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Indian National Congress


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The principal Indian political party. It was founded in 1885 as an annual meeting of educated Indians desiring a greater share in government in cooperation with Britain. Later, divisions emerged between moderates and extremists, led by B. G. Tilak, and Congress split temporarily in 1907. Tilak died in 1920 and under the leadership of M. K. Gandhi Congress developed a powerful central organization, an elaborate branch organization in provinces and districts, and acquired a mass membership. It began to conduct major political campaigns for self-rule and independence. In 1937 it easily won the elections held under the Government of India Act (1935) in a majority of provinces. In 1939 it withdrew from government, and many of its leaders were imprisoned during the 1941 ‘Quit India’ campaign. In 1945–47 Congress negotiated with Britain for Indian independence. Under Jawaharlal Nehru it continued to dominate independent India. After his death a struggle ensued between the Congress Old Guard (the Syndicate) and younger, more radical elements of whom Mrs Indira Gandhi assumed the leadership. In 1969 it split between these two factions but was quickly rebuilt under Mrs Gandhi's leadership. In 1977 it was heavily defeated by the Janata (People's) Alliance Party, led by Morarji Desai, who became Prime Minister (1977–79). In 1978 Mrs Gandhi formed a new party, the ‘real’ Indian National Congress, or Congress (I) (for Indira). In 1979 she led this faction to victory in elections and again became Prime Minister in 1980. After her assassination in October 1984 the splits between factions largely healed and leadership of the Congress (I) Party passed to her son Rajiv Gandhi (1944–91), who became Prime Minister (1984–89). He was assassinated in May 1991, during the run-up to a general election. The Congress (I) Party was re-elected under the leadership of P. V. Narasimha Rao, who became Prime Minister until 1996, when the Party lost the general election. Rao resigned as leader of the party later that year and was replaced by Sitaram Kesri. In 1998 Sonia Gandhi, widow of Rajiv Gandhi, became party leader. Congress (I) won most seats, but not a majority, in the 2004 election. Gandhi declined the post of Prime Minister, although she remained party leader; Manmohan Singh formed a Congress (I)-led coalition government.

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