Congress, we find that the party rose from ashes only when it had a charismatic leader or a strong wind in favour of it due to sympathy. The Indian National Congress is a “sinking ship”; many of us have heard that by now. Yet it’s a bit astonishing to think how far the political party has fallen. After all, until recently, the history of Congress ran almost in parallel with the history of India itself, to an extent where the line between these histories seemed blurred. The leaders of Congress were the leaders of India and a large part of the Indian Freedom Movement owed its existence to this “grand old party,” which was not just a political party, but also an umbrella organisation where different schools of thought used to co-exist together.hen we study the history of
From Gandhi to Jinnah, from Nehru to Bose, from Tilak to Gokhale, the Congress itself contained people poles apart from each other ideologically. However, yet it not only remained as one party but also went on to define the political system itself in India, leading Dr. Rajni Kothari to coin the term “Congress System.” The organisational structure of the Congress was so deep-rooted and entrenched that it reached to the grassroot level, to the last man, as a part of Gandhian idealism.
However, Congress could not uphold these ideals of working on the ground for as long as the people of India hoped it would. Much of Congress’ dominance at the centre as well as the state level was due to the fact that people voted in the name of the Congress, which had won freedom for the country.
People felt almost indebted to the party and continued to bring them back to power in the hope that Swarajya (self-rule) would actually be realised on the ground and the days of Ram Rajya (the idyllic rule of Rama), which Gandhi used to mention in his speeches and writings, would come. People waited for years, but neither Swarajya nor Ram Rajya came about.
Instead, the people realised, nepotism and corruption were increasing day by day in the political system. It was not Ram Rajya, but the Raaj of one family — the Gandhi family. The family alone accounts for three Prime Ministers, who ruled the country for around 37 years, while another 10 years of governance in the 21st century was also largely led by the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.
Slowly, as disillusionment set in, the Congress System started to deteriorate. Still, it took around a decade for a non-Congress party to come into power in a state. In Kerala, the Left was voted to power in the 1957 legislative assembly elections. E. M. S. Namboodiripad became the first democratically elected communist leader, though the Congress was still a huge force to reckon with.
However, things were about to change tremendously, especially in the heartlands of India, where people were now looking for an alternative. They were angry with the false promises made by the Congress politicians in election after election.
The first jolt to the Congress came when Jawaharlal Nehru died in 1964. Everyone in the Congress was asking only one question: “Who comes after Nehru?” Nehru was the tallest national leader of the party and India itself; his death created a vacuum in the political space, which he had been acquiring for the last 17 years since the independence of the country. The Congress positioned Lal Bahadur Shastri as India’s second prime minister but not for long. He died suspiciously at Tashkent in 1966.
With the death of two Prime Ministers in quick succession, the Congress party, which had previously been able to win constituencies based solely on the charisma of its leaders, could no longer do so, at least at the regional level. The fight within the party was increasing. The tide finally turned in the 1967 elections, held from February 15 to 22. Out of the 16 states, only in eight, the Congress returned to power with absolute majorities in the state legislatures.
Equally bad was the rout of the Congress’ top leadership. The seven members of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet at the centre were defeated. The presidents of Congress party organisations in six states also lost, along with the Chief Ministers in four states.
Congress was clearly losing its touch, as the party started showing the first signs of a break. The party became divided into many factions like Indian National Congress (I), Indian National Congress (O), Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Utkal Congress, and Bangla Congress. Many of these factions later became defunct as they merged with the Janata Party during the emergency. The future of the Congress party lies in the hands of the people who are qualified to lead it.
(The final part will continue tomorrow.)
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