Indian National Congress

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The Indian National Congress (भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) (INC, often called Congress) is a broad-based political party in India. Founded in 1885, the Congress led India to independence from Great Britain,[lower-alpha 1][1][lower-alpha 2][2] and powerfully influenced other anti-colonial nationalist movements in the British Empire.[lower-alpha 3][3] After India's independence in 1947, the Congress formed the government at center in most instances, and also many regional state governments.[4] The Congress is a secular, left-of-centre, party. 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, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).[lower-alpha 4][5]



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. The party 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. 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 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 has been national parties the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), and various regional parties such as the Telugu Desam Party.[citation needed]

Nehru/Shastri era (1947–66)[edit]

From 1951 until his death in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru was the Congress' paramount leader under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi, whose Indian independence movement dominated the Congress Party. Congress gained power in landslide victories in the general elections of 1951–52, 1957, and 1962.[6] During his tenure, Nehru implemented policies based on import substitution industrialisation and advocated a mixed economy, where the government-controlled public sector co-existed with the private sector.[7] He believed the establishment of basic and heavy industries was fundamental to the development and modernisation of the Indian economy.[6] The Nehru government directed investment primarily into key public sector industries – steel, iron, coal, and power – promoting their development with subsidies and protectionist policies.[7] Nehru embraced secularism, socialistic economic practices based on state-driven industrialisation, and a non-aligned and non-confrontational foreign policy that became typical of the modern Congress Party.[8] The policy of non-alignment during the Cold War meant Nehru received financial and technical support from both the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc to build India's industrial base from nothing.[9][10]

During his period in office, there were four known assassination attempts on Nehru.[11] The first attempt on his life was during partition in 1947 while he was visiting North-West Frontier Province in a car. The second was by a knife-wielding rickshaw-puller in Maharashtra in 1955.[12] The third attempt happened in Bombay in 1956.[13] The fourth was a failed bombing attempt on railway tracks in Maharashtra in 1961.[11] Despite threats to his life, Nehru despised having excess security personnel around him and did not like his movements to disrupt traffic.[11] In 1964, Nehru died because of an aortic dissection, raising questions about the party's future.[14][15][16]

After Nehru's death, K. Kamaraj became the president of the All India Congress Committee.[17] Kamaraj had also been involved in the Indian independence movement and he introduced education to millions of the rural poor by providing free education along with a free midday meal, when he was chief minister of Tamil Nadu (1954–63).[18]

As a member of "the syndicate", a group within the Congress, he proposed the Kamaraj Plan that encouraged six Congress chief ministers and six senior cabinet ministers to resign to take up party work.[19][20][21] Kamaraj was widely credited as the "kingmaker" in Indian politics for bringing Lal Bahadur Shastri to power in 1964.[22] No leader except Shastri had Nehru's popular appeal.[23] Shastri became a national hero following the victory in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.[24] His slogan, "Jai Jawan Jai Kisan" ("Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer"), became very popular during the war.[25] 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.[26] Shastri appointed Swaran Singh to succeed him as External Affairs Minister.[27]

Shashtri appointed Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter and former party president, Minister of Information and Broadcasting.[28] Gulzarilal Nanda continued as the Minister of Home Affairs.[29] As Prime Minister, Shastri continued Nehru's policy of non-alignment[30] but 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 China and Pakistan, Shastri's government expanded 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.[31]

The Madras anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 occurred during Shastri's tenure.[32][33] On 11 January 1966, a day after signing the Tashkent Declaration, Shastri died in Tashkent, reportedly of a heart attack but the circumstances of his death remain mysterious.[34][35][36]

Indira era (1966–84)[edit]

After Shastri's death, the Congress elected Indira Gandhi as leader over Morarji Desai. Once again, politician K. Kamaraj was instrumental in achieving this result. In 1967, following a poor performance in the general election, Indira Gandhi started moving towards the political left. In 1969, she was in dispute with senior party leaders on a number of issues; the party president S. Nijalingappa expelled her from the Congress.[37][38] Gandhi launched her own faction of the IRC, retaining the support of most of the Congress MPs, 65 of which supported the original party.[citation needed]

In the mid-term parliamentary elections held in 1971, the Gandhi-led Congress (R) Party won a landslide victory on a platform of progressive policies such as the elimination of poverty (Garibi Hatao).[39] The policies of the Congress (R) Party under Gandhi before the 1971 elections included proposals to abolish the Privy Purse to former rulers of the Princely states and the 1969 nationalisation of the 14 largest banks in India.[40]

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 wane. 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.[41] 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 Ahmed declare a State of Emergency, which he declared on 25  June 1975 based on the provisions of Article 352 of the Constitution.[citation needed]

During the nineteen-month emergency, widespread oppression and abuse of power by Gandhi's unelected younger son and political heir Sanjay Gandhi and his close associates occurred.[42][43][44] This period of oppression ended on 23 January 1977, when Gandhi released all political prisoners and called fresh elections to the Lok Sabha to be held in March.[45] The Emergency officially ended on 23 March 1977;[46] in that month's parliamentary elections, the opposition Janata Party Won a landslide victory over the Congress, winning 295 seats in the Lok Sabha against the Congress' 153. Gandhi lost her seat to her Janata opponent, Raj Narain. On 2 January 1978, she and her followers seceded and formed a new opposition party, popularly called Congress (I)—the I signifying Indira. During the next year, her new party attracted enough members of the legislature to become the official opposition.[citation needed]

In November 1978, Gandhi regained a parliamentary seat. In January 1980, following a landslide victory for the Congress (I), she was again elected prime minister.[47] The national election commission declared Congress (I) to be the real Indian National Congress for 1984 general election and the designation I was dropped.[48][49]

During Gandhi's new term as prime minister, her youngest son Sanjay died in an aeroplane crash in June 1980.[50][51] This led her to encourage her elder son Rajiv, who was working as a pilot, to enter politics. Gradually, Indira Gandhi's politics and outlook grew more authoritarian and autocratic, and she became the central figure of the Congress. As prime minister, she became known for her political ruthlessness and unprecedented centralisation of power.[citation needed]

Gandhi's term as prime minister also saw increasing turmoil in Punjab with demands for Sikh autonomy by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his militant followers.[52] In 1983, they headquartered themselves in the Golden Temple in Amritsar and started accumulating weapons.[53] In June 1984, after several futile negotiations, Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to enter the Golden Temple to establish control over the temple complex and remove Bhindranwale and his armed followers. This event is known as Operation Blue Star.[54]

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 authorisation of Operation Blue Star.[53] Gandhi was due to be interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov, who was filming a documentary for Irish television.[55] Her assassination prompted the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, during which more than 3,000 people were killed.[56]

Rajiv Gandhi and Rao era (1985–98)[edit]

File:Rajiv Gandhi (1987).jpg
Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India (1984–1989) and President of the Indian National Congress

In 1984, Indira Gandhi's son Rajiv Gandhi became nominal head of the Congress and became prime minister upon her assassination.[57] In December, he led the Congress to a landslide victory, in which it secured 401 seats in the legislature.[58] His administration took measures to reform the government bureaucracy and liberalise the country's economy.[59] 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.[60] Gandhi was regarded as a non-abrasive person who consulted other party members and refrained from hasty decisions.[61] The Bofors scandal damaged his image as an honest politician but he was posthumously cleared of bribery allegations in 2004.[62] 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.[63] He was campaigning in Tamil Nadu for upcoming parliamentary elections. In 1998, an Indian court convicted 26 people in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi.[64] 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 fought with Tamil separatist guerrillas.[65][66]

File:P V Narasimha Rao.png
P. V. Narasimha Rao served as the tenth Prime Minister of India (1991–96). He was the first prime minister from South India and the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Rajiv Gandhi was succeeded as party leader by P. V. Narasimha Rao, who was elected prime minister in June 1991.[67] His rise to the prime ministership was politically significant because he was the first holder of this office from South India. His administration oversaw a major economic change and several home incidents that affected India's national security.[68] Rao, who held the Industries portfolio, was personally responsible for the dismantling of the Licence Raj, which came under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.[69] He is often referred to as the "father of Indian economic reforms".[70][71]

Future prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh continued the economic reform policies begun by Rao's government. Rao accelerated the dismantling of the Licence Raj, reversing the socialist policies of previous governments.[72][73] He employed Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister to begin a historic economic change. With Rao's mandate, Singh launched India's globalisation reforms that involved implementing International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies to prevent India's impending economic collapse.[69] Rao was also referred to as Chanakya for his ability to push tough economic and political legislation through the parliament while he headed a minority government.[74][75]

By 1996, the party's image was suffering from allegations of corruption, and in elections that year the Congress was reduced to 140 seats, its lowest number in the Lok Sabha to that point, becoming parliament's second largest party. Rao later resigned as prime minister and, in September, as party president.[76] He was succeeded as president by Sitaram Kesri, the party's first non-Brahmin leader.[77]

Modern era[edit]

File:Sonia Gandhi (cropped).jpg
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the leader of INC since 1998.

In the 1998 general election, the Congress won 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 – widow of Rajiv Gandhi – to assume the leadership of the party. She had previously declined offers to become actively involved in party affairs and had hitherto 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.[citation needed]

Sonia Gandhi's appointment initially failed to have an impact; in the snap polls called by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 1999, the Congress won 114 seats – its lowest tally ever. The leadership structure was unaltered and the party campaigned strongly in the assembly elections that followed. At these elections the party was successful; at one point, the Congress ruled 15 states.[citation needed] In the 2004 general election, the Congress forged an alliance with several regional parties, including the NCP and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The party's campaign emphasised social inclusion and the welfare of common people, contrasting with the NDA's "India Shining" campaign that sought to highlight the successes of the NDA government in making India into a "modern nation".[citation needed] The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won 222 seats in the new parliament, defeating the NDA by a substantial margin. With the support of the communist front, the Congress won a majority and formed the new government. Despite massive support from within the Party, Gandhi declined the post of prime minister, choosing to appoint Manmohan Singh instead. She remained as party president and headed the National Advisory Council (NAC).[78]

During its first term in office, the UPA government passed several 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. The Left Front withdrew its support of the government over disagreements about the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement. Despite the effective loss of 62 seats in parliament, the government survived the trust vote that followed.[79] In the Lok Sabha elections that occurred soon after, the Congress won 207 seats, the highest tally of any party since 1991. The UPA as a whole won 262, enabling to form the government for the second time. The social welfare policies of the first UPA government and the perceived divisiveness of the BJP are broadly credited for the victory.[80]

By the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 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 allegations involving government officials, including the 2G spectrum scam and the Indian coal allocation scam.[81][82] The Congress won only 44 seats,[83] which was its worst-ever performance in a national election that brought into question whether it would continue to be identified as an officially recognised party.[84]

Ideology and policies[edit]

The Congress is a civic nationalist party that follows a form of nationalism that supports the values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.[85]

Throughout much of the Cold War period, the Congress supported a foreign policy of nonalignment that called for India to form ties with both the Western and eastern Blocs but to avoid formal alliances with either.[citation needed] American support for Pakistan led the Party to endorse a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in 1971.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Economic policy[edit]

The Congress endorses a mixed economy in which the private sector and the state direct the economy, reflecting characteristics of both market economies and planned economies. The modern Congress advocates import substitution industrialisation; the replacement of foreign imports with domestic products. The party also believes mixed economies are likely to protect the environment, standardise the welfare system, and maintain employment standards and competition.[citation needed] The Congress also believes the Indian economy should be liberalised to increase the pace of development. In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced value added tax, which replaced sales tax, and has continued the Golden Quadrilateral and the highway modernisation program that was initiated by Vajpayee's government. In 2009, India achieved its highest GDP growth rate of 9% and became the second-fastest growing major economy in the world.[86]

Healthcare and education[edit]

In 2005, the Congress-led government started the National Rural Health Mission, which employed about 500,000 community health workers. It was praised by the American economist Jeffrey Sachs.[87] In 2006, it implemented a proposal to reserve 27% of seats in the All India Institute of Medical Studies (AIIMS), the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other central higher education institutions for Other Backward Classes, which led to 2006 Indian anti-reservation protests.[citation needed] The Singh government also continued the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme, which includes the introduction and improvement of mid-day school meals and the opening of new schools throughout India, especially in rural areas, to fight illiteracy.[88] During Manmohan Singh's prime-ministership, eight Institutes of Technology were opened in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Orissa, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.[89]

Security and home affairs[edit]

The Congress has strengthened anti-terrorism laws with amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).[90] The National Investigation Agency (India) (NIA) was created by the UPA government soon after the Nov 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in response to the need for a central agency to combat terrorism.[91] The Unique Identification Authority of India was established in February 2009 to implement the proposed Multipurpose National Identity Card with the objective of increasing national security.

Foreign policy[edit]

The Congress has continued the foreign policy started by P. V. Narasimha Rao. This includes the peace process with Pakistan and the exchange of high-level visits by leaders from both countries.[92] The party tried to end the border dispute with the People's Republic of China through negotiations.[93][94] Relations with Afghanistan have also been a concern of the party;[95] during Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi in August 2008, Manmohan Singh increased the aid package to Afghanistan for the development of schools, health clinics, infrastructure, and defence.[96] India is now as one of the single largest aid donors to Afghanistan.[96]

When in power between 2004 and 2014, the Congress worked on India's relationship with the United States. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the US in July 2005 to negotiate an Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. US President George W. Bush visited India in March 2006; during this visit a nuclear agreement that would give India access to American nuclear fuel and technology in exchange for the IAEA inspection of its civil nuclear reactors was proposed. Over two years of negotiations, followed by approval from the IAEA, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the US Congress, the agreement was signed on 10 October 2008.[97]

The Congress' policy has been to cultivate friendly relations with Japan and European Union countries including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.[98] Diplomatic relations with Iran have continued and negotiations over the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline have taken place.[99] In April 2006 New Delhi hosted an India–Africa summit that was attended by the leaders of 15 African states.[100] Congress' policy has also been to improve relations with other developing countries, particularly Brazil and South Africa.[101]



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  4. "During the first five decades of India's independence , the left-of-center, secular Indian National Congress (INC) and its factions have ruled almost continuously ... While the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ...[5]


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  • We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources.

  • I say, of the Congress, then, this... that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishment is not a spirit of sincerity and whole-heartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not the right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts, not the right sort of men to be leaders;... in brief, that we are at present the blind led, if not by the blind, at any rate by the one-eyed.
    • Sri Aurobindo, August 28, 1893, quoted from Sri Aurobindo, ., Nahar, S., Aurobindo, ., & Institut de recherches évolutives (Paris). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives. 3rd Edition (2000). [1]
  • The Congress at the present stage... what is it but a Fascist organization? Gandhi is the dictator like Stalin, I won't say like Hitler: what Gandhi says they accept and even the Working Committee follows him; then it goes to the All-India Congress Committee which adopts it, and then the Congress. There is no opportunity for any difference of opinion, except for Socialists who are allowed to differ provided they don't seriously differ. Whatever resolutions they pass are obligatory on all the provinces whether the resolutions suit the provinces or not; there is no room for any other independent opinion. Everything is fixed up before and the people are only allowed to talk over it... like Stalin's Parliament. When we started the [Nationalist] movement we began with the idea of throwing out the Congress oligarchy and open the whole organization to the general mass.
    • Sri Aurobindo, December 27, 1938, quoted from Sri Aurobindo, ., Nahar, S., Aurobindo, ., & Institut de recherches évolutives (Paris). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives. 3rd Edition (2000). [2]
  • The Congress movement was for a long time purely occidental in its mind, character and methods, confined to the English-educated few, founded on the political rights and interests of the people read in the light of English history and European ideals, but with no roots either in the past of the country or in the inner spirit of the nation.... To bring in the mass of the people, to found the greatness of the future on the greatness of the past, to infuse Indian politics with Indian religious fervour and spirituality are the indispensable conditions for a great and powerful political awakening in India. Others, writers, thinkers, spiritual leaders, had seen this truth. Mr. Tilak was the first to bring it into the actual field of practical politics.
    • Sri Aurobindo, 1918, quoted from Sri Aurobindo, ., Nahar, S., Aurobindo, ., & Institut de recherches évolutives (Paris). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives. 3rd Edition (2000). [3]

Further reading[edit]

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