From being India’s sole major party to performing pitiably, the Congress party has been slowly losing ground. The Congress was dealt an electoral blow in the general election of 2014 that prevented it from moving forward. It also gave birth to a politician with the charm of Indira Gandhi in Narendra Modi. The political climate in Delhi saw a tectonic shift as a result, moving from the Congress’s centrist philosophy to the right-wing BJP brand, which announced a new political platform vowing to usher in a new India free of Congress.
The party’s political journey can be divided into three historical periods. It officially started its first phase as the Indian National Congress (INC) when the country gained independence, and it experienced a comeback in 1971 when Indira Gandhi broke free from the limitations of powerful individuals who knew her father and created her own party. Rajiv Gandhi served as the leader of the Congress (Indira) from the time of her death in 1984 until his murder in 1991. During this period of political limbo, which lasted from 1992 to 1997, the party was not led by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Congress entered its 3.0 era in 1997, when Sonia Gandhi took control of the organisation. She returned it to the centre of power in 2004 and maintained it there for ten years (in coalition with other parties) before declaring victory in the 2014 election.
With the first national election in 1952, which Jawaharlal Nehru won by a landslide, the INC won the majority of subsequent state elections and set the foundation for the Nehruvian era of one-party rule (364 of the 401 seats were won by the INC). Following its three electoral victories in the Lok Sabha elections in 1952, 1957, and 1962, he recognised the Congress party as the major consensus and, thus, the dominant party with a duty to nation-building through which the Indian political system operated after independence. After winning consecutive elections in 1952, 1957, and 1970, he recognised the Congress party as the dominant party with a duty to promote nation building and the main source of consensus in the Indian political system.
The Congress government under Nehru was exactly what India needed after years of British misrule had completely destroyed it, but its hegemonic dominance also planted the seeds of its eventual downfall, which became clear over time.
General elections were held in 1967 under the direction of Indira Gandhi following the deaths of Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, and the Congress party, which was plagued by internal strife and factionalism, lost not only more than 100 parliamentary seats but also four percentage points of the popular vote. Following such losses in eight state elections, which significantly jeopardised its hegemony, it persisted in being “the preponderant political force in the country.” Because of Nehru’s strong leadership, the influential members of his cabinet began to feel threatened, which sparked the creation of syndicates that rose to prominence after his death with the intention of seizing control and damaging the reputation of the Congress party, which was known for its decisive leadership and champions of internal party democracy.
When Indira Gandhi was appointed prime minister of India in 1966, the party’s leadership crisis following the passing of the previous leader Lal Bahadur Shastri was resolved. With the campaign slogan “Garibi Hatao,” Indira Gandhi ran in the general election of 1971, and her pro-poor rhetoric generated a wave of support that helped her party gain 69 more parliamentary seats and 3% more votes across all of India. With Indira Gandhi gaining a colossal image compared to the Indian goddess Durga and beginning a new chapter known as the personality cult in Indian politics, the elections finally put an end to the leadership dilemma.
Rajiv Gandhi became the new party leader after Indira Gandhi’s death. In the 1984 general elections, Rajiv Gandhi led the party to a stunning victory, capturing a record-breaking 415 seats in large part due to the sympathy wave caused by Indira Gandhi’s murder. The party’s political influence and one-party hegemony in the 1989 General Elections were undermined by the Bofors Scam. Congress retook control of the government after the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, and it ruled the country with absolute authority from 1971 to 1988. From 1989 through 1996, it remained the biggest political party.
The years 1992 to 1996 might be regarded as a period of transition for the party because the party’s leadership changed during this time and the Congress president for the first time wasn’t a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Congress encouraged Sonia Gandhi, who had abstained from politics following Rajiv Gandhi’s murder, to assume leadership and bring the party back into competition after realising that the BJP might steal its thunder and become into a viable national party alternative.
The third phase of Congress party politics, which was initiated in 2004 and prevented the party’s approaching demise and brought it back to power at the federal level, is now underway.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which was put together by Congress and was led by Sonia Gandhi, competed against the NDA, which was led by the popular Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayi, in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. The NDA government had done quite well, but the public did not appreciate the Gujarat riots or its “India Shining” campaign, and it lost the elections to its primary rival. Manmohan Singh was appointed head of the UPA government. The Manmohan-Sonia-Rahul troika took over as the leader after a single individual was removed from it. The trio was successful for five years (2004–2009) and won more than 200 seats on its own at the 2009 national elections, maintaining its hold on power. Manmohan Singh, Sonia, and Rahul Gandhi’s joint leadership, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the Farm Loan Waiver Program, the UPA government’s pro-poor policies, the guarantee of stability, and the victory of secular forces are all to thank for the impressive performance of congress.
The UPA II administration was beset by numerous scams, high unemployment and inflation rates, price increases, and the policy gridlock that gripped the country in the final two years of its existence, which led to the halfway loss of the gains made by Congress in 2009. The nation went through a “wave” election with a new dimension as two currents competed simultaneously in the general election of 2014, which truly signalled the end of Congress. The first current, a strong anti-incumbency tsunami, reduced the number of seats in Congress to 44, the lowest number ever, and its vote share fell below 20%. With a large majority, the saffron party gained majority again in Delhi as a result of the second wave, which supported BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi. This marked the beginning of the BJP’s domination in the country’s power political spectrum.
At last in my opinion the party currently lacks a strong leader and a functional organisation, and the BJP has cleverly established itself as the lone dominant party in Indian politics by appropriating its ideological platform of leftist-welfares policies for the poor. Congress needs to update its ideological stance in order to counter the BJP’s ascent in the nation and widen the party’s doors to those with right-wing political beliefs. The party can resurrect itself by
reorganising the party structure, recruiting flag bearers and foot soldiers from the grassroots, and setting attainable goals for a political comeback in the far future.
Pragati Pragi B.A.LLB Hon’s