The oldest national party in India is the Indian National Congress (INC). In was established in 1885 as a pro-British Indian organization. The real purpose of the British in establishing this organization was to continue to rule India with the help of liberal and pro-British Indians. Later on this organization became the main voice of India's freedom struggle (see creating the Indian identity).
Among its founders were Surendranath Benarjee, Dadabhai Naoroji and Justice M. G. Ranade. Before founding of the Congress, Justice M. G. Ranade had established an organization based on the ideas of the 'Brahmo Samaj' with the aim of social and religious reforms in India. One of Ranade's disciple, G. K. Gokhale, became the leader of Indian National Congress till 1915. Gokhale was considered by Mahatma Gandhi as his political guru. Mahatma Gandhi, more than any other Indian, is identified with modern India's creation.
After India's independence, the British passed the administration of India to the leaders of the Indian National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi who was the father figure of the Congress party, suggested to transform the Indian National Congress into a charity organization, because the main cause of the Congress party was achieved. But the other leaders of the Congress did not accept his proposal and the Indian National Congress became a political party with a secular, socialist and democratic tendency.
During its independence, two Congress leaders Jawarharlal Nehru and Vallabbhai Patel wanted to be the first Prime Minister of India. Nehru, who was younger, was secular and socialist oriented, while Patel was more Hindu nationalist oriented. Mahatma Gandhi wanted the young Jawarharlal Nehru to be India's first Prime Minister and therefore Patel withdrew his candidacy.
Before independence the Congress was a roof organization and it included many factions. After independence the Congress leaders changed the structure of the party and established a new political agenda. The different factions in the Congress could either join the new agenda or leave the Congress. Some left the Congress and established other political parties outside the Congress. And so some new political parties were established among them the Socialist Party of India and Forward Bloc (see Subhas Chandra Bose).
Until 1950 the Congress was under the influence of these two leaders. After Patel's death in 1950, Congress came under full influence of Jawarharlal Nehru. Nehru died in 1964, without appointing an heir. The party chose Lal Bahadur Shastri as the new leader. In 1966 Shastri arrived in Tashkent, in former Soviet Union to sign a cease-fire agreement with Pakistan. Shastri died in his sleep in Tashkent. After Shastri's death, some Congress leaders competed for the leadership of the party. Surprisingly the inter party election was won by the less favorite candidate, Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi was Jawarharlal Nehru's daughter (and had no family relations with Mahatma Gandhi). Some of the veteran members of the Congress did not accept her leadership and they tried to dispose her of. In 1969 the Congress split up into two parties.
The veteran members of the Congress established the Congress (O) party, while Indian National Congress was recognized as Congress (R). Of these two parties the INC was the larger and dominant party. The Congress (O) was no threat to Indira Gandhi's Congress.
Indira Gandhi was a very centralist leader. She pulled all the strings in the party and was seen as the dictator of her party. She planned to inherit her party to her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi. Between the years 1975-77 Indira Gandhi proclaimed emergency rule. During this period many of Gandhi's political rivals were arrested and put behind the bars. Censorship was enforced on Indian press. The justice system was restricted and turned into 'puppet show' of the government. The people also suffered a lot from this emergency rule. Under the birth control policy many people were forced to have sterilization. Even so Indira Gandhi was sure that the Indian people supported her because her general intention of making India a better place and so she declared elections in 1977.
Her party lost the 1977 elections to the Janata Party. A few months after the Congress defeat in the elections, another split occured in the Congress party. The party of Indira Gandhi was called Congress ( I ), because of the initial of her name. During this period many more splits and coalitions occurred within the different Congress parties. One such party of the Congress during this period was established by former Congress member Sharad Pawar. He even established a government in the state of Maharashtra with this party which later on was known as Congress (S). Another party was established in Uttar Pradesh. Some of these new party members including it establishers like Sharad Pawar returned later on to the Congress ( I ) party and the party was renamed Indian National Congress.
But there are others who left the INC at different periods and established parties outside the Congress and have a name Congress in their party name. For example West Bengal Trinamool Congress was established by Mumta Benarjee in West Bengal before the 1998 elections. Tamil Maanila Congress was established by Moopanar in Tamil Nadu. And there are more other such parties. There were some Congress members who resigned from the Congress and established parties without having the name Congress in their party name. For example Lok Dal which, was established in the 1960s by Charan Singh and Janata Dal which was established by VP Singh after resigning from the INC in the late 1980s. Before the 1999 elections some senior members of the INC were forced to resign because they questioned the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. These people have created the National Congress Party to participate in 1999 elections.
Sonia Gandhi who led the INC in the 1999 elections is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the elder son of Indira Gandhi. She was born in Italy to a European Christian family. She met Rajiv Gandhi in England and married him. Indira Gandhi intended to inherit her party to her younger son Sanjay. But Sanjay died in a plane crash in 1980. So Indira Gandhi forced her elder son, who had no interest in politics, to resign from his job as a pilot and join politics. In 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards (see Indian nationalism and Gandhi murders). Rajiv Gandhi was proclaimed her heir. He was Prime Minister of India until 1989. In the 1991 election campaign a suicide bomber assassinated him. The Congress appointed Narsimha Rao as its new leader. After losing the 1996 elections Rao resigned. For sometime Sitaram Kesari was the leader, but many Congress members saw in Sonia Gandhi as the new leader and gave her lot of respect. They thought that the Congress needs a 'Gandhi' as its leader to attract votes.
In the 1999 elections Sonia Gandhi led the INC party, but it did not win the elections. In 2004 elections she again led the party and this time INC won the elections. But when offered the Prime Ministership, Sonia Gandhi refused the offer claiming her 'inner voice' prevented her from doing so. She remains the party leader and another senior party member, Manmohan Singh, was selected Prime Minister of India.
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