27 Mar 2019
Everything you should know about Congress and its revival battle
Written byShalini Ojha
The 2014 general elections brought Congress to its weakest tally. The party, known for electing Prime Ministers, managed to win only 44 seats in Lok Sabha.
This is precisely why the upcoming summer elections are a battle for Congress' revival. The pressure on party president Rahul Gandhi is immense and if he fails to deliver his critics won't bat an eyelid before berating him.
As India goes to polls, let's look at the glorious and horrid days of Congress.
Congress became national organization even before India got independence
Congress' presence in Indian politics is decades old. Founded in 1885, Congress had become a national organization before Mahatma Gandhi emerged as the leader of masses in India's independence struggle.
After India was given freedom from centuries of oppression on August 15, 1947, Congress was the only dominant party.
Jawahar Lal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of free India.
Nehru showed Indians a dream with his dynamic personality
As India went through the pain of partition, communal tension, and financial uncertainty, Nehru emerged as a ray of hope.
Till his death in 1964, he attracted crowds in rallies and spoke about building India. After his demise, Congress found itself in a soup.
But K. Kamaraj, who was AICC president at the time, ensured Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded Nehru.
Shastri became national hero after 1965 Indo-Pak war
Though Shastri lacked the mass appeal of Nehru, he was an equally respectable leader. He made Indira Gandhi the I&B Minister and worked relentlessly towards improving India's global standing.
Shastri diversified India's defense budget, led India to victory in 1965 Indo-Pak war (coining the term Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan), and encouraged White Revolution.
In 1966, Shastri died rather mysteriously in Tashkent.
Nehru's daughter Indira rose in 1970s
Kamaraj swung to action once again and made Indira India's PM, choosing her over Morarji Desai.
By mid-1969, infighting crept into Congress mainly due to Indira's decision of nationalizing 14 banks. This led to the resignation of Finance Minister Desai.
Later, Congress President S. Nijalingappa expelled Indira from the party and to counter him she floated her own party called Congress (R).
After historic win, Indira declared Emergency in 1975
Counting on "Garibi Hatao" (Remove poverty), Indira won parliamentary elections in 1971. But soon, her authoritarian regime earned her critics.
Things went out of hand when she declared Emergency in 1975 and put most of the Opposition leaders in jail.
Two years later, in a surprise move, Indira ended Emergency and announced general elections. But Janata Party led by Morarji Desai defeated her.
Indira returned to power again in 1980
In 1978, Indira and her followers formed Congress (I), the primary Opposition party. Since differences of opinion clouded Desai's rule, the government soon became a minority.
Indira was elected as PM again in 1980. This time around, her governance was met with loud voices of secession in Punjab.
Hoping to quell the anger, Indira gave support to a local leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who later turned against her.
Operation Bluestar became last battle of Indira
Bhindranwale and his followers took over Golden Temple in Amritsar and to curtail the bloodshed, Indira gave green signal to Operation Bluestar.
Though the battle ended in the army's victory, Indira angered Sikhs as she attacked the holiest shrine of the community.
Two of her Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira on October 31, 1984, making way for her son Rajiv as the new PM.
Rajiv had to step into his mother's shoes
Rajiv, who was married to Sonia, was a reluctant politician. Unlike his brother Sanjay, who passed away in a plane crash in 1980, Rajiv kept himself busy with meetings and gatherings.
So, when he was given task of handling the nation, he didn't live up to expectations.
Rajiv's first failure as a leader was his insensitivity towards anti-Sikh riots which sparked after Indira's death.
Rajiv failed to show good governance
Despite the violence, Rajiv won the 1984 elections easily. But his tenure was soon mired with controversies. Rigging of Kashmir elections in 1987 and the Bofors scandal tarnished Rajiv's image of an honest politician which led to Congress' defeat in 1989.
In May 1991, Rajiv was assassinated by Tamil militants from Sri Lanka. In June that year, Congress' PV Narasimha Rao became India's PM.
Rao as PM
Rao rectified the mistakes of his predecessors
Rao tried to make things right. Due to Congress' socialist reforms, the country didn't take strides in the economy but Rao brought relief by encouraging market liberalization.
Dr. Manmohan Singh was the finance minister at the time and one of Rao's closest confidantes.
However, a slew of corruption charges spelled trouble for Congress and the party lost elections in 1996.
Soon, Sonia Gandhi emerged as formidable force in Congress
In the last years of the 20th century, Congress leaders showed where their allegiance lied- Sonia Gandhi. So when India went into elections in 2004, Sonia led Congress defeated Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA.
But rather than becoming PM herself, Sonia chose Dr. Singh. Five years later, Congress won elections again and he got a second term in office.
Congress' became synonymous to corruption in second term
From 2009-2014, Congress got embroiled in various corruption charges: the 2G scam, Coalgate, and CWG episode. In 2011, Gandhian Anna Hazare launched a nationwide anti-corruption move and BJP, which was in Opposition, tapped on it.
Narendra Modi emerged as BJP's PM candidate and he led the party to a historic victory in 2014.
BJP won 282 seats in Lok Sabha.
Congress' allegiance to one family made things more difficult
BJP not only targeted corruption, but it also projected Congress as a party which was loyal to just one family.
Before 2014, BJP questioned the leadership qualities of Sonia's son Rahul and asked why he should be allowed to lead the country.
All the strategies worked well in BJP's favor. But as years passed, Rahul also learned tricks of the trade.
Congress didn't get good news until December 2018
After 2014, BJP kept promising a Congress-mukt bharat and the grand old party lost one state after another.
While some states gave unimaginable support to BJP (read UP), BJP president Amit Shah's actions kept Congress out of power in others (like Goa and Mizoram).
In 2019, under Rahul's leadership, Congress wrested power from BJP in three Hindi heartland states- Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Congress and Rahul have a long and bumpy road ahead
Riding on the success of assembly polls, Rahul is hoping to resurrect Congress in Indian politics. For this purpose, he also gave his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra an active role by making her the in-charge of the party for UP East.
While Rahul has selected good points to target PM Modi, like crony capitalism, joblessness, and agrarian distress, his road won't be easy.
The nation still remembers corruption, sycophancy, and distress of the Congress era.