Change in Indian Congress

The 137-year-old Congress, which helped win India's independence from colonial power Britain and then dominated politics for decades, has long championed a secular polity

Indian National Congress was formed at Mumbai on 28 Dec 1885 by Allan Octavian Hume, Dinshaw Edulji Wacha and Dadabhai Naoroji. It’s interesting to note why that party was formed. Retired British Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer Allan Octavian Hume founded it in order to form a platform for civil and political dialogue among educated Indians. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, control of India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Empire.

Mr Hume had made an endeavor to get an organization started by reaching-out to selected alumni of the University of Calcutta. In an 1883 letter, he wrote that, “Every nation secures precisely as good a Government as it merits. If you, the picked men, the most highly educated of the nation, cannot, scorning personal ease and selfish objects, make a resolute struggle to secure greater freedom for yourselves and your country, a more impartial administration, a larger share in the management of your own affairs, then we, your friends, are wrong and our adversaries right, then are Lord Ripon's noble aspirations for your good fruitless and visionary, then, at present at any rate all hopes of progress are at an end[,] and India truly neither desires nor deserves any better Government than she enjoys."

Mr Hume assumed as the General Secretary, and Womesh Chunder Bonnerjee of Calcutta was elected president. Besides Mr Hume, two additional British members (both Scottish civil servants) were members of the founding group, William Wedderburn and Justice (later, Sir) John Jardine. The other members were mostly Hindus from the Bombay and Madras Presidencies

After the World War -1, the Congress expanded considerably, owing to public excitement after Mr Gandhi's success in Champaran and Kheda. A whole new generation of leaders arose from different parts of India, who were committed Gandhians Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, Narhari Parikh, Mahadev Desai – as well as hot-blooded nationalists aroused by Gandhi's active leadership – Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Chandra Bose, Srinivasa Iyengar.[citation needed]

Gandhi transformed the Congress from an elitist party based in the cities, to an organization of the people.

Under the Government of India Act 1935, the Congress Party tasted political power for the first time in the provincial elections of 1937. It performed extraordinarily well, coming to power in eight of the eleven provinces where elections were held. Its internal organization bloomed in the diversity of political attitudes and ideologies. 

However, when the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared India a belligerent in World War II without any consultation with the elected representatives of the people, the Congress ministries resigned. From 1885 to 1933, the presidency had a term of one year only. From 1933 onwards, there was no such fixed term for the president. During Jawaharlal Nehru's premiership, he rarely held the Presidency of Indian National Congress (INC), even though he was always head of the Legislative Party. Despite being a party with a structure, Congress under Indira Gandhi did not hold any organisational elections after 1978. In 1978, Gandhi split from the INC and formed a new opposition party, popularly called Congress (I), which the national election commission declared to be the real Indian National Congress for the 1980 general election. Gandhi institutionalised the practice of having the same person as the Congress President and the Prime Minister of India after the formation of Congress (I). Her successors Rajiv Gandhi and P. V. Narasimha Rao also continued that practice. Nonetheless, in 2004, when the Congress was voted back into power, Manmohan Singh became the first Prime Minister not to be the president of the party since establishment of the practice of the president holding both positions.

A total of 61 people have served as the president of the Indian National Congress since its formation. Sonia Gandhi is the longest serving president of the party, having held the office for over twenty years from 1998 to 2017 and from 2019 to 2022.

The latest election of President was held on 17 October 2022, in which Mr Mallikarjun Kharge has become the new President defeating Mr  Shashi Tharoor. Mr Mallikarjun Kharge is the first person from outside the influential Nehru-Gandhi family to hold the beleaguered party's presidency in 24 years.

Mr Tharoor is considered to be a much better option.He would have definitely blown some life and energy into the almost ineffective party. He knows what's wrong with India and how to correct it. Unfortunately Mr Kharge is their blind supporter. Gandhi family will not leave congress in a safe hand , instead they try to handover on their own toy. May be they are afraid of Mr Tharoor Because  all illiterate will become irrelevant if he gets in that position.

The Congress, hopes to revive its flagging fortunes with a new leader after losing two general elections and control of many state assemblies to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party which has further divided the society by supporting highly charged groups often targeting non Hindus or even low caste Hindus. 

Despite the change at the top of the Congress, the BJP, which advocates a hard-right, nationalist stance, appears to be in a strong position to win a third successive term in a general election due by 2024. Whereas in comparison, the 137-year-old Congress, which helped win India's independence from colonial power Britain and then dominated politics for decades, has long championed a secular polity.

Mr Kharge, an 80-year-old from the lowest rung of India's caste system, is seen as a Gandhi family loyalist. He overwhelmingly won the party vote, defeating former U.N. diplomat Shashi Tharoor. As a matter of fact he lacks charismatic personality and the drive needed to take the party out of deeper slump and be in a position to win and revive image at international level.

Only a stronger, ethical and rationale leadership can help issues related to neighbouring countries of India, especially Pakistan. The hostile attitude that BJP has displayed, under PM Moodi is the worst in history so far, wherein the public to public interaction, sports and even cultural exchanges have suffered adversely. Regional forums like SAF have become ineffective and redundant. Political Parties have their responsibilities too, to nurture resilience and patience in their approaches and encourage leadership which can guide their nations towards peace and prosperity.

Ateeq ur Rehman

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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