Indian National Congress

Indian National Congress (also known as the Congress Party or Congress (I), abbreviated INC) is a major political party in India. Created in 1885, the Indian National Congress became the nation’s leader in the Independence Movement, with over 15 million Indians involved in its organizations and over 70 million participants in its struggle against the British Empire. After independence in 1947, it became the nation’s dominant political party. In the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-2009), 145 INC members, the largest contingent amongst all parties, serve in the house. The party is currently the chief member of the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition government supported by the Left Front.


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, ruling the country for 47 of the 59 years since independence in 1947.

The pre-independence era

Founded in 1885 with the object of obtaining a greater share in government for educated Indians, the Indian National Congress was initially not opposed to British rule. The Congress met once a year during December. Indeed, it was a Scotsman, Allan Octavian Hume, who brought about its first meeting in Bombay, with the approval of Lord Dufferin, the then-Viceroy. Womesh Chandra Banerjee was the first President of the INC. The first meeting was scheduled to be held in Pune but due to a plague breakout there, the meeting was later shifted to Mumbai. So the first Session of INC was held from 28-31st December 1885, and was attended by 72 delegates.
A few years down the line, the demands of INC became more radical in the face of constant opposition from the government, and the party became very active in the independence movement. By 1907 the party was split into two halves: the Garam Dal of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, or Extremists (literally “hot faction”), and the Naram Dal of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, or Moderates (literally “soft faction”), distinguished by their attitude towards the British.

After the First World War the party became 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.

The official flag of the Congress during the Independence struggle.


The official flag of the Congress during the Independence struggle.

In its time as the nation’s leader in the freedom struggle, it produced the nation’s greatest leaders. Before the Gandhi Era came leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (later leader of the Muslim League and instrumental in the creation of Pakistan), all starting with the first legendary icon of Indians: Dadabhai Naoroji, the president of the sister Indian National Association and later Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons, the first Indian to win a seat there.

The 1929 Lahore session under the presidency of Jawahar Lal Nehru holds special significance as in this session “Poorna Swaraj” was declared as the goal of INC. 26th January 1930 was declared as the “Poorna Swaraj Diwas”. It was to commemorate this date particularly that The Indian Constitution was formerly adopted on 26th January 1950(even though it was passed on 26th November 1949.)

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 Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Chakravarti Rajgopalachari, Jivatram Kripalani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The Congress under Gandhi’s influence became the first integrated mass organization 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 virtually every religion, ethnic group, economic class and linguistic group. The Indian National Congress could claim to be the true representative of the Indian people.

The post-independence era

The party remained in power for thirty continuous years between independence in 1947 and its first taste of electoral defeat (at the national level) in 1977.

Jawaharlal Nehru

Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel are said to have held the view that the INC was formed only for achieving independence and should have been disbanded in 1947. However, at the time of independence, the INC (led by Jawaharlal Nehru) was a major political organization in the country, and was established as the major political party. The Congress thus, considering the perceived need for a stable leadership and guiding vision after the terrible chaos and confusion following the Partition of India and Independence, was re-established as an electoral party in independent India. Across several general elections, the party ruled uninterrupted until 1977, and has remained a major political force.

After the murder of Gandhi in 1948 and the death of Sardar Patel in 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru was the sole remaining iconic national leader, and soon the situation became so that Nehru was key to the political potency and future of the Congress. Nehru embraced secularism, socialist economic policies and a non-aligned foreign policy, which became the hallmark of the modern Congress Party. Nehru’s policies challenged the landed class, the business class and improved the position of religious minorities and lower caste Hindus. A generation of freedom fighting leaders were soon replaced by a generation of people who had grown up in the shadow of Nehru. Nehru led the Congress Party to consecutively awesome majorities in the elections of 1952, 1957 and 1962.

After Nehru’s death in 1964, the party’s future first came into question. No leader was competitive enough to touch Nehru’s iconic status, so the second-stage leadership mustered around the compromise candidate, the gentle, soft-spoken and Nehruvian Lal Bahadur Shastri. Shastri remained Prime Minister till his own death in 1966, and a broad Congress Party election opted for Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, over the right-wing, conservative Morarji Desai.

In 1955 in Awadi session the party adopted a socialistic pattern of society for India.

Indira Gandhi

Congress mural in Kolkata


Congress mural in Kolkata

The first serious challenge to Congress hegemony came in 1967 when a united opposition, under the banner of Samyukt Vidhanayak Dal, won control over several states in the Hindi belt. Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Nehru, and Congress president, was then challenged by the majority of the party leadership. The conflict led to a split, and Indira launched a separate INC. Initially this party was known as Congress (R), but it soon came to be generally known as the New Congress. The official party became known as Indian National Congress (Organisation) led by Kamaraj. It was informally called the Old Congress. As Indira Priyadarshini had control over the state machinery, her faction was recognized as the “real” INC by the Election Commission of India, although her organization was the break-away group.

The split can in some ways be seen as a left-wing/right-wing division. Indira Gandhi wanted to use a populist agenda in order to mobilise popular support for the party. She raised slogans such as Garibi Hatao (Remove Poverty), and wanted to develop closer ties with the Soviet Union. The regional party elites, who formed the INC(O), stood for a more conservative agenda, and distrusted Soviet help. INC(O) later merged into the Janata Party.

Gradually, Indira Gandhi grew more and more authoritarian. Following allegations of widespread rigging in the general elections, a court overturned Indira Gandhi’s victory in the Parliamentary constituency. Facing growing opposition she proclaimed a state of National emergency in 1975, curtailed the powers of the courts, and unleashed a police state with herself as the supreme leader (‘acting Prime Minister’).

After she lifted the emergency in 1977, more Congress factions were formed, the one remaining loyal to Indira Gandhi being popularly known as Congress(I) with an ‘I’ for Indira. The Congress (I) was routed in the general elections by the Janata Party. The party was able to return to power in the 1980 elections. In 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards, as a revenge for Operation Blue Star. In the following days thousands of Sikhs were killed in riots, especially in Delhi. Many human rights organisations consider that Congress activists played a role in carrying out the 1984 riots[1].

The post-Indira era

Election symbol of the Congress


Election symbol of the Congress

After Indira, her son Rajiv Gandhi, took over as Congress leader and led the party to victory with a large majority in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections. It governed from 1984-9 and then was defeated in the 1989 general election. Rajiv Gandhi was also assassinated by the LTTE during the course of the election campaign in 1991. Following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, P.V. Narasimha Rao succeeded him as Congress leader and became prime minister.

The 1990s was a period of prolonged crisis for the Congress. After gradually losing political influence the party asked the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, to accept the position as Congress President. Refusing in 1991, the Congress stuck with Narasimha Rao and after him, Sitaram Kesri. Although Rao was Prime Minister of a coalition Congress administration from 1991-1996, Kesri led the Congress to a historic low in the 1998 elections. It appeared that the Congress was politically impotent, with no real future. In 1998, Sonia Gandhi is considered by some to have finally saved the Congress from extinction by accepting the presidency of the party.

After the election of Sonia Gandhi as party leader, a section broke away and formed Nationalist Congress Party. Where breakaway factions are active, the use of “Congress (I)” to denote the party run by Indira Gandhi’s successors continues. There have been repeated attempts by the Indian nationalist groups (such as the BJP) to discredit Sonia Gandhi’s leadership on the basis of her foreign origin. Nonetheless she has emerged as one of the most popular political leaders of India, suggesting that the legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is still considered to be a mark of legitimacy for broad sections of the Indian population.

Indian Prime Ministers from the Congress Party

  • Jawaharlal Nehru (1947 – 1964)
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964 – 1966)
  • Indira Gandhi (1966 – 1977, 1980 – 1984)
  • Rajiv Gandhi (1984 – 1989)
  • P.V. Narasimha Rao (1991 – 1996)
  • Manmohan Singh (2004 -)

Political accusations

Since the party has dominated the political landscape of India for over a century, there are many charges of corruption and similar charges against it. Some examples are:

  • Anti-Sikh riots – After the assassination of Indira Gandhi by Sikh militants following Operation Bluestar, many Congress workers prominently including Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were accused of inciting and participating in anti-Sikh riots that killed thousands. The Congress apologised many years later for its silence on these events, an apology that was considered inadequate by some of those concerned.
  • Volcker report – The Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) appointed by the United Nations in its final report released on October 27, 2005 confirms that documents state: ‘Beneficiary: India: Congress Party’ with an entitlement of 4 million barrels of crude’ and `Beneficiary: India: Singh Mr K. Natwar’ with an entitlement of 4 million barrels’.
  • The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has repeatedly accused the Congress of showing favouritism to the Indian Muslim community and the toleration, or even promotion of, Islamic fanaticism and obscurantism. Congress policy is also accused of causing fifty years of economic stagnation, following Independence, and of excessive veneration of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Formation of present Government of India

In the 2004 general elections, the Congress alliance won the largest number of seats and got an assurance of support from the Left Front upsetting the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance, which according to all forecasts was going to coast to victory. Shortly thereafter, Sonia Gandhi was nominated by the Congress-led 19-party alliance to be the next Prime Minister. But in what was described as the dropping of a political bombshell, Sonia Gandhi refused to take the position based on her “inner voice”. She backed eminent economist, former Union Finance Minister and senior Congress leader Dr. Manmohan Singh for the post of Prime Minister, and he was sworn-in as Prime Minister on 22 May 2004.

Internal Organization

The organization developed by Gandhi’s reorganization of the Congress in the years of 1918 to 1920 has largely been retained till today.

In every Indian state and union territory or pradesh, there is a Pradesh Congress Committee, which is the provincial unit of the party, responsible for directing political campaigns at local and state levels and assisting the campaigns for Parliamentary constituencies. Each PCC has a Working Committee of 10-15 key members, and the state president is the leader of the state unit. The Congressmen elected as members of the states legislative assemblies form the Congress Legislature Parties in the various state assemblies, and their chairperson is usually the party’s nominee for Chief Ministership.

The All India Congress Committee is formed of delegates sent from the PCCs around the country. The delegates elect various Congress committees, including the Congress Working Committee, which consists of senior party leaders and office bearers, and takes all important executive and political decisions.

The President of the Indian National Congress is in effect the party’s national leader, head of the organization, head of the Working Committee and all chief Congress committees, chief spokesman and the Congress choice to become the Prime Minister of India.

Constitutionally, the president is to be elected by the vote of the PCCs and members of the AICC. However, this procedure has often been by-passed by the Working Committee, choosing to elect its own candidate as an emergency measure.

The Congress Parliamentary Party is the group of elected MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Their elected chairperson is the leader of the majority, and supposed to be the Prime Minister. However, there have been notable exceptions.

List of presidents of the Party

Name of President Life Span Year of Presidency Place of Conference
Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee December 29, 1844- 1906 1885 Bombay
Dadabhai Naoroji September 4, 1825- 1917 1886 Calcutta
Badruddin Tyabji October 10, 1844- 1906 1887 Madras
George Yule 1829- 1892 1888 Allahabad
Sir William Wedderburn 1838- 1918 1889 Bombay
Sir Pherozeshah Mehta August 4, 1845- 1915 1890 Calcutta
P. Ananda Charlu August, 1843- 1908 1891 Nagpur
Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee December 29, 1844- 1906 1892 Allahabad
Dadabhai Naoroji September 4, 1848- 1925 1893 Lahore
Alfred Webb 1834- 1908 1894 Madras
Surendranath Banerjea November 10, 1848- 1925 1895 Poona
Rahimtulla M. Sayani April 5, 1847- 1902 1896 Calcuta
Sir C. Sankaran Nair July 11, 1857- 1934 1897 Amraoti
Ananda Mohan Bose September 23, 1847- 1906 1898 Madras
Romesh Chunder Dutt August 13, 1848- 1909 1899 Lucknow
Sir Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar December 2, 1855- 1923 1900 Lahore
Sir Dinshaw Edulji Wacha August 2, 1844- 1936 1901 Calcutta
Surendranath Banerjea November 10, 1825- 1917 1902 Ahmedabad
Lalmohan Ghosh 1848- 1909 1903 Madras
Sir Henry Cotton 1845- 1915 1904 Bombay
Gopal Krishna Gokhale May 9, 1866- 1915 1905 Benares
Dadabhai Naoroji September 4, 1825- 1917 1906 Calcutta
Rashbihari Ghosh December 23, 1845- 1921 1907 Surat
Rashbihari Ghosh December 23, 1845- 1921 1908 Madras
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya December 25, 1861- 1946 1909 Lahore
Sir William Wedderburn 1838- 1918 1910 Allahabad
Pandit Bishan Narayan Dar 1864- 1916 1911 Calcutta
Rao Bahadur Raghunath Narasinha Mudholkar 1857- 1921 1912 Bankipur
Nawab Syed Muhammad Bahadur ?- 1919 1913 Karachi
Bhupendra Nath Bose 1859- 1924 1914 Madras
Lord Satyendra Prasanna Sinha March, 1863- 1928 1915 Bombay
Ambica Charan Mazumdar 1850- 1922 1916 Lucknow
Annie Besant October 1, 1847- 1933 1917 Calcutta
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya December 25, 1861- 1946 1918 Delhi
Syed Hasan Imam August 31, 1871- 1933 1918 Bombay (Special Session)
Pandit Motilal Nehru May 6, 1861- February 6, 1931 1919 Amritsar
Lala Lajpat Rai January 28, 1865- November 17, 1928 1920 Calcutta (Special Session)
C. Vijayaraghavachariar 1852- April 19, 1944 1920 Nagpur
Hakim Ajmal Khan 1863- December 29, 1927 1921 Ahmedabad
Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das November 5, 1870- June 16, 1925 1922 Gaya
Maulana Mohammad Ali December 10, 1878- January 4, 1931 1923 Kakinada
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad 1888- February 22, 1958 1923 Delhi (Special Session)
Mahatma Gandhi October 2, 1869- January 30, 1948 1924 Belgaum
Sarojini Naidu February 13, 1879- March 2, 1949 1925 Kanpur
S. Srinivasa Iyengar September 11, 1874- May 19, 1941 1926 Gauhati
Dr. M A Ansari December 25, 1880- May 10, 1936 1927 Madras
Pandit Motilal Nehru May 6, 1861- February 6, 1931 1928 Calcutta
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru November 14, 1889- May 27, 1964 1929 & 30 Lahore
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel October 31, 1875- December 15, 1950 1931 Karachi
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya December 25, 1861- 1946 1932 Delhi
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya December 25, 1861- 1946 1933 Calcutta
Nellie Sen Gupta 1886- 1973 1933 Calcutta
Dr. Rajendra Prasad December 3, 1884- February 28, 1963 1934 & 35 Bombay
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru November 14, 1889- May 27, 1964 1936 Lucknow
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru November 14, 1889- May 27, 1964 1936& 37 Faizpur
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose January 23, 1897- August 18, 1945? 1938 Haripura
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose January 23, 1897- August 18, 1945? 1939 Tripuri
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad 1888- February 22, 1958 1940-46 Ramgarh
Acharya J.B. Kripalani 1888- March 19, 1982 1947 ?
Dr Pattabhi Sitaraimayya December 24, 1880- December 17, 1959 1948 & 49 Jaipur
Purushottam Das Tandon August 1, 1882- July 1, 1961 1950 Nasik
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru November 14, 1889- May 27, 1964 1951 & 52 New Delhi
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru November 14, 1889- May 27, 1964 1953 Hyderabad
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru November 14, 1889- May 27, 1964 1954 Calcutta
U N Dhebar September 21, 1905- 1977 1955 Avadi
U N Dhebar September 21, 1905- 1977 1956 Amritsar
U N Dhebar September 21, 1905- 1977 1957 Indore
U N Dhebar September 21, 1905- 1977 1958 Gauhati
U N Dhebar September 21, 1905- 1977 1959 Nagpur
Indira Gandhi November 19, 1917- October 31, 1984 1959 New Delhi
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy May 19, 1913- June 1, 1996 1960 Bangalore
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy May 19, 1913- June 1, 1996 1961 Bhavnagar
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy May 19, 1913- June 1, 1996 1962 & 63 Patna
K. Kamaraj July 15, 1903- 1975 1964 Bhubaneswar
K. Kamaraj July 15, 1903- 1975 1965 Durgapur
K. Kamaraj July 15, 1903- 1975 1966 & 67 Jaipur
S. Nijalingappa December 10, 1902- August 9, 2000 1968 Hyderabad
S. Nijalingappa December 10, 1902- August 9, 2000 1969 Faridabad
Jagjivan Ram April 5, 1908- July 6, 1986 1970 & 71 Bombay
Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma August 19, 1918- December 26, 1999 1972- 74 Calcutta
Dev Kanta Borooah February 22, 1914- 1997 1975- 77 Chandigarh
Indira Gandhi November 19, 1917- October 31, 1984 1978- 83 New Delhi
Indira Gandhi November 19, 1917- October 31, 1984 1983 -84 Calcutta
Rajiv Gandhi August 20, 1944- May 21, 1991 1985 -91 Bombay
P. V. Narasimha Rao June 28, 1921- December 23, 2004 1992 -96 Tirupati
Sitaram Kesri November, 1919- October 24, 2000 1997 -98 Calcutta
Sonia Gandhi December 9, 1946- 1998 -Incumbent ?
Indian National Congress

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