Founded in 1885, before the country’s Independence, the Indian National Congress is the oldest surviving political party of India, hence the moniker Grand Old Party. The Congress is contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi and in alliance with a number of parties under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) umbrella. Some of the key members of the UPA are the Nationalist Congress Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the Janata Dal (Secular).
The Indian National Congress has had a rich political history, starting from its contribution to India’s freedom struggle under the leadership of Mahatama Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Subas Chandra Bose and Sarojini Naidu as the Congress party’s key members.
When India gained independence, the Congress’ Nehru became its first prime minister and held that post for a record period of 17 years. The party’s follower base expanded across India and established the Congress as the most powerful political outfit. The defining moments in modern India’s history have been with the Congress at the helm of affairs at the Centre.
India fought wars with Pakistan and China during Nehru’s rule as the PM of the country, while his daughter Indira Gandhi became the first female prime minister of India. She ended up being the second-longest-serving prime minister. It was during Indira Gandhi’s rule that India fought another war with Pakistan and was instrumental in formation of Bangladesh. Hers, however, is considered one of the most turbulent times for India, especially the Emergency years from 1975.
The Congress party was voted out of power for the first time in 1977, when Morarji Desai of the Janata Party became the prime minister. This was immediately after the Emergency. However, the party came back to power in 1979. In the 1984 elections, in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her bodyguards, the Congress went on to register a landslide victory, bagging 404 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Indira Gandhi had been assassinated to avenge Operation Blue Star, under which Amritsar’s Golden Temple had been raided to purge ‘pro-Khalistan’ activities. Her assassination led to anti-sikh riots in some parts of the country.
Her son Rajiv, who succeeded Indira Gandhi as the prime minister led the Congress party until his own assassination by Tamil ultras in 1991. The Congress party remained in power for some time without anyone from the Gandhi clan leading the party. In 1998, however, Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia became the leader of the party and remained so for 19 years.
The Congress remained out of power at the Centre from 1998 to 2004, a period during which three Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments took office with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM. The Congress remained in the Opposition for this duration.
In 2004, the Congress came back with a victory over the BJP and formed a government with a number of parties under an alliance called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). This alliance served at the Centre for two terms with economist-turned-politician Manmohan Singh as the PM.
Some of the key initiatives launched during the UPA regime was the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The government also passed the Right to Information Act in 2005. The regime faced severe flak in 2008 over the Mumbai attacks, but UPA regained power in 2009 as the BJP failed to get a majority in the 2009 elections.
The second term of the Congress-led UPA was marred by corruption scandals, with several scams coming to light and the party failing to control the narrative. The BJP, meanwhile, saw the rise of Narendra Modi as a national leader.
Come 2014, under Modi’s leadership, the BJP trounced the Congress and returned to power with a massive majority. The Congress strength in Lok Sabha, from 404 seats 30 years earlier, was reduced to a mere 45. Worse still, the party and its allies went on losing state after state to the BJP in successive Assembly polls.
However, the year 2018 saw a turnaround of sorts for the Congress, with the party wresting three crucial states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from the BJP. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections are going to be the acid test for the new and rejuvenated leadership of the Congress party.
While the Congress at present has 45 members in the Lok Sabha, it is in the government in 5 states and Union Territories. Among the party’s key leader of the day are Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, Shashi Tharoor, Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma and Mallikarjun Kharge.