Congress Party

views updated May 11 2018


CONGRESS PARTY Founded during Christmas week of 1885 as a "native parliament" for political expression and debate for the educated classes of British India, the Indian National Congress (commonly, the Congress Party of India) became one of the world's major political institutions of the twentieth century. It is one of the world's oldest political parties, having been established two decades before the British Labour Party, which ironically constituted the British government at the time of India's independence on 14 August 1947. Straddling three centuries, Congress continues as a major force in Indian politics.

Few political parties have demonstrated the capacity to persist and govern as has Congress, and it has done so in a system of enormous scale and complexity. In eleven of the fourteen national elections held through 2004, Congress returned the largest number of representatives to the Lok Sabha (House of the People), the lower house of India's Parliament. It received the largest number of votes in all but two elections; in all but five, it received at least twice the vote of the next party. Congress has formed the government at the national level for 45 of the years since independence, while five former leaders of the party have served as short-lived prime ministers for five of the remaining years.

This longevity has occurred in the context of a highly complex political system and diverse society. In the parliamentary elections held in May 2004, for example, the 671 million Indian voters, 58 percent of whom went to one or another of over 600,000 polling stations, were faced in one or another constituency by 5,435 candidates representing 261 different political parties, plus numerous independent candidates, contesting for 543 parliamentary seats. Elections were held in twenty-six states and Union territories, the five largest states of which, were they sovereign nations in the international system, would be counted among the ten most populous nations of the world. Many of the states comprise distinct languages, cultures, and social systems, the kinds of social formations that have frequently given rise to nationalism and the creation of sovereign states. The more than 1 billion people who call India home profess a wide variety of religions, Hinduism being the confession of some 80 percent, but with substantial divisions. Muslim communities in India are more populous than those in all but two other countries, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The character, role, and functioning of the Congress Party has been central in the creation and maintenance of this extraordinary experiment in democracy, though other parties and factors have been important as well.

An understanding of this political phenomenon that is the Congress Party requires an examination of its development, adaptation, leadership, and transformation in its pre-independence and nationalist phase, as well as in its postindependence and governance phase. In the nationalist phase, five dimensions were critical: development of consensus on political strategy, purpose, and creation of a democratic regime; creation of a complex and adaptive party organization; recruitment of successive generations of social groups into its fold; development of a distinctive and effective system of conflict management; and participation in governance. These dimensions became manifest and were prominent in different measure within three general periods: 1885–1920; 1920–1937; and 1937–1947. There are, of course, important demarcations within each.

The Pre-independence Period: Nationalism


For its first two decades Congress served to voice concerns and complaints to the colonial administration and to petition for expanded formal participation for Indians in the civil service and the councils of government. This early generation of activists, which included such luminaries as Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian elected to the British Parliament, Surendranath Banerjea, and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, advocated evolutionary political reforms (benefiting largely the Western-educated, professional, and propertied classes) and constructive and cooperative engagement with the British. While the colonial government was slow to reform, party sessions, mail service and the telegraph, and increased travel assisted this generation in their discovery of India and their discovery of themselves as Indians. They came to be known as the Moderates.

Another group, known as the Extremists, came to the fore in the first decade of the twentieth century. Led by the able and learned Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the Lokmanya (Leader of the People), they advocated radical action and noncooperation with the British, the selective use of violence for political ends, and the importance of mass support and action, and they portrayed themselves under the banner of Hindu symbols. While barred by the Moderates from participation in Congress after 1907 through the imposition of restrictions on membership and with the "assistance" of the British through arrests and incarceration, the Extremists reentered the party in 1916, less extreme than before, but with greater influence. They joined the erstwhile Moderates, who had become less moderate than before with the entry of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma, who was bent on using his confrontational experiments with truth developed and used so effectively in South Africa, and who saw Gokhale as his political guru.


A new consensus emerged within the Congress Party between 1916 and 1920. In 1920 the party declared purna swaraj (complete independence) as its ultimate objective, within the empire if possible, outside if necessary. It also accepted noncooperation and mass civil disobedience campaigns as appropriate strategies to achieve that end, the use of satyagraha (soul force), in Mahatma Gandhi's evocative language and deeply original formulation, movements that were to be conducted only under his leadership. Further, there was continued consensus on the institutions of representative democracy as being the appropriate form of government for India, but the Congress leadership found repressive actions by the British, such as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919 and its aftermath, as being so egregious that cooperation and participation in political reforms would have to await another day. Thus, by 1920, the two strands that had both defined and divided Congress in 1907 were joined through Gandhi's genius, achieving consensus on complete independence for the Indian political community and representative democracy as its system of government, with noncooperation and civil disobedience as legitimate strategies for their achievement. These dual elements defined the party's national consensus and were manifest in subsequent political agreements, the political reforms of 1935, the "Quit India" Movement of 1942, and the elections of 1945–1946.

Unlike all other parties of undivided India, the Congress Party arrived at independence with a nationwide organization and web of political affiliations that reached across all geographical regions with organizational connections from nationalist leaders at the center to activists in the village. While its annual meetings drew representatives from the various provinces of British India, at its meeting at Nagpur in central India in 1920, and enshrined in what is known as the Nagpur Constitution, the Congress leadership created a formal party organization for British India (those provinces where the British imposed direct colonial rule) that established regular membership with dues, formal procedures for selecting delegates to the All-India Congress Committee, an organizational hierarchy that reached from the national to the state to the local (municipal and district) level, and rules that governed the election of representatives from one level to the next. It also set forth the functions and authority of various party committees, leadership positions, and rules for the selection of party candidates for public office. It was here, too, that provincial party institutions in relevant areas were organized on the basis of major language groups, rather than according to the artificial administrative boundaries drawn by the colonial power. The party organization also determined policy and strategy to be pursued by its members elected to legislative bodies. And in 1936 the Congress Party formally extended its domain into the major states of princely India (where the British practiced indirect colonial rule) through creation of the All-India States' People's Congress. Well before the achievement of independence, Congress had established a complex and effective mass party organization throughout the Indian subcontinent.


Congress recruited successive generations of groups into its fold as it launched campaigns to remove the British from Indian soil and as it looked forward to the need for electoral support in a free and independent India. While effective in raising political consciousness and recruiting new groups into politics, civil disobedience campaigns were difficult to sustain. To develop sustained support, Congress pursued three major strategies. The first was to recruit people directly as regular duespaying members, many of whom came through party portals from mass campaigns. A second was to establish support from various functional groups through the creation of organizations such as the All-India Trades Union Congress, the All-India Kisan Sabha (Peasant Association), and the Harijan Sevak Sangh (Untouchable Service Society). A third and critically important strategy was to act as an entrepreneurial franchise, selectively and adroitly associating the party with a complexity of relatively autonomous provincial and local political and social movements that ranged from caste and depressed classes associations to secular political organizations. The Congress Party provided the latter with the legitimacy of the party's mantle, broader visibility, and an avenue of access to seek favor or redress from the colonial administration, while the latter provided Congress with access and political support at the grass roots. Congress avoided association, however, with movements over which it had limited control, and it did not extend support to others, such as peasant agitations against landed interests well-positioned in the party or strikes against business interests that were a source of financial support for party activities.

The party, in conceiving itself as an "open umbrella," was also home to a wide range of ideologically oriented groups, some of which operated more or less autonomously within the party fold. These groups included the Congress Socialist Party, the Communist Party of India, and for a period of time leaders of the All-India Muslim League, as well as Hindu revivalists of the Hindu Mahasabha, Pan-Islamic and educated Muslim elites, and Gandhian advocates of a communitarian and village-oriented society. In this way, Congress became a composite of much of Indian society and its vast array of caste and communal groups. Its leaders at independence included Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians, and while the elite came primarily from higher castes, there were representatives from those lower in the caste hierarchy as well. It included leaders representing political ideologies that ranged across the political spectrum.

Almost sixty-two years old at independence, the party had "learned" to manage internal conflict, and to recruit and socialize new generations of leaders and activists. By 1947 three generations of leaders had passed through the party. The founders had passed away long before independence, most before the party became a mass organization after 1920. Major divisions in the party, such as that between the Moderates and Extremists, were healed. Outcomes for leadership positions in party councils were determined by election, though mediation and arbitration were important elements of the procedural mix. A formal appellate system was established within the party organization, but except for a few notable instances, outcomes were accepted by winners and losers alike.

Conflict resolution was also managed within the party through a distinctive system of arbitration, the origins and legitimacy of which derived from norms and practices of conflict resolution in traditional society. In this system, a highly regarded leader of the party would hear petitions and complaints and render a decision that to the fullest extent possible had only winners, where "victory" for a loser in a particular contest would be postponed or would occur in a different forum. This system, with Gandhi the primary arbiter at the national level until shortly before his death, was maintained for two decades after independence with Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Kamraj Nadar, and their authoritative designees effectively performing this role.

With the approach of independence, however, and the prospects of contesting elections and governing imminent, some groups left Congress, some to return, but some to enter into intense opposition. The Muslim League left Congress before independence, its opposition and demands leading to the creation of Pakistan. During World War II, with Congress leaders jailed, Communists left to establish centers of support in areas where Congress was not strong. Shortly after independence, as the first national elections approached, socialist groups left the party to pursue their political fortunes outside. In many cases, those who left, returned; and in most cases, those who left were not accompanied by all their brethren.

Before independence, a large stratum of the Congress Party had the experience of participating in elections and in legislative institutions. A smaller but significant group had also served as members of provincial cabinets. Congress, of course, had been the principal petitioner of the British to create the institutions of representative government with provision for effective Indian participation. While these demands, even more so the reforms that followed them, were elementary at the beginning, they successively became more consequential. While minimal legislative participation at the provincial level had been established under the Indian Councils Act of 1892, the Morley-Minto Reforms incorporated in the Government of India Act of 1909 were the first of much consequence. A decade later the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms extended authority by the Government of India Act of 1919, providing for elected majorities in provincial councils with representatives elected from territorial constituencies, and for the appointment of elected representatives to Cabinet positions, with control over such "transferred" policy areas as education, public health, and local government, while control over major "reserved" policy areas such as the police, land revenue, and agriculture was retained by members of the colonial administration. Many members of Congress, calling themselves "Swarajists," contested the elections, while others chose not to participate but to stay outside the legislative process and protest British policies and actions.

The Government of India Act of 1935 was a watershed in the development of representative institutions, and with a number of amendments and elaborations later became the Constitution of India. Congress's approach to this new political order had antecedents in the Nehru Report, drafted by Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal, presented to the All-Parties Conference of 1929. The report advocated those institutions and set forth the principles that would be established to serve as the fundamental law of a democratic India. The principles established in the party's Karachi Resolution of 1931 would ultimately be enshrined in the Constitution as the Directive Principles of State Policy.

The Congress Party contested the elections held in 1937 and 1945–1946 under this act with considerable vigor and success, forming the governments in a number of provinces in 1937 and again in 1946. Leaders of the party were able to hone their skills in the matters of creating and maintaining legislative majorities, implementing important measures of public policy, and developing facility as political managers in a format of democratic governance. This continuum of demands for democratic political reforms and experience in elections and in governance resulted in a fundamental reservoir of knowledge and political skill.

Thus as Congress assumed the mantle of governance at independence it had established a sense of national political community, consensus on the creation of a democratic regime, a vast national organizational network and communications system, a stronger base of political support than any competitor, and experience as political entrepreneurs mobilizing social groups and as leaders and managers of the institutions of a democratic government. Congress was the embodiment of a new national political class adept in political bargaining, well schooled in the ways of party organizational management and parliamentary government, a class of political leaders and aspirants who had come to pursue politics as a vocation.

After Independence: Governance

As the Congress Party experienced change and transformation before independence. so it did thereafter, facing as it did the challenges of governance, a mass and increasingly demanding electorate, dissidence within its own ranks, new claimants for access to power, the rise of religious and regional sentiment in politics, and ultimately a changed international system with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the expansion of globalization and free markets. The phases of this transformation can be divided into the following periods: party institutionalization, 1947–1967; party division and the rise of the "personal party," 1967–1989; and the party as core of a shifting national coalition, 1989–2005. Subdivisions, of course, attend each.


Throughout the first period, the Congress Party was the core of a one-party dominant system, the "party of consensus," as political scientist Rajni Kothari named it, surrounded by "parties of pressure" that attempted to influence policies through contact with like-minded groups within the party, and to serve as a critic though not as an alternative governing party. Party strategy was one of responsiveness and accommodation of various interests within the polity. Cabinets immediately after independence included important non-Congress representatives, members of major religious groups, and leaders representing the wide ideological spectrum within the party. The national government was sensitive to issues that divided the national political community. It withdrew from its commitment to create Hindi as the sole national language, given that this was the mother tongue of less than half the population and was resisted by many, especially in South India, who insisted, some violently, that this would be akin to a form of internal colonialism. The government also acceded to strong regionalist demands, which were attracting mass support and siphoning party members into the opposition, that the states in India's federal system be reconstituted on the basis of linguistic cultures, a demand seen in some circles as undermining the very idea of a national political community. The government was deeply committed to integrating the more than five hundred princely states into the Indian Union, and did so in some cases by using coercion but also by providing the erstwhile princes with transitional formal positions of public authority, with "privy purses" (provision of public funding for their personal needs), and, continuing the party's long-time commitment to the right to private property, providing for retention of some of their estates. Each of these objectives was of fundamental consequence and required uncommon resolve and political astuteness; the integration of the princely states was one of a number of accomplishments of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the major contender and alternative to Jawaharlal Nehru for the prime ministership, and the primary leader of a strong conservative wing within the party.

Responsiveness and accommodation was further demonstrated in Congress's efforts to continue to mobilize and absorb the broadest possible scope of social groups into the party, thus continuing to fulfill its pre-independence claim that it and it alone represented the Indian nation. The Congress Party was successful in this regard, and normally enjoyed the "option of first refusal" with respect to new groups entering politics. To expand avenues of access, it increased the size of state legislative assemblies, and established a system of institutions in rural areas, avowedly committed to economic development, called panchayati raj (literally, "rule of a council of five").

The expansion of participation within the Congress Party, together with the reality of governance and the absence of effective opposition, resulted in the creation of a two-party system, "bi-factionalism" as it was sometimes called, within the party at the state level. Often, one factional coalition formed the government, while the "opposition" coalition controlled the party organization, awaiting an opportunity, whether through legislative defections or future elections, to replace the governing coalition.

Another major element of the Congress strategy of governance and party-building was public policy. In anticipation of the second national elections, and with socialist parties attracting substantial media and public attention, at its Avadi Session in 1955 the Congress Party adopted a resolution declaring itself committed to "a socialist pattern of society." At the same time, the government created a system of tariff protection to facilitate the development of Indian business and industry. An aspect of the socialist pattern of society was the establishment of a large public sector, within which the national government established ownership of the "commanding heights" of the economy, areas such as steel, transportation, and natural resources, in which capital investment requirements exceeded the capacity of domestic private resources. As part of its policy of economic protection, and with the avowed intent of encouraging efficient resource utilization, Congress also established a system of permits and licenses that were required in order to conduct business and that had the added result of providing the party with control over public resources, which proved instrumental in developing support at the polls.


With the death of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 and that of his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966, the party had lost its two major arbiters of intraparty disputes. Nehru's death marked the end of the "tall leadership" of the party, leaders who had lived their lives almost exclusively in national politics rather than in the politics of provinces and states. Just as consequential was the rise of dissent within the party. Given the social basis of the Congress Party, which had increasingly become a state-level aggregation of locally based factions, conflicts within the party were initially manifested at the state level. What was so striking and had such far-reaching consequences for the Congress, particularly at the time of the 1967 elections, was the magnitude and the simultaneity of factional departures from the party. As a consequence, in the 1967 elections Congress governments were turned out of office in eight of India's sixteen major states.

These state-based defections were encouraged by the intensification of particularistic group identity. With the expansion of the range of public goods allocated and affected by the state, and given the relative scarcity of positions, groups within Congress began to perceive politics increasingly in terms of particularistic interests rather than in terms of a collective good. The party was increasingly seen in instrumentalist terms rather than as an institution with a purpose and role that transcended their own. A series of national surveys clearly established the erosion of party identification over the next two decades and in its stead an increase in voter identification with principal party leaders, initially Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, until her assassination in 1984, and then with her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, until his assassination in 1991.

The elections of 1967 thus mark a watershed in the transformation of the Congress Party from an institutionalized organization to one that started to experience division and organizational decline, the dominant successor being a "personal party," the cohesion of which was assisted by the actions and aura of Indira Gandhi as prime minister and president of a fictional formal party organization buoyed by mass appeals, the threat of prime ministerial actions to unseat state governments, and the selective use of state resources to attract electoral support. This "new" Congress Party, created in the context of an erosion of voter identity with Congress as an organization, was hastened by the first of a succession of splits in the national party. Congress split in 1969 between Prime Minister Gandhi and a coalition of powerful state leaders known as the Syndicate, who controlled the party organization and who had become disturbed at their inability to control a prime minister whom they had placed in power on the assumption that she would be submissive and attentive to their interests. This division resulted in the creation of two national Congress parties: the Congress (O), for Organization, the party of the Syndicate, which maintained control over most state and local party organizations as well as national party institutions; and the Congress (R), for Ruling, composed of a majority of Congress members of Parliament and which, with the support of Communist members of Parliament, continued to govern until the national elections of 1971.

With the prospect of facing the electorate and selecting party candidates without a party organization, the prime minister and her senior advisers in the Congress (R) Party and the government developed a three-prong strategy. The first was to hold national elections separate from state elections, which had always been held simultaneously in the past. The immediate impact of this arrangement was to de-link local issues, which were the primary basis of voter mobilization, from national ones and to thus buffer national politics from state-level conflicts. A second was to create an informal arrangement of political support through selected leaders at the state and local level, an arrangement that was ultimately formalized with organizational scaffolding for public consumption and for purposes of selecting candidates to contest the elections. The third was to focus the election campaign on the person of the prime minister, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the "founding" prime minister of India. This effort to develop direct mass support for creation of a new "personal party" included a campaign of public and media events that focused on the person of the prime minister and the use of a new and resonant slogan that had particular appeal to minorities and the dispossessed: Garibi Hatao! (Abolish Poverty!).

The Congress (R) Party was returned to power with a two-thirds majority in Parliament on the crest of 44 percent of the popular vote. The Congress (O) Party, on the other hand, which ran 238 candidates, saw only 16 of its candidates return victoriously, with the party attracting only 10 percent of the vote. After this turn of events, the Congress (O) Party for all practical purposes disappeared, its leaders and activists merging into opposition parties, others being accepted as prodigals back into Congress (R).

The Congress Party during the last three decades of the twentieth century underwent three additional splits. Congress (R) suffered its first major division in the 1977 national elections, which marked the end of Indira Gandhi's two-year "National Emergency," during which not only leaders of the opposition parties but also leaders of Congress (R) were jailed for alleged illegal activities or for what was believed to be their proclivity to act in a manner inimical to the public interest. A national coalition that included many former leaders of Congress (R) was established under the banner of the newly formed Janata Party to contest the elections. The results were a ringing indictment of the policies pursued by the national government during the "Emergency." Congress (R) won but two of 225 parliamentary seats in the Hindispeaking states of North India. The party lost all ten state elections held three months later.

Subsequent to this severe electoral setback, which witnessed the prime minister and many of her ministerial colleagues going down to defeat, a segment of the party led by some senior members formed a new Congress Party—the Congress (U), named after its leader and chief minister of Karnataka, Devraj Urs. This splinter from Congress (R) contested the elections of 1980, winning but 5 percent of the vote and 13 parliamentary seats, compared to the 40 percent of the vote and 67 percent of the seats for the newly named Congress (I), for Indira, the former Congress (R). Still another split occurred after these elections with the creation of Congress (S), named after Sharad Pawar, former and future chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, its founding leader, along with a number of other "young Turks" who felt their mobility severely thwarted by the iron-fisted control of the prime minister. Each party, however, had but a short life, the first disappearing after the death of its namesake and the latter after its dismal performance in the 1984 elections, where it won less than 2 percent of the vote and 5 parliamentary seats against Congress (I), which received just under 50 percent of the vote and won three-fourths of the parliamentary seats. Again, members of these "opposition" Congress parties in many cases found their way back into Congress (I).

In November 1984, after the apogee of her electoral success, Prime Minister Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, who were angered that she had ordered the Indian army to invade the Golden Temple in Amritsar to prevent it from continuing as a base harboring Sikh separatists and terrorists. While in deep mourning and with concern for is political future, the leadership of the Congress (I) Party elected her son, Rajiv Gandhi, as her successor, thus ushering in the third generation of Nehrus as India's preeminent leader. The new prime minister had been a reluctant recruit into politics, having had a career as an airlines pilot, and had agreed only after the death of his younger brother, Sanjay, who had demonstrated an extraordinary appetite for politics. The party declined in popularity under his leadership given his lack of political acumen, his lack of a compelling public presence, and his limited skill in management and in effectively articulating policy initiatives that could excite public interest and imagination. Thus, while winning 40 percent of the vote in the elections of 1989, Congress (I) won under 40 percent of the seats, and forfeited its claim to governance to a minority coalition of parties known as the National Front, led by a former leader of the Congress, Vishwanath Pratap Singh.


The election of 1989 marks the commencement of a tendency toward a two-party coalition in India's national politics. In each election from that time, no single party has won an outright majority of the seats in Parliament. A similar tendency has developed as well in the states. National coalitions for the two years after 1989 were unstable, with two different governments in power before the instability of coalitions prompted a call for new elections in 1991. And while these resulted in the Congress Party receiving the largest number of votes and seats, the party did not win a majority but continued in power for five years with the support of opposition parties. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in the election campaign of 1991, a tragic event that had the perverse consequence of benefiting his party at the polls. He was succeeded by P. V. Narasimha Rao, the first person from South India to serve as prime minister. A central cabinet minister of long standing, he initiated what would become far-reaching economic reforms. He selected Dr. Manmohan Singh as finance minister, a highly regarded economist who would himself become prime minister in 2004. The government under their leadership moved to dismantle the socialist infrastructure that had developed over the past half-century and which in their judgment had had a stultifying effect on economic growth. The government acted to remove many bureaucratic constraints placed on entrepreneurship, fostered privatization and private investment, and supported freer entry of the Indian entrepreneur into the global economy. The consequences of these actions included the beginning of sustained and substantial economic growth, as well as the deleterious effect of contributing to the maldistribution of wealth in a country already home to a multitude of the severely impoverished and poor.

The party also faced an increase in communal tension and violence between the Muslim and Hindu communities and was punished at the polls in its loss of electoral support within the Muslim community for its temporizing response to the destruction of a historically important mosque, Babri Masjid, in northern India, by Hindus who claimed that the mosque had been built on the ruins of a Hindu temple of no less historic and religious importance to the Hindus. This conflict, which resulted in riots and several thousand deaths in the aftermath, served to alienate important segments of the Muslim community from Congress, as did the inimical economic impact of government economic policy in important agricultural communities. The result in the 1996 election was the defeat of Congress at the polls and the rise of the Hindu-centrist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which for the first time controlled a larger number of seats in Parliament than did Congress. Given that no party could sustain a majority coalition, new elections were held in 1998, at which time the BJP again won more seats than Congress, though not a majority; the BJP was successful, however, in putting together a coalition that proved effective in maintaining governmental stability while pursuing policies not unlike those of its Congress predecessor. The Congress in opposition, however, was without strong and effective leadership, and was divided over the question of whether Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv and Italian by birth, would enjoy popular legitimacy.

Commentary and analysis during its years in opposition and in its preparations for the 2004 elections portrayed Congress as a party in its terminal phase, a party without a distinctive program, without effective leadership, without any justifiable claim to recent accomplishment, and without the electoral base that would enable it to play a significant role in national politics, much less form the national government. While in opposition at the center, however, the Congress had faired better than other parties in elections held in sixteen major states from 1999 to 2004. In seven of these elections, voters gave Congress the largest number of members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), while the BJP and state parties had the most in four, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist; CPM) being first in one. State-level parties came in second in eight states, while Congress was second in five, the BJP in two, and the CPM in one. In only eight states, however, was a single party returned with a majority of MLAs. Thus the electoral success of the Congress Party in the 2004 elections came as a surprise. A national coalition of state parties, themselves often fluid coalitions, the party continues as the major "left-of-center" coalition, with the BJP and its allies as the major "right-of-center" coalition in India's national politics.

Richard Sisson

See alsoBanerjea, Surendranath N. ; Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ; Gandhi, Indira ; Gandhi, Mahatma M. K. ; Gandhi, Rajiv ; Gandhi, Sonia ; General (National) Elections ; Gokhale, Gopal Krishna ; Government of India Act of 1919 ; Government of India Act of 1935 ; Naoroji, Dadabhai ; Nehru, Jawaharlal ; Nehru, Motilal ; Patel, Sardar Vallabhbhai ; Satyagraha ; Singh, Manmohan ; Tilak, Bal Gangadhar .


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Congress Party

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Congress Party (officially Indian National Congress) Oldest political party in India, whose fortunes have often been intertwined with the Nehru dynasty. Founded in 1885, Congress was not prominent until after World War I, when ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi transformed it into a mass independence movement, agitating by means of civil disobedience. Jawaharlal Nehru became president of the Congress in 1929. In the 1937 provincial elections it gained power in many states. During World War II (after the British refused to grant self-government) it remained neutral. At independence (1947), Nehru became prime minister. Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi became prime minister in 1966, but in 1969 was challenged by a right wing faction (led by Moraji Desai) causing a split in the party. Indira's Congress (I) suffered a landslide defeat at the elections of 1977. They returned to power in 1979, and in 1984 (after Indira's assassination) her son Rajiv Gandhi became leader, securing the party's re-election in that year. Congress lost the 1989 elections, and Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. The Congress Party lost the 1996, 1998, and 1999 elections to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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Congress Party