The national movement from the very beginning popularised democratic ideals and institutions among the people and struggled for the introduction of parliamentary institutions on the basis of popular elections. Much attention was also paid to the defence of civil liberties and freedom of press. It may be argued that the Indian National Congress did not reach the entire mass of the Indian people. In various places, historians have shown that local initiatives were taken to mobilise people on demands which were specifically to do with their local exploitation and miserable condition. These movements, though not under the Congress ideology, did draw inspiration from the life style and messages of a leader like Gandhiji.
Though these movements’ did not succeed in realising their aims and objectives and were often repressed by the colonial government, they were not total failures. In the local tradition, they symbolised and embodied the struggle for a more just and humane existence, in the post-independence India they gave us a rich legacy to draw upon for the purposes of achieving social and economic transformation. The freedom struggle under the Indian National Congress was broadly an all-India movement transcending different social and political barriers. The movement itself was based on modern values and ideals, which reflected the broad socio-economic and political vision of its leadership. This vision was that of a democratic, civil libertarian and secular India based on “a self-reliant egalitarian order and an independent foreign policy.” The major achievements of this struggle under the Indian National Congress were that the movement popularised democratic ideas and institutions in India. The Indian National Congress itself was shaped on a democratic basis in the form of a parliament. In its forums free speech and opinion was encouraged.
This encouragement was linked to the nationalists in the freedom struggle and fight against attacks on freedom of press, expression and association and they made these freedoms an integral part of the national movement. The ministries they formed in 1937-39 extended the scope of civil liberties. These civil liberties were not just meant for a select few but extended to include the defence of those groups who could be politically and ideologically opposed to them or different from them e.g., Congressmen defended communists in different trials etc.
In 1928, the Public safety bill was opposed both by Conservatives and Liberals. In post-independence India, this struggle for civil liberties had a major impact on the way our constitution shaped up. The section on Fundamental Rights and especially Article 19 reflect this struggle for civil liberties. The right to freedom of speech, movement and association is in a major way a contribution of the struggle waged in times of freedom. However, there were major discontinuities also The Congress leadership as it adjusted to the post- independence era developed features of a ruling party typically wedded to power. Various decisions like the dismissal of the communist ministry of Kerala were taken in an authoritarian manner. In the period of 1970s onwards there was a total collapse of institutions of governance and democracy.
The ideals of the national movement got a major setback with the imposition of emergency in 1975. In this period all major civil and political freedoms were suspended and taken away from the people, it was to the credit of the resilience of the Indian people and the democratic processes they had undergone that they were able to wage a struggle against emergency and vote a new government to power.