Congress, Indian National

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Congress, Indian National


(also, National Congress Party or the Congress), the largest political party in India, founded in December 1885. At the end of the 19th century it did not go beyond the position of loyal opposition to the colonial regime, expressing mainly the interests of the upper strata of the Indian bourgeoisie, nationalistic maharajas, landowners, and the most prosperous strata of the native intelligentsia. Its leaders included D. Naoroji, G. K. Gokhale, and M. G. Ranade. At the beginning of the 20th century the petit bourgeois, democratic tendency of the so-called extremists, led by B. G. Tilak, emerged within the Congress. A split between extremists and “moderates” occurred in 1907. The extremists, abandoning the Congress, believed that its aim should be the achievement of swaraj, or home rule, with the organization of the popular masses into a movement for national liberation as the means to this end. The moderates maintained that home rule could be achieved only gradually, in collaboration with the English authorities. In 1916, after failing to create their own solid organization, the extremists returned to the fold of the National Congress Party.

The upsurge of 1918–22 in the movement for national liberation in India heralded the beginning of a new stage in the activity of the Congress, which underwent a transformation into a party of the masses. M. K. Gandhi came forth as the leader and ideologist of the Congress. Under his direction it began conducting “campaigns of nonviolent noncooperation” with the English and Indian authorities, as well as “campaigns of civil disobedience” among the masses. The statutes adopted by the Congress in 1920 proclaimed the goal of the organization to be “the achievement of swaraj through peaceful and legal means.” In the early 1920’s a group of individuals known as the Swarajists emerged within the Congress, seeking to use the opportunities provided by parliamentary struggle. During a new upsurge in the movement for national liberation, from 1928 to 1933, a leftist nationalistic current headed by S. C. Bose and J. Nehru began playing an increasingly important role in the Congress. As early as 1927 the Congress had advocated complete independence for India. In 1931 it adopted a program calling for reforms of a bourgeois-democratic character. Under the leadership of the Congress, mass campaigns of civil disobedience were conducted and a struggle was launched against the religious dissension that the colonialists had ignited. In 1934 there emerged within the Congress the Congress Socialist Party, which worked out a program of radical reforms that included some of a socialistic character. The struggle of the National Congress Party against the reactionary constitution of 1935, as well as other anti-imperialist actions of the Congress, was supported by the communists, who were conducting a struggle for the creation of a united anti-imperialist front.

During World War II, when a strong anti-imperialist movement developed in the country, the Congress came forward with a condemnation of fascism and declared its readiness to support Great Britain in the war on the condition that Britain guarantee the granting of independence to India at the end of the war and the creation of a national government during the war. In 1942 the colonial authorities arrested nearly all the leaders of the Congress, thereby impairing its activity.

After the conclusion of the war the Congress came forward with the demand for the immediate granting of independence to India, which the English imperialists, under pressure from a powerful upsurge in the movement for national liberation, were forced to grant. At this, the leadership of the Congress agreed to the partition of the country along religious lines, into India and Pakistan (1947).

The government formed by the National Congress Party and headed by J. Nehru (1947–64) in an independent India began decreeing reforms in 1948, including agrarian and administrative reforms and reforms in workers’ legislation. At the same time, repression against the workers was being conducted. In many states the Communist Party was outlawed until 1950–51.

In the early 1950’s there was an intensification of the social contradictions within the country. The Congress began losing popularity, and sizable groups broke away from it and formed independent parties. Within the Congress the struggle between diverse currents and groupings intensified.

In 1955 the National Congress Party advanced a slogan calling for the construction of a “society of the socialist type”; the interpretation of the slogan remained very vague, and each of the groupings within the party placed its own interpretation on it. After the death of J. Nehru in 1964 the right wing gained strength in the party, and its representatives openly condemned Nehru’s policies and socialist slogans and made an appeal to encourage private initiative. As a result of the general elections of 1967 the Congress lost many seats in the national parliament and was unable to form governments in nine states.

In late 1969 the National Congress underwent a split. The larger section remained in power, headed by I. Gandhi as Prime Minister and putting forward a program of radical reforms. A rightist Congress grouping headed the other part of the Congress, which formed a bloc in parliament with rightist parties against Gandhi’s government. In the extraordinary parliamentary elections of 1971 the ruling Congress, with the support of democratic forces, won an impressive victory against the forces of reaction.


Reisner, I. M. Ocherki klassovoi bor’by v Indii, part 1. Moscow, 1932.
D’iakov, A. M. Indiia vo wemia iposle vtoroi mirovoi winy (1939–1949). Moscow, 1952.
Deviatkina, T. F. Indiiskii natsionaVnyi kongress (1947–1964). Moscow, 1970.
Pattabhi Sitaramayya, B. The History of the Indian National Congress.vols. 1–2. Bombay [1946–1947].
Sharma Jagdish Saran. Indian National Congress: A Descriptive Bibliography of India’s Struggle for Freedom.Delhi, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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