byname CONGRESS PARTY, OR CONGRESS (i) Party, broadly based political party of India, founded in 1885. It dominated the Indian movement for independence from Great Britain and formed most of India's governments after independence was achieved.

The first Congress met in December 1885. Its yearly meetings passed moderate reform resolutions until 1917, when the group's "extremist" Home Rule wing took over under B.G. Tilak and Annie Besant. In the 1920s and '30s the Congress, led by Mohandas Gandhi, promoted noncooperation movements to protest the perceived feebleness of the constitutional reforms of 1919 and Britain's manner of carrying them out. Another wing of the organization, which believed in working within the system, contested elections in 1923 and 1937 as the Swaraj (Home Rule) Party, with particular success in the latter year. When World War II began and Britain made India a belligerent without consulting Indian elected councils, the Congress declared that India would not support the war effort until granted complete independence. In 1942 the organization sponsored mass civil disobedience to support the demand that the British "quit India." In 1947 an Indian independence bill became law, and in January 1950 India's constitution as an independent state took effect.

From 1951 until his death in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru dominated the Congress Party, which won overwhelming victories in the elections of 1951-52, 1957, and 1962. In 1964 the party united to elect Lal Bahadur Shastri, and in 1966 Indira Gandhi (Nehru's daughter), to the posts of party leader and prime minister. In 1967, however, Indira Gandhi had to overcome open opposition to retain her posts, and in 1969 she broke with a group of party leaders--the "Syndicate"--who expelled her from the party. The elections of 1971, however, brought a landslide victory for her New Congress Party.

From 1975 Mrs. Gandhi's government grew increasingly more authoritarian, and unrest among the opposition grew. Parliamentary elections in March 1977 proved a landslide victory for the opposition Janata Party, which secured 295 seats against 153 for the Congress; Mrs. Gandhi herself lost to her Janata opponent. On Jan. 2, 1978, she and her followers seceded and formed what they called the "real" Indian National Congress, popularly called the Congress (I) ("I" for Indira). In November she regained a parliamentary seat and in 1980 again became prime minister. Her son Rajiv Gandhi became nominal head of the party in 1982; and, upon the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October 1984, he became prime minister.

Rajiv Gandhi was unseated in the general election of November 1989, and, while campaigning for the post again in May 1991, he was assassinated. P.V. Narasimha Rao succeeded Gandhi as leader of the party and was elected prime minister in June 1991. After a decisive party defeat in parliamentary elections held in April-May 1996, Rao resigned as prime minister and, in September, as party president. He was succeeded as president by Sitaram Kesri.

Copyright ¨Ï 1994-2000 Encyclop©¡dia Britannica, Inc.