In the late 1800s, the first steps were taken
toward self-government in British India with the appointment of
Indian councilors to advise the British viceroy and the
establishment of provincial councils with Indian members; the
British subsequently widened participation in legislative councils.
Beginning in 1920, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi transformed the
Indian National Congress political party into a mass movement to
campaign against British colonial rule. The party used both
parliamentary and nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation to
On August 15, 1947, India became a
dominion within the Commonwealth, with Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime
After independence, the Congress Party, the party of
Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled India under the influence
first of Nehru and then his daughter and grandson, with the
exception of two brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s.
Minister Nehru governed India until his death in 1964. He was
succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who also died in office. In 1966,
power passed to Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister from
1966 to 1977. On October 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated, and
her son, Rajiv, was chosen by the Congress (I)--for "Indira"--Party
to take her place. His government was brought down in 1989 by
allegations of corruption and was followed by V.P. Singh and then
In the 1989 elections, although Rajiv Gandhi
and Congress won more seats in the 1989 elections than any other
single party, he was unable to form a government with a clear
majority. The Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties, was able to
form a government with the help of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) on the right and the communists on the left. This
loose coalition collapsed in November 1990, and the government was
controlled for a short period by a breakaway Janata Dal group
supported by Congress (I), with Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister.
That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in
On May 27, 1991, while campaigning in Tamil Nadu on
behalf of Congress (I), Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, apparently by
Tamil extremists from Sri Lanka. In the elections, Congress (I) won
213 parliamentary seats and put together a coalition, returning to
power under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led
government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual
process of economic liberalization and reform, which has opened the
Indian economy to global trade and investment. India's domestic
politics also took new shape, as traditional alignments by caste,
creed, and ethnicity gave way to a plethora of small, regionally
based political parties.
The final months of the Rao-led
government in the spring of 1996 were marred by several major
political corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst
electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history. The
Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged from the May
1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha
but without enough strength to prove a majority on the floor of that
Parliament. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP
coalition lasted in power 13 days. With all political parties
wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition
led by the Janata Dal emerged to form a government known as the
United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D.
Deve Gowda. His government lasted less than a year, as the leader of
the Congress Party withdrew his support in March 1997. Inder Kumar
Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime
Minister of a 16-party United Front coalition.
In November 1997,
the Congress Party in India again withdrew support for the United
Front. New elections in February 1998 brought the BJP the largest
number of seats in Parliament--182--but fell far short of a
majority. On March 20, 1998, the President inaugurated a BJP-led
coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister.
On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of
underground nuclear tests forcing U.S. President Clinton to impose
economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear
Proliferation Prevention Act.
In April 1999, the BJP-led
coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in
September. The National Democratic Alliance-a new coalition led by
the BJP-gained a majority to form the government with Vajpayee as
Prime Minister in October 1999.
In April 2004 Gandhi's Congress
party and its coalition allies captured 279 seats, enough for a slim
majority in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, or national parliament.
Italian-born Sonia Gandhi had won broad political support to become
India's next prime minister but she refused to accept the post of
Prime Minister. The New Prime minister of India since May2004 is