Indian National Congress – Study Material
The Indian National Congress is a broadly based political party in India. Founded in 1885, it was the first modern nationalist movement to emerge in the British Empire in Asia and Africa. From the late 19th century, and especially after 1920, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Congress became the principal leader of the Indian independence movement. Congress led India to independence from Great Britain, and powerfully influenced other anti-colonial nationalist movements in the British Empire.
Congress is a secular party whose social liberal platform is generally considered to be on the centre-left of Indian politics. Congress’ social policy is based upon the Gandhian principle of Sarvodaya—the lifting up of all sections of society—which involves the improvement of the lives of economically underprivileged and socially marginalised people The party primarily endorses social liberalism—seeking to balance individual liberty and social justice, and secularism—asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings.
After India’s independence in 1947, Congress formed the central government of India, and many regional state governments. Congress became India’s dominant political party; as of 2015, in the 15 general elections since independence, it has won an outright majority on six occasions and has led the ruling coalition a further four times, heading the central government for 49 years. There have been seven Congress Prime Ministers, the first being Jawaharlal Nehru (1947–1964), and the most recent Manmohan Singh (2004–2014). Although it did not fare well in the last general elections in India in 2014, it remains one of two major, nationwide, political parties in India, along with the right-wing, Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the 2014 general election, Congress had its poorest post-independence general election performance, winning only 44 seats of the 543-member Lok Sabha.
The Indian National Congress conducted its first session in Bombay from 28–31 December 1885 at the initiative of retired Civil Service officer Allan Octavian Hume. In 1883, Hume had outlined his idea for a body representing Indian interests in an open letter to graduates of the University of Calcutta. Its aim was to obtain a greater share in government for educated Indians, and to create a platform for civic and political dialogue between them and the British Raj. Hume took the initiative, and in March 1885 a notice convening the first meeting of the Indian National Union to be held in Poona the following December was issued. Due to a cholera outbreak there, it was moved to Bombay.
Early Years :
- At the beginning of the 20th century, Congress’ demands became more radical in the face of constant opposition from the British government, and the party decided to advocate in favour of the independence movement because it would allow a new political system in which Congress could be a major party. By 1905, a division opened between the moderates led by Gokhale, who downplayed public agitation, and the new extremists who advocated agitation, and regarded the pursuit of social reform as a distraction from nationalism. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who tried to mobilise Hindu Indians by appealing to an explicitly Hindu political identity displayed in the annual public Ganapati festivals he inaugurated in western India, was prominent among the extremists.
- Congress included a number of prominent political figures. Dadabhai Naoroji, a member of the sister Indian National Association, was elected president of the party in 1886 and was the first Indian Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons(1892–1895). Congress also included Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Jinnah was a member of the moderate group in the Congress, favouring Hindu–Muslim unity in achieving self-government.
Congress a Mass Movement :
Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915. With the help of the moderate group led by Ghokhale, Gandhi became president of Congress. After the First World War, the party became associated with Gandhi, who remained its unofficial spiritual leader and icon. He formed an alliance with the Khilafat Movement in 1920 to fight for preservation of the Ottoman Caliphate, and rights for Indians using civil disobedience or satyagraha as the tool for agitation. In 1923, after the deaths of policemen at Chauri Chaura, Gandhi suspended the agitation. In protest, a number of leaders, Chittaranjan Das, Annie Besant, and Motilal Nehru, resigned to set up the Swaraj Party. The Khilafat movement collapsed and Congress was split.
Post Independence :
After Indian independence in 1947, the Indian National Congress became the dominant political party in the country. In 1952, in the first general election held after Independence, the party swept to power in the national parliament and most state legislatures. It held power nationally until 1977, when it was defeated by the Janata coalition. It returned to power in 1980 and ruled until 1989, when it was once again defeated. The party 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 the Congress remained centre-left in its social policies while steadily shifting from a socialist to a neoliberal economic outlook. The Party’s rivals at state level have been national parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM), and various regional parties, such as the Telugu Desam Party, Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party.
Indira Era (1966-1984) :
- After Shastri’s death, Congress elected Indira Gandhi as leader over Morarji Desai. Once again, politician Kamarajwas instrumental in achieving this result. In 1967, following a poor performance in the general election, Indira Gandhi started moving towards the political left. In mid-1969, she was involved in a dispute with senior party leaders on a number of issues. The two major issues were Gandhi supporting the independent candidate, V. V. Giri, rather than the official Congress party candidate, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, for the vacant post of the President of India. The second issue was Mrs. Gandhi’s abrupt nationalization of the 14 biggest banks in India, which resulted in the resignation of the finance minister, Morarji Desai. Later in the year, the Congress party president, S. Nijalingappa, expelled her from the party for indiscipline.Mrs. Gandhi as a counter-move launched her own faction of the INC. Mrs. Gandhi’s faction, called Congress (R), was supported by most of the Congress MPs while the original party had the support of only 65 MPs.
- The New Congress Party’s popular support began to wane in the mid-1970s. 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, the lower house of India’s parliament, void on the grounds of electoral malpractice. However, Gandhi rejected calls to resign and announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. She moved to restore order by ordering the arrest of most of the opposition participating in the unrest. In response to increasing disorder and lawlessness, Gandhi’s cabinet and government recommended that President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmeddeclare a State of Emergency, which he did on 25 June 1975 based on the provisions of Article 352.
Rajiv Gandhi and Rao Era (1985-1998) :
- In 1984, Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi became nominal head of Congress, and went on to become prime minister upon her assassination. In December, he led Congress to a landslide victory, where it secured 401 seats in the legislature. His administration took measures to reform the government bureaucracy and liberalise the country’s economy. Rajiv Gandhi’s attempts to discourage separatist movements in Punjab and Kashmir backfired. After his government became embroiled in several financial scandals, his leadership became increasingly ineffectual. Gandhi was regarded as a non-abrasive person who consulted other party members and refrained from hasty decisions. The Bofors scandal damaged his reputation as an honest politician, but he was posthumously cleared of bribery allegations 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.
- By 1996, the party’s image was suffering from allegations of corruption, and in elections that year, Congress was reduced to 140 seats, its lowest number in the Lok Sabha to that point. Rao later 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.
Modern Era :
The 1998 general election saw Congress win 141 seats in the Lok Sabha, its lowest tally until then To boost its popularity and improve its performance in the forthcoming election, Congress leaders urged Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi’s widow, to assume leadership of the party. She had previously declined offers to become actively involved in party affairs, and had stayed away from politics. After her election as party leader, a section of the party that objected to the choice because 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 and limited support elsewhere. The remainder continued to be known as the Indian National Congress.
Election Symbols :
As of 2014, the election symbol of Congress, as approved by the Election Commission of India, is an image of a right hand with its palm facing front and its fingers pressed together; this is usually shown in the centre of a tricolor flag. The hand symbol was first used by Indira Gandhi when she split from the Congress (R) faction following the 1977 elections and created the New Congress (I).
The symbol of the original Congress during elections held between 1952 and 1971 was an image of two bullocks with a plough. The symbol of Indira’s Congress (R) during the 1971–1977 period was a cow with a suckling calf.
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