comes to the said secret volumes.

  • How did Hume get access to Home department files or CID reports when he was Secretary to the departments of Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce?
  • How did Hume see those reports in Simla when home department files were kept in Delhi and these files were never sent to Simla?
  • From where would 30000 reporters come? The government would engage at the most a few hundred men to report from all over India.
  • If Hume was privy to the secret volumes in 1878, then why did the government wait for 7 long years to form the Indian National Congress?
  • If these were not government reports then what were they?

Safety Valve Theory Of Congress Formation – Debunked

  • All discussions of Hume with Indian leaders were related to forming a political association and not a social one.
  • All the works of pre-Congress associations in Bengal, Bombay and Madras Presidencies were political in nature.
  • A.O.Hume, after his retirement from ICS had been urging Indians to form a political association. Thus the direction of Dufferin to Hume for the creation of a political argument is baseless.
  • In 1885, B.M.Malabari wrote an article in the ‘Indian Spectator’ urging educated Indians to inaugurate a movement of social reform. A.O.Hume criticized it arguing that political reforms should take precedence over social reforms.
  • In 1888, Lord Dufferin in the St.Andrew’s Day dinner speech publicly criticized the Congress for pursuing political interests rather than social ones that would benefit millions.
  • A definite confirmation of the fact that Hume never proposed a social gathering but a political one comes from the letter written by Dufferin in May 1885 to Lord Reay, the Governor of Bombay. In this he clearly stated that Hume is planning to create a political association of Indians. Also he urged Raey to be careful of the Congress.
  • After the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, Dufferin distanced himself from Hume.
  • 1886 onwards he attacked the Bengali Baboos and Maratha Brahmins to be inspired by questionable motives.
  • Dufferin and his fellow associates in India were never sympathetic towards Congress. In 1888, Dufferin wrote to Raey “we cannot allow Congress to exist”.

 Thus all these points do not lend any credence to the Safety Valve Theory of Congress formation.


 The Safety Valve Theory of Congress formation was a myth that primarily originated from William Wedderburn’s biography of A.O.Hume published in 1916. Many prominent leaders and scholars believed in this myth by considering the biography a historical fact. Even if we assume that Hume and other liberals hoped to use Congress as a Safety Valve, we can safely say that Congress hoped to use Hume as a lightning conductor

Safety Valve Theory UPSC

 The safety valve theory is oftenly asked in prelims as well as in Mains. Though questions are not asked on a regular basis, a clear understanding of this theory as a myth gives good insights to the candidates in analyzing the entire freedom struggle in a rational manner.


What is safety valve of India?

The Safety Valve theory is associated with the formation of Indian National Congress. It is basically a myth. The Indian National Congress was formed as a culmination of political events happening in the 1870s and early 1880s. Formation of Congress had become an objective necessity.

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