The Indian National Congress (About this sound pronunciation,INC, also commonly called the Congress is one of the two major contemporary political parties in India, the other being the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is one of the largest and oldest democratically-operating political parties in the world. Founded by freedom fighter activists in 1885, it dominated politics nationally for most of the period from 1947–89. There have been seven Congress Prime Ministers, the first being Jawaharlal Nehru, serving from 1947–64 and the most recent being Manmohan Singh, serving from 2004-14. The party's social liberal platform is largely considered to be on the centre-left of the Indian political spectrum.
The INC was primarily founded by a prominent member of the Theosophical Society, Allan Octavian Hume in 1885, along with Dadabhai Naoroji and Dinshaw Wacha. In the following decades, the Indian National Congress became a pivotal participant in the Indian Independence Movement, with over 15 million members and over 70 million participants in its struggle against British colonial rule in India. After independence in 1947, it became the nation's dominant political party; in the 15 general elections since independence, the Congress has won an outright majority on six occasions, and has led the ruling coalition a further four times, heading the central government for a total of 49 years.
From 2004–14, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, a coalition of several regional parties, formed the government, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As of July 2014, Congress is currently in power in twelve states, out of which in eight states viz Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram party has a majority of its own. In five other states viz. Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand it shares power with other alliance partners. Congress has previously directly ruled Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Goa. In the most recent general elections in 2014, the Congress registered its worst performance in a general election in independent India, winning only 44 seats of the 543-member house.
Social policy of the INC is officially based upon the Gandhian principle of Sarvodaya (upliftment of all sections of the society). In particular INC emphasises upon policies to improve the lives of the economically underprivileged and socially unprivileged sections of society. The party primarily endorses Social liberalism (seeks to balance individual liberty and social justice) and Secularism (asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings).
The history of the Indian National Congress falls into two distinct eras:
The pre-independence era, when the party was at the forefront of the struggle for independence;
The post-independence era, when the party has enjoyed a prominent place in Indian politics, since independence in 1947.
The Congress was founded by Indian and British members of the Theosophical Society movement, most notably Scotsman, A.O. Hume.It has been suggested that the idea was originally conceived in a private meeting of seventeen men after a Theosophical Convention held at Madras in December 1884. Hume took the initiative, and it was in March 1885 that the first notice was issued convening the first Indian National Union to meet in Poona the following December.
The Congress was founded in 1885, claiming that it had the objective of obtaining a greater share in government for educated Indians and to create a platform for civic and political dialogue of educated Indians with the British Raj. The Congress met once a year during December. The first meeting was scheduled to be held in Pune, but due to a plague outbreak there, the meeting was later shifted to Bombay. Hume, brought about this first meeting in Bombay, with the approval of Lord Dufferin, the then-Viceroy. Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee was the first President of the INC. The first session of the INC was held from 28–31 December 1885, and was attended by 72 delegates.
Within the next few years, the demands of the INC became more radical in the face of constant opposition from the government, and the party decided to advocate in favour of the independence movement, as it would allow for a new political system in which they could be a major party. By 1907, the party was split into two-halves—the Garam dal of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, or Extremists, and the Naram Dal (literally "soft faction") of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, or Moderates—distinguished by their attitude towards the British colonists. Under the influence of Tilak, the Congress became the first organised independence group in the country, bringing together millions of people against the British.
In the pre-independence era, the INC featured a number of prominent political figures: Dadabhai Naoroji, a member of the sister Indian National Association, elected president of the Congress in 1886, and between 1892-95 the first Indian Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons; Bal Gangadhar Tilak; Bipin Chandra Pal; Lala Lajpat Rai; Gopal Krishna Gokhale; and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, later leader of the Muslim League and instrumental in the creation of Pakistan. The Congress was transformed into a mass movement by Surendranath Banerjea and Sir Henry Cotton during the partition of Bengal in 1905 and the resultant Swadeshi movement. Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915 and with the help of the moderate group led by Ghokhale became president of the Congress and formed an alliance with the Khilafat Movement. In protest, a number of leaders—Chittaranjan Das, Annie Besant, Motilal Nehru—resigned from the Congress to set up the Swaraj Party. The Khilafat movement collapsed and the Congress was split.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, when he was the President of Congress party
With the rise of Mahatma Gandhi's popularity and his Satyagraha art of revolution came Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (the nation's first Prime Minister), Dr. Rajendra Prasad (the nation's first President), Khan Mohammad Abbas Khan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Chakravarti Rajgopalachari, Dr. Anugraha Narayan Sinha, Jayaprakash Narayan, Jivatram Kripalani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. With the already existing nationalistic feeling combined with Gandhi's popularity, the Congress became a forceful and dominant group of people in the country, bringing together millions of people by specifically working against caste differences, untouchability, poverty, and religious and ethnic boundaries. Although predominantly Hindu, it had members from just about every religion, ethnic group, economic class and linguistic group. In 1939, Subhas Chandra Bose, the elected president in both 1938 and 1939 resigned from the Congress over the selection of the working committee. The Indian National Congress was not the sole representative of the Indian polity and other parties existed at the time, notably the Hindu Mahasabha, Azad Hind Sarkar, and Forward Bloc.
The 1929 Lahore session under the presidency of Jawaharlal Nehru holds special significance as in this session "Purna Swaraj" (complete independence) was declared as the goal of the INC. 26 January, 1930 was declared as "Purna Swaraj Diwas", Independence Day, although the British would remain in India for 17 more years. To commemorate this date the Constitution of India was formally adopted on 26 January, 1950, even though it had been passed on 26 November, 1949. However, in 1929, Srinivas Iyenger was expelled from the Congress for demanding full independence, not just home rule as demanded by Gandhi.
After the First World War the party had become associated with Mahatma Gandhi, who remained its unofficial, spiritual leader and mass icon even as younger men and women became party president. The party was in many ways an umbrella organisation, sheltering within itself radical socialists, traditionalists and even Hindu and Muslim conservatives, but all the socialist groupings (including the Congress Socialist Party, Krishak Praja Party, and Swarajya Party members) were expelled by Gandhi along with Subhas Chandra Bose in 1939. Members of the Congress initially supported the sailors who led the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny. However they withdrew support at the critical juncture, when the mutiny failed. During the INA trials of 1946, the Congress helped to form the INA Defence Committee, which forcefully defended the case of the soldiers of the Azad Hind government. The committee declared the formation of the Congress' defence team for the INA and included famous lawyers of the time, including Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali, and Jawaharlal Nehru.
After Indian independence in 1947, the Congress became the dominant political party in the country. In the first general election in 1952 held after Independence, the party swept to power at the centre as well as in most state legislatures. The Congress was continuously in power until 1977, when it was defeated by the Janata Party. It returned to power in 1980 and ruled until 1989, when it was once again defeated. It formed the government in 1991 at the head of a coalition, as well as in 2004 and 2009, when it led the United Progressive Alliance. During this period it has remained centre-left in its social policies, while steadily shifting from a socialist to a neoliberal economic outlook.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Congress Prime Minister of India (1947–64).
From 1951 until his death in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru, the paramount leader of the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi dominated the Congress Party, which won overwhelming victories in the elections of 1951–52, 1957, and 1962.During his tenure, Nehru implemented policies based on import substitution industrialisation and advocated a mixed economy where the government controlled public sector would co-exist with the private sector.
Lal Bahadur Shastri, the third Prime Minister of the Republic of India and a leader of the Indian National Congress party.
He believed that the establishment of basic and heavy industry was fundamental to the development and modernisation of the Indian economy.The Nehru government therefore directed investment primarily into key public sector industries – steel, iron, coal, and power – promoting their development with subsidies and protectionist policies.Nehru embraced secularism, socialistic economic practices based on state driven industrialization, and a non-aligned and non-confrontational foreign policy, which became the hallmark of the modern Congress party.The policy of non-alignment during the Cold War meant that Nehru received financial and technical support from both power blocs in building India's industrial base from scratch.There were four known assassination attempts on Nehru.The first attempt on his life was during partition in 1947 while he was visiting NWFP (now in Pakistan) in a car. The second one was by a knife-wielding rickshaw-puller in Maharashtra in 1955.The third one happened in Bombay (now in Maharashtra) in 1956.The fourth one was a failed bombing attempt on train tracks in Maharashtra in 1961.Despite threats to his life, Nehru despised having too much security around him and did not like to disrupt traffic due to his movement.In 1964, Nehru died due to an aortic dissection and signalled the first time the party's future came into question.
In 1964 after Nehru's death, K. Kamaraj became the president of the All India Congress Committee.Kamalraj was also involved in the Indian independence movement and remembered for bringing school education to millions of the rural poor by introducing free education and the free Midday Meal Scheme during his tenure as chief minister of Tamil Nadu during 1954–63.Being part of a group of leaders in the Congress known as "the syndicate", he proposed the Kamaraj Plan (six Congress chief ministers and six senior Cabinet ministers to resign to take up party work).Kamaraj was widely credited as the "kingmaker" in Indian politics for bringing Lal Bahadur Shastri to power in 1964.As no other leader had Nehru's popular appeal, other than the gentle, soft-spoken and Nehruvian Lal Bahadur Shastri.Kamaraj stepped down as AICC president in 1967. Shastri as Prime Minister continued Nehru's policies of non-alignment and socialism.He became a national hero following the victory in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.His slogan of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan (Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer) became very popular during the war.Shastri retained many members of Nehru's Council of Ministers. T. T. Krishnamachari was retained as the Finance Minister of India, as was Defence Minister Yashwantrao Chavan.He appointed Swaran Singh to succeed him as External Affairs Minister.
Shashtri appointed Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru and former Congress President, as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting.Gulzarilal Nanda continued as the Minister of Home Affairs.Shashtri continued Nehru's policy of non-alignment but also built closer relations with the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the formation of military ties between the Chinese People's Republic and Pakistan, Shastri's government decided to expand the defence budget of India's armed forces. He also promoted the White Revolution – a national campaign to increase the production and supply of milk by creating National Dairy Development Board.Shastri's tenure witnessed the Madras anti-Hindi agitation of 1965.On 11 January 1966, Prime Minister Shastri died in Tashkent, the day after signing the Tashkent Declaration, reportedly due to a heart attack but circumstances of his death still remain a mystery.
In 1966, after Shastri's death, the Congress party elected, Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, over the Morarji Desai as their leader. Once again, Kamaraj was instrumental in achieving this result. In 1967, following a poor showing in the general election, Indira Gandhi started progressively moving to the left in the political spectrum. In 1969, after falling out with senior party leaders on a number of issues, the party president S. Nijalingappa expelled Indira Gandhi from the party.Gandhi, in turn floated her own faction of the Congress party and managed to retain most of the Congress MPs on her side with only 65 on the side of Congress. In the mid-term parliamentary elections held in 1971, the Gandhi-led Congress Party scored a landslide victory on a platform of progressive policies such as poverty elimination (Garibi Hatao).The progressive policies of the Congress under Indira Gandhi, prior to the 1971 elections, also included proposals for the abolition of Privy Purse to former rulers of the Princely states and the 1969 nationalization of the fourteen largest banks in India.
Indira Gandhi, second-longest-serving Prime Minister of India and the only woman to hold the office.
In the mid-1970s, the New Congress Party’s popular support began to fracture. From 1975, Gandhi’s government grew increasingly more authoritarian, and unrest among the opposition grew. On 12 June, 1975, the High Court of Allahabad declared Indira Gandhi's election to the Lok Sabha void on grounds of electoral malpractice.However, Gandhi rejected calls to resign and announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. Gandhi moved to restore order by ordering the arrest of most of the opposition participating in the unrest. Her cabinet and government then recommended that President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed declare a state of emergency, because of the disorder and lawlessness. Accordingly, Ahmed declared a State of Emergency caused by internal disorder, based on the provisions of Article 352 of the Constitution, on 25 June 1975. The 19 months of the Emergency saw widespread oppression and abuse of power by Gandhi's unelected younger son, Sanjay Gandhi and his close associates.This period of oppression ended when on 23 January, 1977, Gandhi called fresh elections to the Lok Sabha for March and released all political prisoners.The Emergency officially ended on 23 March, 1977.In the parliamentary elections held in March 1977, the opposition Janata Party scored a landslide victory over the Congress Party, winning 295 seats in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India’s parliament) against 153 for the Congress; Gandhi herself lost to her Janata opponent. On January 2, 1978, she and her followers seceded and formed a new opposition party, popularly called Congress the I signifying Indira. Over the next year, her new party attracted enough members of the legislature to become the official opposition.
In November 1978, Gandhi regained a parliamentary seat, and in January 1980, following a landslide victory for the Congress , she was once again elected prime minister.In 1981, the national election commission declared Congress the real Indian National Congress. In 1996, the I designation was dropped.In her new term as Prime minister, Gandhi faced the personal loss of the death of her younger son and political heir, Sanjay Gandhi, in a plane crash in June 1980.This led her to induct her elder pilot son, Rajiv Gandhi to enter politics. Gradually, Indira Gandhi grew more authoritarian and autocratic in her policies and outlook and became the central figure of the Indian National Congress party. As Prime Minister, Gandhi became known for her political ruthlessness and unprecedented centralisation of power. Gandhi's term as Prime Minister also witnessed increasing turmoil in Punjab with demands for Sikh autonomy by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his militant followers.In 1983, they headquartered themselves in the Golden Temple and started accumulating weapons.After several futile negotiations, Gandhi, in June 1984, ordered the Indian army to enter the Golden Temple in order to establish control over the temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab and remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the complex buildings. This event was known as Operation Blue Star.On 31 October 1984, two of Gandhi's bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, shot her with their service weapons in the garden of the Prime Minister's residence, in response to her actions in authorising Operation Blue Star.The shooting occurred as she was walking past a wicket gate guarded by Satwant and Beant. She was to have been interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television. Beant Singh shot her three times using his side-arm, and Satwant Singh fired 30 rounds.Later, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots took place over the assassination of Indira Gandhi where more than 3000 people were killed.
See also: The Emergency (India)
Rajiv Gandhi, former prime minister of India and president of the Indian National Congress, prior to his assassination in 1991
In 1984, Indira Gandhi's son, Rajiv Gandhi became nominal head of the party and, upon her assassination in October 1984, he became prime minister.In December, he led the Congress Party to a landslide victory in which it secured 401 seats in the legislature.His administration took vigorous measures to reform the government bureaucracy and liberalise the country’s economy.Gandhi’s attempts to discourage separatist movements in Punjab and Kashmir backfired, however, and after his government became embroiled in several financial scandals, his leadership became increasingly ineffectual.Gandhi was regarded as a nonabrasive person who consulted other party members and refrained from hasty decisions.The Bofors scandal shattered his image as an honest politician; however he was posthumously cleared over this allegation in 2004.On 21 May 1991, Gandhi was killed by a bomb concealed in a basket of flowers carried by a woman associated with the Tamil Tigers.
P V Narasimha Rao, who served as the tenth Prime Minister of India (1991–96).
He was campaigning in Tamil Nadu for upcoming parliamentary elections. In 1998, an Indian court convicted twenty six people in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi.The conspirators, who consisted of Tamil militants from Sri Lanka and their Indian allies, had sought revenge against Gandhi because the Indian troops he sent to Sri Lanka in 1987 to help enforce a peace accord there had ended up fighting the Tamil separatist guerrillas.
Rajiv Gandhi was succeeded as party leader by P.V. Narasimha Rao, who was elected prime minister in June 1991.His ascendancy to the prime ministership was politically significant in that he was the first holder of this office from South India. He led an important administration, overseeing a major economic transformation and several home incidents affecting national security of India.Rao who held the Industries portfolio was personally responsible for the dismantling of the Licence Raj as this came under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.He is often referred to as the "Father of Indian Economic Reforms"Future prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh continued the economic reform policies pioneered by Rao's government. Rao accelerated the dismantling of the Licence Raj, reversing the socialist policies of the previous governments.He employed future prime minister, Manmohan Singh as his |Finance Minister to embark on a historic economic transition. With Rao's mandate, Singh launched India's globalisation angle of the reforms that involved implementing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies to rescue the almost bankrupt nation from economic collapse.Rao was also referred to as Chanakya for his ability to steer tough economic and political legislation through the parliament at a time when he headed a minority government.By 1996, however, the party’s image was suffering from various reports of corruption, and in elections that year the Congress Party was reduced to 140 seats, its lowest number in the Lok Sabha to that point, becoming parliament’s second largest party. Rao subsequently resigned as prime minister and, in September, as party president.He was succeeded as president by Sitaram Kesri, the party’s first non-Brahmin leader.
See also: Assassination of Indira Gandhi and 1984 anti-Sikh riots
In the 1998 general elections, the Congress won 141 seats in the Lok Sabha, its lowest tally up until then. To boost its popularity among the masses and improve the party’s performance in the forthcoming elections, the Congress Party leaders urged Sonia Gandhi —widow of Rajiv Gandhi—to assume the leadership of the party. She had previously declined overtures to play an active role in party affairs, as she had hitherto stayed away from politics. After her election as party leader, a section of the party which objected to the choice on the basis of her Italian ethnicity, broke away and formed the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by Sharad Pawar. The breakaway faction commanded strong support in the state of Maharashtra, as well as limited support elsewhere. The remainder continued to be known as the Indian National Congress.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi's appointment failed to have an impact initially; in the snap polls called by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 1999, the Congress won 114 seats, its lowest ever tally. However, the leadership structure was not changed, and the party campaigned strongly in the assembly elections that followed, tasting considerable success; at one point, the Congress ruled 15 states nationwide. In the 2004 general election, the Congress forged an alliance with several regional parties, including the NCP and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The party campaigned on a plank of social inclusion and common people's welfare. This was in contrast to the "India Shining" campaign of the NDA, which sought to highlight the successes of the NDA government in making India a "modern nation". The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won 222 seats in the new parliament, defeating the NDA by a substantial margin. With the support of the communist front, the Congress was able to muster a majority and form the government. Despite massive support from within the party, Gandhi declined the post of prime minister, choosing to appoint Manmohan Singh instead. She, however, retained the post of party president, as well as heading the National Advisory Council (NAC).
Through its first term in office, the UPA government passed several landmark bills aimed at social reform. These included an employment guarantee bill, the Right to Information Act, and a right to education act. The NAC, as well as the left front that supported the government from the outside, were widely seen as being the driving force behind such legislation. However, the Left Front withdrew support to the government over disagreements about the nuclear deal with the United States. Despite the effective loss of 62 seats in parliament, the government survived the trust vote that followed. In the Lok Sabha elections that occurred soon after, the Congress won 207 seats, the highest tally by any party since 1991. The UPA as a whole won 262, thus easily enabling to form the government for the second time. The social welfare policies of the first UPA government are broadly credited for the victory, as is the perceived divisiveness of the BJP.
By the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, however, the party had lost much of its popular support, mainly because of several years of poor economic conditions in the country and growing discontent over a series of corruption scandals including 2G spectrum scam and Indian coal allocation scam involving government officials.Congress Party suffered a stunning loss, securing only 44 seats in the chamber. It was the party’s worst-ever performance in a national election and threw into question if it would continue to be identified as an officially recognised party in parliament or if its status would be reduced to that of a recognised group.
As of 2014, the election symbol of the Congress party, as approved by the Election Commission of India, is the right hand, with its palm-side facing front.It is usually seen in the centre of an Indian flag, which forms its background. The fingers of the hand are pressed together. The present hand symbol was first used by Indira Gandhi as she split from the Congress faction following the 1977 elections and created the New Congress.
The symbol of the original Congress during elections held between 1952 and 1971 was different - it had a symbol of two bullocks with plough.Indira's Congress during the period of 1971-77 had a cow with a suckling calf as its election symbol.
Ideology and policy positions
Since the 1950s, the INC has favored liberal positions (the term "liberal" in this sense describes modern liberalism, not classical liberalism) with support for social justice and a mixed economy. INC strongly supports Liberal nationalism, a kind of nationalism compatible with values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.
Historically, the party has favoured farmers, labourers, labour unions, and religious and ethnic minorities; it has opposed unregulated business and finance. In recent decades, the party has adopted a centrist economic and socially progressive agenda and has began to advocate for more social justice, affirmative action, a balanced budget, and a market economy. The economic policy adopted by the modern INC is free market policies, though at the same time it is in favour of taking a cautious approach when it comes to liberalising the economy claiming it is to help ensure that the weaker sectors are not affected too hard by the changes that come with liberalisation. In the 1990s, however, it endorsed market reforms, including privatisation and the deregulation of the economy. It also has supported secular policies that encourage equal rights for all citizens, including those in lower castes. The party supports the somewhat controversial concept of family planning with birth control. Throughout much of the Cold War period, the Congress Party championed a foreign policy of nonalignment, which called for India to form ties with both the West and communist countries but to avoid formal alliances with either. Nonetheless, American support for Pakistan led the party to endorse a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in 1971. In recent decades, the party began advocating welfare spending programs targeted at the poor.
In 2004, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance came to power, its chairperson Sonia Gandhi unexpectedly relinquished the premiership to Manmohan Singh. This Singh-led "UPA I" government executed several key legislations and projects, including the Rural Health Mission, Unique Identification Authority, the Rural Employment Guarantee scheme and the Right to Information Act.