Is the Congress good for India? - the information portal on South Asia


The INC was founded in 1885 as an honorary association in which members of the Anglicised native elite of British India came together to campaign for reforms of colonial rule - in particular better access for locals to administrative offices. At the beginning of the 20th century, Congress member B.G. Tilak first made the demand for state independence. But it was only under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi that the INC became a real mass movement that fought for independence by 1947. The challenge of the INC's claim to national sole representation by the Muslim League led to the establishment of Pakistan as a state for the Muslims of India.

Jawaharlal Nehru became India's first prime minister. After the assassination of Gandhi and the death of Interior Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, his strongest inner-party rival, Nehru became the undisputed leader of the INC. Nehru was able to push through fundamental decisions of direction, such as the clear commitment to secularism, the dominance of the state in economic life and the foreign policy course of non-alignment. For the first 30 years after independence, the INC was the government of India without interruption. Equipped with comfortable majorities in the Union and states, it was the state-sponsoring and state-sponsored party until 1977. After Nehru's death in 1964, Congress veteran Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded him as premier. Shastri died only two years later during the peace negotiations in Tashkent, which were supposed to end the second Indo-Pakistani war.

The powerful regional congress leaders, the so-called "Syndicate", agreed on Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, as a compromise candidate, whom they hoped to manipulate easily. Indira, who was introduced to politics as Nehru's close confidante and who headed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Shastri's cabinet, quickly developed a will to power of her own. The beginning of their government coincided with a severe economic crisis. Two consecutive periods of drought resulted in famine and the temporary collapse of government planning. In the 1967 elections, Congress suffered heavy losses in the Union and states for the first time in its history. Although the mandate was sufficient to remain in power in New Delhi, previous opposition parties were the first to govern in several states.

The heavy defeat led to a power struggle within the Congress Party. The bosses of the "Syndicate" finally failed in an attempt to force Indira's resignation from the party leadership, and in 1969 all their followers left the party. They formed the rival Congress (Organization), which indicated that they dragged with them most of the party base and organizational infrastructure. Indira consequently continued "her" congress under the name Congress (Ruling) - since 1978 as Congress (Indira). Forced to make up for the loss of its party base, Indira embarked on a radical populist course in the early 1970s. At the same time she succeeded in politically mobilizing new layers, in the Indira Congress the peasants replaced the lawyers. She won the 1971 elections with the slogan Garibi Hatao ("Beat poverty!"). At the same time, the important political decisions were made more and more in a small circle of power. This centralization meant that Indira's politics were largely determined independently of local needs, which led to a strong alienation from politics and the population and aided corruption. Against this development, a strong protest movement formed in northern India from 1973 under the leadership of the Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan, which called for Indira's resignation as a "movement for total revolution". At the height of the protest, Indira declared a national emergency, suspended democracy and ruled quasi-dictatorially for two years. Thousands of opposition activists were arrested, the press and the judiciary were harassed, slums were forcibly cleared, and men from poorer backgrounds in particular were subjected to forced sterilization.

In a blatant misjudgment of the mood, Indira had elections scheduled for 1977, in which Congress lost the majority for the first time. He was beaten by the Janata Party, a heterogeneous party alliance consisting of congress dissidents, socialists and Hindu nationalists. Given the internal conflicts of the Janata Alliance, its success was short-lived, and in early 1980 elections, Indira's Congress came back to power. The dominant theme in the coming years was the separatist struggle of radical Sikhs for an independent Khalistan. Since the leadership of the separatists had holed up in the highest Sikh sanctuary, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and from there covered the Punjab with terror, Indira had the temple stormed by the army in 1984 in the infamous Operation Bluestar. The desecration of the sanctuary enraged even moderate Sikhs, and in the same year Indira was shot by two Sikh bodyguards. In response to this, severe pogroms broke out in Delhi against the Sikh minority, which were controlled by local Congress politicians.

The Congress Party promoted Indira's son, Rajiv Gandhi, who had entered politics only a few years earlier, to the post of party chairman, and Congress won the House of Commons elections by a huge margin. With 48% of the vote and over two thirds of the seats, he achieved his best election result to date. After the unrest of the past few months, it was probably the voters' need for stability and continuity that brought Rajiv Gandhi to power. Rajiv - alienated from most of the population - came up with a youthful vision of a modern and prosperous high-tech India. He continued the liberalization of the economy that had begun tentatively under Indira, especially in the high-tech sector, which laid the foundation for today's world-famous Indian software industry. Ultimately, however, Rajiv was unable to even come close to satisfying the needs of the great mass of the population. In addition, there were investigations against the congress leadership and the Gandhi family in connection with a corruption scandal over arms deliveries by the Swedish Bofors concern, which forced the downfall of the Rajiv government. In the 1989 elections, Congress had to hand over power to the minority government of the National Front, an electoral alliance led by Janata Dal (JD). This marked the beginning of an era of minority and coalition governments for India. For reasons which will be discussed below, the National Front government under V.P. Singh as early as 1990. It is true that Chandra Shekar, an inner-party rival of Singh, led another minority government in the following months. Since Shekar was dependent on the toleration of the Congress, he became its puppet, which was dropped at the appropriate time. That time came when the Shekar government declared India's insolvency in 1991, faced with dramatically shrinking foreign exchange reserves, and began negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Although Shekar only partially accepted the structural adjustments demanded by the IMF, he received harsh criticism from the opposition camp. In this situation, the Congress, on whose votes Shekar relied, boycotted the vote on the interim budget, so that the government was forced to resign.

In the election campaign that followed, the Congress Party was rocked by the suicide bombing of Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil terrorist. In the midst of the elections, the Indira confidante P.V. Narasimha Rao chosen as the successor to Rajiv. Congress won the elections with 225 seats but missed an absolute majority. Although Rao began his tenure as the leader of a minority government, he later succeeded in pulling JD MPs into his camp. Now equipped with a parliamentary majority, he set about liberalizing the Indian economy together with his finance minister Manmohan Singh. The Rao government survived a full legislative period, but in the end it was worn out: Despite its undisputed economic successes, the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya fell during her reign, Rao was confronted with massive allegations of corruption, and the Congress had to suffer repeated defeats in state elections . The 1996 lower house elections also brought the Congress Party a heavy defeat. Although she still managed to get the most votes, she only got 136 seats. Rao resigned from the party's chairmanship and was replaced by Sitaram Kesri. Until 1997, Congress externally supported the minority government of the United Front, but withdrew its trust in the government in late 1997 when it became known that a South Indian regional party of the United Front allegedly had ties to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi were held responsible.

For the election campaign that followed, the INC leadership succeeded in winning Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi's widow, as a draft horse, who had previously refused to enter politics. But contrary to the expectations of the Congress base, the party at the polls hardly benefited from Sonia's commitment. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) relegated the congress, which received 141 seats, to second place and for the first time drew level in terms of the percentage of votes. Despite the disappointed hopes, Sonia took over the chairmanship of the party shortly after the elections, replacing the old guard around Kesri. Together with her daughter Priyanka, who is said to have ambitions for a political career, Sonia continues the family tradition of the quasi-dynastic party leadership. The congress could not use the overthrow of the BJP-led government after only 13 months in office because it failed with the formation of a new government. When, during the beginning of the election campaign, three "regional princes" of the congress questioned Sonia's claim to leadership with reference to her Italian origins, she forced the rebels to be expelled with a temporary resignation. While the disciplined dissidents founded a new party under the name Nationalist Congress Party, Sonia led the traditional congress as the top candidate in the elections in autumn 1999. But again the INC remained only the second strongest force with 112 seats and was again voted for by the voters Referred to the opposition benches.

Organization, voter and program

The highest body of the INC is the All-India Congress Committee, which meets twice a year and is supposed to discuss the state and course of the party, make binding decisions and coordinate the work of the various national associations. In the intervening period, the Congress Working Committee leads the party. The party chairperson is elected by the delegates of all regional associations for a two-year term. While the INC still functioned as the umbrella for an extremely complicated finding of consensus between the country's diverse interests until the 1960s, under Indira Gandhi it increasingly transformed itself into a patronage system through which the maintenance of power was organized.

As the legacy of the independence movement, the INC united the most diverse groups of voters for decades: the educated, Anglicized middle and upper classes and large farmers voted for INC, as did the oppressed casteless and religious minorities. In the 1980s he lost many voters from the lower castes and minorities, while the BJP successfully campaigned for votes from the middle classes.

To this day, the INC sees itself as the national, secular force. In terms of its program, it stands for decentralization and the strengthening of local government as well as a far-reaching liberalization policy. He calls for administrative reform, the introduction of women's quotas in parliament, an education offensive, modernization of agriculture and tough action against corruption.


  • Paul R. Brass and Francis Robinson (eds.) (1987): The Indian National Congress and Indian Society, 1885-1985, Delhi: Chanakya
  • John L. Hill (ed.) (1991): The Congress and Indian Nationalism. Historical Perspectives, Westwood, Massachusetts: Riverdale
  • Om P. Gautam (1985): The Indian National Congress. An Analytical Biography, Delhi
  • Stanley A. Kochanek (1968): The Congress Party of India, Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Myron Weiner (1967): Party Building in a New Nation. The Indian National Congress, Chicago: University of Chicago Press


  • The official website of the party with party statutes, election programs, addresses, party history, press releases and biographies of well-known congress leaders: Indian National Congress