India

Indian National Congress


Published 14th April, 2014

The Indian National Congress or INC, also commonly referred to as Congress, was founded in 1885 and is the oldest and largest political party in India and one of the oldest in the world. The party describes itself as Centre-left and believes in Democratic Socialism, Gandhian socialism, Secularism and Indian Liberal Nationalism.

The symbol of the party is the Hand and its colour is Aqua.

In its early years Congress was a lead party in the Independence movement and under its leader Jawaharlal Nehru formed the first government of independent India in 1947. Nehru was to lead the country and Congress until his death on 27th May 1964. In these early days Congress was the dominant political force; in 1957 it won 371 of the 494 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded Nehru as Prime Minister but Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, took over as Prime Minister in 1967 and remained in office until 1977. The Indian national Congress won its fourth election in a row in 1967, but with a reduced majority of 283 of the 520 seats in the Lok Sabha or lower chamber.

Indira Gandhi moved towards a strongly Socialist doctrine over the next few years and, as a result, caused a split in the party. Nevertheless the majority were with her and she won a decisive victory in 1971 taking 352 of the 518 seats in the Lok Sabha.

By this time the economic and social problems of India were growing and Indira Gandhi became more authoritarian. Opposition to her rule grew and galvanised under the leadership of Jaya Prakash Narayan. By 1975 strikes and violence forced the Prime Minister to declare a state of emergency, suspend civil liberties and abandon elections.

An election was finally called in 1977 and Indira Gandhi’s Congress suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a coalition of opposition parties contesting the elections under the Janata Party (People’s Party) title. The Janata Party won 295 of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha and Congress was reduced to 154 seats.

In 1980 Indira Gandhi and her Congress (I) Alliance (made up of five parties) were back, winning 374 of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha.

On 31st October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her and Congress chose Rajiv Gandhi, Indira’s oldest son to be the next Prime Minister. Parliament was dissolved and Congress won the 1984 election with a majority of 404 seats in the 515 seat parliament, their best result to date. Rajiv Gandhi instigated many reforms but the so called Bofors Scandal implicated many senior government officials in corruption allegations.

Rajiv and Congress won the most seats in 1989, down to 197 seats, but it was V.P Singh and the Janata Dal party with 143 seats and it’s National Front Coalition that formed the government. The government lasted just a few months and after further attempts to form minority governments, fresh elections were held in June 1991.

Congress was back on top with 244 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, but on 21st May 1991 whilst campaigning in Tamil Nadu Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a female LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) suicide bomber.

On 21st June 1991 P. V. Narasimha Rao became the new Prime Minister and India entered a period of economic liberalisation and reform, which opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. Despite this and also because of corruption charges Congress lost in 1996 to one of its worst defeats, winning just 140 of the 545 seats in parliament.

Congress lost again in 1998 and again in 1999 (their worst result ever with just 114 seats).

Something had to change and, an increasingly federal country despite Congress holding power in 15 states at this point, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was born. Although it came into existence after the 2004 election when Congress won 145 seats, it was a necessity if Congress had any chance of ruling again. Congress managed to gather eleven of the mainly centre-left parties into the UPA giving it 222 seats and they gained further support from outside the government.

After serious deliberations Sonia Gandhi, the by now leader of Congress decided against becoming Prime Minister and that honour fell to former Finance Minister and economist Manmohan Singh. The early years of the UPA government saw record growth and Congress was rewarded by winning 206 seats in 2009 whilst the UPA won 262 seats.

Over the years Congress has had to compromise with the smaller parties. One such way was to develop the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) which defined the minimum objectives of a UPA coalition government. Despite this, smaller parties have come and gone over a variety of issues.

Before the 2014 general election Manmohan Singh announced that he would be standing down after the election and Rahul Gandhi (Son of Sonia) has become the party’s campaign manager and (by inference) prime minister in waiting. However, corruption scandals and a flagging economy have made Congress’ job much harder with a resurgent BJP making all the running in the election campaign.

Prior to the 2014 election many parties have left the UPA and a new grouping of fourteen left-wing parties has formed the Third Front. This has hurt Congress and the UPA more than its opposition BJP and the NDA.

The parties involved in alliances with the Indian National Congress in the 2014 general election are as follows:

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)
Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)
Socialist Janata (Democratic) Party
Kerala Congress (M)
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)
Mahan Dal

The Indian National Congress is a member of the centre-left Progressive Alliance.


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