The 1951 general election was of great importance to the country as it was the very first general election held in India after Independence. Based upon universal adult suffrage, these elections were an opportunity for anyone with 21 years or older in age to participate in the democratic process. Organizing the first-ever elections in India was an arduous task and it took around four months: October 25, 1951 to February 21, 1952 to get over. Though the Indian National Congress was the largest political party in India at that time, favorable atmosphere was created for opposition parties too to take part in the elections. Before Independent India went to the polls, two former cabinet colleagues of Nehru established separate political parties to challenge the INC’s supremacy. While Shyama Prasad Mookerjee went on to found the Jana Sangh, Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar revived the Scheduled Castes Federation (which was later named the Republican Party).
The election was held in 26 Indian states. Around 170,000 candidates wanted a chance in the state assemblies for around 3,278 seats. Besides, there were 489 seats to be filled in the Lok Sabha, for which around 1,800 candidates contested. It was the INC that tried its best at all levels to win the interest and trust of people across the nation. In fact, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his election campaigning, approached about one tenth of India’s population, or 35 million people, by covering about 40,000 km. 17.6 Cr Indians, 85 per cent of whom couldn’t read or write, formed the electorate. Symbols were used on ballot papers for voters who couldn’t read. Voter turnout was 45.7%.
The Indian National Congress party won 364 of the 489 seats with around 45% votes all over the country, over four times as many as the second-largest party. B. R. Ambedkar was defeated in the Bombay constituency by a little-known Kajrolkar. Jawaharlal Nehru became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the country. The Congress formed the government at the Centre and in all the states. It did not get a majority on its own in four states-Madras, Travancore-Cochin, Orissa and PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab State Union)—but formed governments even there with the help of independents and smaller, local parties which then merged with it.
At the close of the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, the British government established an imperial headquarters on the subcontinent at Kolkata. Over the next twenty-plus years, administrators set out to engage the natives in order to avoid the rebellions which forced the East India Company to relinquish control in the first place. By 1883, the responsibility for developing this coalition became the personal mission of a retired district officer named Allan Octavian Hume. Capitalizing on the simmering desire amongst Indians for independence, he composed an open letter for a carefully-chosen group of graduates from the University of Calcutta explaining they would have to “make a resolute struggle to secure greater freedom for yourselves and your country.”
The idea of the Congress took concrete shape during a meeting of the Theosophical Convention in Madras in December 1884. In March 1885 a notice was issued convening a meeting at Pune in December of the same year, but due to a severe plague outbreak there, the meeting was later shifted to Bombay. Granted permission by the governor, the Viceroy understood Hume’s intention — coupled with that of natives like Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee and others — to be the creation of a single point of contact for the varying concerns locals might bring to the colonial government.
On December 28, 1885, a group of 72 delegates gathered at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Mumbai to form the Indian National Congress (INC) with W.C. Bannerjee in the chair and Hume assuming office as the General Secretary. Other important delegates included Dadabhai Naoroji, Justice Ranade, Pherozeshah Mehta, K.T. Telang and Dinshaw Wacha. Defining the objective of the Congress, the president spoke of the “promotion of personal intimacy and friendship among all the more earnest workers in our country’s cause in the parts of the empire and eradication of race, creed or provincial prejudice and fuller development of national unity”.
Subsequently, the Congress led India to Independence in 1947 after a long but remarkably peaceful struggle.
In December 1905, at the Benaras session of the Indian National Congress, the Extremists wanted to extend the Boycott and Swadeshi Movement to regions outside Bengal and also to include all forms of associations within the boycott programme and thus start a nationwide mass movement. The Moderates, on the other hand, advocated strictly constitutional methods to protest against the partition of Bengal. At the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1906, as a concession to the militants, the goal of the Indian National Congress was defined as ‘swarajya’ or self-government. The word swaraj was mentioned for the first time, but its connotation was not spelt out.
The Extremists, emboldened by the proceedings at the Calcutta session, gave a call for wide passive resistance and boycott of schools, colleges, legislative councils, municipalities, law courts, etc. The Moderates, encouraged by the news that council reforms were on the anvil, decided to tone down the Calcutta programme. The Extremists thought that the people had been aroused and the battle for freedom had begun. The Moderates saw in the council reforms an opportunity to realise their dream of Indian participation in the administration.
By 1907 session in Surat, Both sides adopted rigid positions, leaving no room for compromise. The split became inevitable, and the Congress was now dominated by the Moderates who lost no time in reiterating Congress commitment to the goal of self- government within the British Empire and to constitutional methods only to achieve this goal. The Government launched a massive attack on the Extremists. Between 1907 and 1911, five new laws were enforced to check anti-government activity. Tilak, the main Extremist leader, was sent to Mandalay (Burma) jail for six years. Aurobindo and B.C. Pal retired from active politics. Lajpat Rai left for abroad. The Extremists were not able to organise an effective alternative party to sustain the movement. The Moderates were left with no popular base or support, especially as the youth rallied behind the Extremists. After 1908, the national movement as a whole declined for a time. In 1914, Tilak was released and he picked up the threads of the movement.
In 1967 while Indira Gandhi was PM, the Syndicate consisting of Moraraji Desai and others was controlling Indian National Congress (INC). On Kamaraj’s retirement as party president at the end of 1967, Syndicate foiled Indira’s attempt to have her own men elected to succeed him. Instead, the post went to the conservative Nijalingappa. In May 1967, the Congress Working Committee adopted a radical Ten-Point Programme which included social control of banks, nationalization of general insurance, abolition of princely privileges etc. making it a left wing. However, the Congress right, Syndicate opposed it.
On the death of President Zakir Husain in May 1969, the Syndicate despite Indira Gandhi’s opposition, nominated Sanjiva Reddy, as the Congress candidate for presidentship. As retaliation, Indira took away the Finance portfolio from Desai on the grounds that as a conservative he was incapable of implementing her radical programme. Other Presidential candidates were C.D. Deshmukh and V.V. Giri. At this stage, the Syndicate made a major blunder. To assure Reddy’s election, Nijalingappa met the leaders of Jan Sangh and Swatantra and persuaded them to cast their second preference votes in favour of Reddy. Indira Gandhi immediately accused the Syndicate of having struck a secret deal with communal and reactionary forces in order to oust her from power. She now openly, supported Giri in favour of Reddy and asked Congress MPs and MLAs to vote freely according to their ‘conscience’. In the election, nearly one-third of them defied the organizational leadership and voted for Giri, who won by narrow margin.
In the end, on 12 November, the defeated and humiliated Syndicate took disciplinary action against Indira Gandhi and expelled her from the party for having violated party discipline. The party had finally split with Indira Gandhi setting up a rival organization, which came to be known as Congress (R)—R for Requisitionists. The Syndicate-dominated Congress came to be known as Congress (0)—0 for Organization. In the final countdown, 220 of the party’s Lok Sabha MPs went with Indira Gandhi and 68 with the Syndicate. In the All India Congress Committee too 446 of its 705 members walked over to Indira’s side. Indira Gandhi won 1971 elections with 2/3rd Majority.