National parties are political parties which participate in different elections held all over India. Some of the national parties have their origin even before India's independence.
The oldest national party in India is the Indian National Congress (INC). In was established in 1885 as a pro-British Indian organization. Later on it became the main voice of India's freedom struggle. After India's independence, the British passed the administration of India to the leaders of the Indian National Congress.
Until 1966 the Congress was a stable party. In 1966 Indira Gandhi became the leader of the Congress and Prime Minister of India. From this period the Congress lost its stability. Some of the veteran members of the Congress did not accept her leadership and they tried to dispose her. In 1969 the Congress split and her opponents established a new Congress part. But still INC was the largest and ruling party of India.
Indira Gandhi's Congress lost the 1977 elections to the Janata Party. A few months after the defeat, another split happened in the Congress party. The party of Indira Gandhi was called Congress ( I ), the initial denoting of her name. During this period many more splits and coalitions occurred within the different Congress parties. Some of these new party members including its founders 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 fold of Congress and have a name Congress in their party name. 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.
The INC is in the Indian political arena prior to India's independence. There were other parties, which were established after independence, and, for some period, were challenging the continuous rule of the Congress, some of them were almost vanished from the political arena.
The first political party which, was seen as challenging the Congress continuous rule was Swatantra Party. It was established in 1959 and was supported by some big businessmen. It opposed the socialism policy of the Congress It had members in the Lok Sabha until 1977. Another party, which challenged the Congress party but later on almost vanished from the political arena, was Janata Party. Janata Party was the first political party in India to establish a non-Congress government when it won the 1977 elections.
Janata Party was established before the 1977 elections. The person responsible for the formation of Janata Party was Jayaprakash Narayan, called in short JP. JP was a freedom fighter and a social activist. Many in India respected him and saw in him a moral figure.
In the early 1970s the reign of Indira Gandhi began to show signs of corruption and dictatorship and there was a general feeling that liberal democracy is coming to an end. JP openly attacked Indira Gandhi's policy and asked other leaders to express their views about the dangers. Between 1975-77 emergency rule was declared. 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 would support her because her general intention was to make India a better place and so she declared elections in 1977.
To prevent her victory different political parties organized as one party. This party was called Janata Party. The main factions of this party were, Congress (O), Lok Dal, Jan Sangh, and other parties. This party won the 1977 elections and Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister of India. But this party as it was formed did not survive for a long time. This party which was actually a group of factions with one desire to defeat Indira Gandhi, did not find any thing common among its members after they defeated Gandhi. As long as JP was alive, the different factions still stayed together. But after his death in 1978 a clear split occurred in the Janata Party between Morarji Desai's supporters and Charan Singh's supporters. In 1979 Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister and other members tried to replace Prime Minister. During this period Jagjivan Ram, an untouchable according to strict Hindu society, was very near to become a Prime Minister. But finally Charan Singh of the Lok Dal faction was proclaimed the new Prime Minister. A few weeks after Charan Singh became the Prime Minister, because of the instability in the coalition, the president declared on new elections.
In 1980 new national elections took place in which Indira Gandhi's Congress again won the elections. Later on after these elections, different factions of the Janata Party broke up from the Janata Party and established their own parties. Among these parties were Jan Sangh which later on was renamed Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Janata Party continues to survive, but is very small. In the 1996 elections it did not win any seat in the national elections and in the 1998 elections it won only one seat.
Another political party which, was actually a political bloc of different factions and managed to form a government was Janata Dal. This party was established because of the claim that there was corruption in the Congress government. In 1984 Rajiv Gandhi formed the Congress government. The finance minister of his government was VP Singh. VP Singh found out that a Swedish company, Bofors, was bribing some senior members of the Congress. Singh tried to investigate this affair. Gandhi moved him from the office and made him Defence Minister, but Singh resigned from the government and started a new party called Janata Dal. This party was made up of former Janata Party, Lok Dal and some INC members. In the 1989 elections this party came second after INC but it managed to establish a coalition government with other parties. This coalition was called National Front. This front also broke up after two years.
Between 1996 and 2004 the largest party was the Bhartiya Janata Party. The BJP began its political career after India's independence with only three members in the first elections held in 1952. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party, which draws its inspiration from Hinduism. This party sees in India a Hindu state and it emphasizes Hindu pride and Hindu past of India.
This party was established after India's independence, but its origin is also pre-independence. In the 19th century a Hindu nationalist organization, Arya Samaj, was established. The ideas of this organization influenced another Hindu organization established later in British India, the Hindu Mahasabha. Hindu Mahasabha opposed the secular Congress philosophy and wanted to establish a Hindu state in British India. Another Hindu organization in British India was Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), meaning national volunteers organization. One person who belonged in different stages of his life to these two organizations assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. After his assassination these two organizations were outlawed for sometime. The leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Shyam Mookherji resigned from the party and established with the members of RSS a new Hindu nationalist party, which was named Jana Sangh. This party had moderate ideas than the its former components. In its first two decades the party's major holds were in north India's Hindi speaking regions, because this party supported turning Hindi into the national language of India (see Official Language of India). In 1977 this party was an important faction of the Janata Party. In the 1980s it broke from the Janata Party and changed its name to Bhartiya Jana Sangh. Later on it renamed itself as Bhartiya Janata Party.
There are also other national parties, which were established in India. The Bahujan Samaj Party was established in the 1980s. But even though this party is a national party, its represents only the oppressed classes of India. Samajwadi Party was established in 1992. Two communist parties, Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist party of India- Marxist (CPM) are also national parties. There are some parties who have national agendas but participate only in certain regions of India and not all over India. For example Forward Bloc (see also Subhas Chandra Bose) which participates in elections only in West Bengal and neighboring Bihar.
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