Indian National Congress

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Indian National Congress,

Indian political party, founded in 1885. Its founding members proposed economic reforms and wanted a larger role in the making of British policy for India. By 1907, however, the Congress had split into a moderate group led by Gopal Krishna GokhaleGokhale, Gopal Krishna
, 1866–1915, Indian nationalist leader. A Brahman from Maharashtra, he was educated in India and became involved in the nationalist movement when he was quite young.
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, who sought dominion status for India, and a militant faction under Bal Gangadhar TilakTilak, Bal Gangadhar
, 1856–1920, Indian nationalist leader. He was a journalist in Pune, and in his newspapers, the Marathi-language Kesari [lion] and the English-language Mahratta, he set forth his nationalist ideals.
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, who demanded self-rule. In 1920 the Congress began a campaign of passive resistance, led by Mohandas Karamchand GandhiGandhi, Mohandas Karamchand
, 1869–1948, Indian political and spiritual leader, b. Porbandar. In South Africa

Educated in India and in London, he was admitted to the English bar in 1889 and practiced law unsuccessfully in India for two years.
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, against restrictions on the press and political activities.

Although the Congress claimed to represent all Indians, many Muslims, fearful of the vast Hindu majority, began to withdraw from the Congress. The Congress was divided on approaches to economic reform; the conservatives favored cautious reform while the leftists, of which Jawaharlal NehruNehru, Jawaharlal
, 1889–1964, Indian statesman, b. Allahabad (now Priyagraj); son of Motilal Nehru. A politician and statesman of great skill, Nehru was enormously popular in India.
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 was a leader, urged socialism. The great strength of the organization was shown in the provincial elections of 1937.

At the outbreak of World War IIWorld War II,
1939–45, worldwide conflict involving every major power in the world. The two sides were generally known as the Allies and the Axis. Causes and Outbreak
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, the Congress voted for neutrality. When India came under Japanese attack, the Congress demanded immediate concessions from Great Britain toward a democratic government in return for cooperation in the war effort. The British responded by outlawing the organization and arresting its leaders. In the 1946 elections to the Indian constituent assembly, the Congress lost the Muslim vote to the Muslim LeagueMuslim League,
political organization of India and Pakistan, founded 1906 as the All-India Muslim League by Aga Khan III. Its original purpose was to safeguard the political rights of Muslims in India.
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; it reluctantly accepted the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the formation of the state of PakistanPakistan
, officially Islamic Republic of Pakistan, republic (2015 est. pop. 189,381,000), 310,403 sq mi (803,944 sq km), S Asia. Pakistan is bordered by India on the east, the Arabian Sea on the south, Iran on the southwest, and Afghanistan on the west and north; in the
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After partition the Congress, as the largest party, governed India under Nehru's leadership. The Congress successfully adjusted to its new role as a political party and won the majority of the seats in the next election. It retained this support into the 1960s. After Nehru's death, the party began to lose support. The leadership of Nehru's daughter, Indira GandhiGandhi, Indira
, 1917–84, Indian political leader; daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. She served as an aide to her father, who was prime minister (1947–64), and as minister of information in the government of Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964–66).
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, who became prime minister in 1966, was challenged by a powerful right-wing group within the Congress, and in 1969 the party formally split into two factions; one led by Morarji DesaiDesai, Morarji Ranchhodji
, 1896–1995, Indian political leader. He joined the government in 1956, becoming minister of finance (1958–63). He returned to government in 1967 as deputy prime minister and minister of finance, but in 1969 was maneuvered from office by
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, the other (New Congress) by Indira Gandhi.

In the 1971 national elections and the 1972 state elections Gandhi's faction won strong victories, but, in a reaction against her emergency rule, it lost the election of 1977. It was the first time the Congress had lost government control since independence. Gandhi (now with a new faction, Congress Indira) returned to power in the 1980 elections, called when the opposition coalition disintegrated.

After her assassination (1984), her son Rajiv GandhiGandhi, Rajiv
, 1944–91, prime minister of India (1984–89). Oldest son of Indira Gandhi, he flew for Indian Airlines until his brother died in 1981 and he was drafted into politics by his mother.
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 succeeded to the leadership. Although he led Congress to reelection in 1984, the party was defeated in 1989 because of scandals and became the major opposition party. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi during the 1991 election campaign, P. V. Narasimha RaoRao, P. V. Narasimha
(Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao) , 1921–2004, Indian politician, prime minister of India (1991–96), b. Hyderabad. A poet, he was active in the Indian National Congress during the struggle for independence and thereafter.
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 became head of the party and, after Congress won a plurality in parliament later that year, prime minister. In 1996 scandal again led voters to reject Congress at the polls, but Rao remained party leader. Leadership soon passed to the ineffectual Sitaram Kesri, but in 1998 Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia GandhiGandhi, Sonia
, 1946–, Indian politician, b. Turin, Italy, as Sonia Maino. She met Rajiv Gandhi in 1965 when they were students in Cambridge, England. They were married in 1968 and settled in his family home in India.
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, a political newcomer, was elected head of Congress and had some success in rebuilding party support among Muslims and the poor. Congress nonetheless did poorly in the 1999 elections.

In 2004 Congress returned to power, but the foreign-born Gandhi declined to lead the new coalition government; Manmohan SinghSingh, Manmohan
, 1932–, Indian economist and government official, prime minister of India (2004–14), b. Gah, West Punjab. Educated at the universities of Punjab, Cambridge, and Oxford, Singh taught at a number of institutions, including the Delhi School of
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, a former finance minister, became prime minister; the party remained in power, with a larger plurality, after the 2009 elections. In 2014, however, Congress and its allies suffered a landslide loss in the parliamentary elections. Rahul GandhiGandhi, Rahul
, 1970–, Indian political leader, B.A. Rollins College, 1994, M.Phil. Cambridge, 1995. Son of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, he entered politics in 2004, winning election to the Indian parliament.
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, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi's son, became party leader in 2017. Congress also did poorly in the 2019 elections, and Rahul Gandhi resigned as party leader. His mother then became interim party leader.


See S. Kochanek, The Congress Party of India (1968); A. M. Zaidi and S. Zaidi, The Encyclopaedia of the Indian National Congress (18 vol., 1976–83); B. N. Pande, A Concise History of the Indian National Congress, 1947–1985 (1986); P. Brass and F. Robinson, Indian National Congress 1885–1985 (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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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