A Brief History of the Congress Party on its 139th Foundation Day

Congress 1885

Mallikarjun Kharge, the National President of the Congress party, raised the party flag, on the occasion of the 139th Foundation Day celebration event, at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) Headquarters in Delhi on Thursday.

Kharge said that the Congress party will never move away from its ideologies and will progress with its ideologies.

“On foundation day our duty is to gather in a large number and send a message across the nation that the Congress party will never move away from its ideologies and will progress with its ideologies. We want to give a message from Nagpur…we are working keeping in mind that (2024 Lok Sabha elections),” he said.

In a post on X, Kharge wrote, “The Congress party represents the will of the people. It is synonymous with struggle, compassion, freedom, justice and equality. On the solemn occasion of Congress Foundation Day, we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to protect the Constitution of India and uphold the values of Democracy.”

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi wrote on X, “The foundation of truth and non-violence, built on pillars of love, brotherhood, respect, and equality, with the roof of patriotism, I am proud to be a part of such an organization; I take pride in being a member of the Congress. Heartfelt wishes to all the leaders, officials, supporters, and my dear fellow Congress workers on the occasion of Congress Foundation Day.”

So as the Indian National Congress celebrates its 139th foundation day, let’s dive into a brief history of ‘India’s Grand Old Party’:

As the Grand Old Party, the Congress, commemorates its 139th foundation day today, it’s worth delving into its storied journey that has indelibly shaped India’s modern history. 

The Indian National Congress (INC), initially started as a party with the objective of influencing British policies in India but later evolved to take a leading role in India’s nationalist movement, before becoming a dominant force in post-Independence India.

The INC was founded in 1885 by Allan Octavian Hume, a retired British Indian Civil Service officer, the INC started as a platform for civil and political dialogue among educated Indians. Alongside Hume, prominent figures like Dadabhai Naoroji, Surendranath Banerjee, and Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee played pivotal roles. 

The first session of the Congress took place from December 28-31, 1885, in Bombay’s Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College, with Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee as its inaugural president.

Initially the primary goal was not to end the colonial rule but rather to shape British policies favorably for Indians. It was often characterized as serving as a “safety valve” that allowed Indians to express their grievances and frustrations.

The party was under fire from the British for upsetting the status quo, while at the same time, it was being criticised by the Indians for not doing enough.

Notably, it largely consisted of educated, upper-class people, many of whom had studied abroad.

However, major differences emerged regarding what its goals should be, and how the Congress should function, which eventually resulted, in a split in the INC, between the moderates, led by Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Surendranath Banerjea, and the extremists faction led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The two factions envisioned a very different response to the Bengal Partition of 1905 in terms of pursuing methods of protest against the Bengal Partition.

However, as Mahatma Gandhi was entering the political scene in Colonial India, the two factions re-united in 1915 and further in 1916 saw closing of ranks of Congress with members of the All-India Muslim League at the Lucknow Session of INC.

From First Electoral Victory to Coalition Politics to the Ongoing Decline Today:

In the 1937 provincial elections, the INC gained political power for the first time. It won elections in eight of the eleven provinces where they were held. This aided the growth of the internal organisation.

Jawaharlal Nehru, who presided over at least eight INC sessions, was the frontrunner in India’s struggle for independence and eventually became the country’s first prime minister, a position he held for 17 years.

Thereafter, Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Nehru, succeeded him in politics and became India’s first female Prime Minister, holding the position for 15 years until her assassination in 1984.

Following her, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s son, assumed office as India’s youngest prime minister from 1984 to 1989.

In total, the party has produced seven prime ministers for India, securing victories in six elections and leading coalitions on four occasions. After the tragic assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi took over the party’s leadership in 1998. 

In the 2004 general election, the Congress party forged alliances with various regional parties and established the government under the umbrella of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, in 2004, he continued to serve as the Prime Minister of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2009 also.

However, the tenure was marred by corruption allegations, and INC was reduced to 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the Narendra Modi-led NDA government stormed to power. In 2019, the NDA reclaimed power and ever since then, the country has seen the decline of the Grand Old Party, which has failed to resurge in the political landscape of the country.

However, the Congress is trying its bid to re-emerge with the recent 4,000-kilometer Bharat Jodo Yatra launched by Rahul Gandhi, who took over the party’s reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi, and was the President of INC for 19 years, eventually resigning from the post after the party suffered a crushing defeat in the 2019 General Elections.

Presently, Mallikarjun Kharge is the President of INC, who was elected to the post in October 2022. He is the party’s first non-Gandhi president in 24 years, signaling a possible shift in the party’s leadership dynamics, though the Gandhis are still at the helm of the Power play in Congress.

However, it is yet to see, how the Congress will fare in the 2024 General Election, the results of which will serve as the litmus test for the Congress party, in a political landscape presently enveloped in nationalistic tones and strongly footed Hindutva ideology of its major opponent whose reigns are there with a charismatic leader like Narendra Modi.

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