ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Downfall of an Umbrella Party

In 1885 the Indian National Congress originated as a pressure group for the newly educated, professional and commercial classes and transformed into a mass movement in the 20th century. This laid the basis for its eventual transformation into a mass political party and its subsequent domination of the political system. From being a party dominated by the English-speaking, upper caste, upper middle-class, urban elites, its social base widened with every civil disobedience movement it launched. It brought together diverse groups, whose interests were often contradictory. Peasants and landlords, urban dwellers and villagers, workers and industrialists, as also middle, lower and upper classes, castes and different religions all found space within the Congress. It was transformed into a rainbow-like social coalition broadly representing india’s diversity in terms of classes and castes, religions and languages and various interests.

The Congress became an ideological coalition as well. It accommodated the revolutionary and the pacifist, the conservative and the radical, the extremist and the moderate as well as the rightwing, the leftists and all shades of the political centre, due to its open system which encouraged various internal factions. The Congress became not just a party, but as it was famously defined by Rajni Kothari, it became the “Congress System” because of strong opposition inside paralleled with a strong organisational network throughout the country.

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