Presidents of Congress past: A look at the party’s presidency since 1947

Updated - December 14, 2017 02:15 pm IST

Published - December 14, 2017 01:37 pm IST

 Indira Gandhi and K. Kamaraj greeting each other at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting in New Delhi.

Indira Gandhi and K. Kamaraj greeting each other at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting in New Delhi.

Rahul Gandhi has become the 16th person to hold the post of Congress president since independence, and the fourth from the Nehru-Gandhi family. Incidentally, Sonia Gandhi, the outgoing president has held the post for the longest time since independence, beating even Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

We take a look at the varied presidencies the party has seen so far since 1947.

J.B. Kripalani - 1947

Known as Acharya Kripalani, he was the president of the Congress during the transfer of power in 1947. Defeated in a subsequent election in 1950, Kripalani left the party to found the Kisan Majdoor Praja Party, which was merged with the Socialist Party of India to form the Praja Socialist Party. He then went on to win a Lok Sabha seat four times, and moved the first ever no-confidence motion after the Indo-China war of 1962.

Pattabhi Sitaramayya - 1948-49

Sitaramayya successfully ran for the president’s post with the support of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was also the Governor of Madhya Pradesh from 1952-57, and was elected to the Rajya Sabha before that. He was one of the leaders who demanded the need for a separate state that went on to become Andhra Pradesh. He founded the Andhra Bank in Machilipatnam in 1923.

Purushottam Das Tandon - 1950

A Bharat Ratna awardee, Tandon won against Kripalani in the 1950 elections, but soon resigned from the post because of differences he had with Nehru. Tandon was a Lok Sabha MP in 1952 and was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1956. He was also instrumental in making sure that Hindi received official language status.

Jawaharlal Nehru - 1951-54

The first Prime Minister of India was the president of the Congress when they dominated state and national elections, winning in 1951, 1957 and 1962.

U.N. Dhebar - 1955-59

Dhebar was the Chief Minister of Saurashtra from 1948-54 and held a four-year term as Congress president. In 1962, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Rajkot.

Indira Gandhi - 1959, 1966-67, 1978-84

Indira Gandhi held the post for three non-consecutive terms, the first one towards the end of the 1950s. Her second term was aided by Kamaraj’s support for her, which helped her win against Morarji Desai. But, soon after, unrest in the party saw it split into factions under her and the Syndicate headed by Kamaraj, which led to two Congress parties, and two presidents. Her third term was more significant as not only were they her last years, but they began right after the Emergency that she had been instrumental in imposing.

The years 1967-69 saw tumult in the party as the split led to senior leaders exiting the Indira Gandhi-led faction Congress (R). The Syndicate, as the other faction was called, formed the Congress (O). Kamaraj and later Morarji Desai functioned as presidents of Congress (O). In the 1971 general elections Congress (O) won 16 Lok Sabha seats as opposed to 352 seats won by Congress (R). In 1977, after the Emergency, Congress (O) merged with Bharatiya Lok Dal, Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Socialist Party of India and the Swatantra Party to form the Janata Party. They won the elections that year and Morarji Desai was Prime Minister from 1977-79.

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy - 1960-63

Reddy was the sixth President of India, and he served as the Congress president thrice. In 1967 he became the Lok Sabha Speaker, and to emphasise the importance of the Speaker’s non-partisan nature, he resigned from the party. After he lost the 1969 Presidential elections to V.V. Giri, he retired from active politics. He returned to politics in 1975 as a Janata Party candidate, won a Lok Sabha seat, was elected as Speaker, and in 17 days resigned from his post to become the President.

K. Kamaraj - 1964-67

He was known as the ‘Kingmaker’ in political circles and was responsible for Lal Bahadur Shastri’s appointment as Prime Minister, and Indira Gandhi's ascendance as Congress president. The third Chief Minister of Madras State (Tamil Nadu), he was the leader of the Congress (O) when the party split up after Indira Gandhi's elevation to the presidency, a post he remained in until his death in 1975.

S. Nijalingappa - 1968-69

Nijalingappa was the last President of the undivided Congress party, and during the split, he ended up on the side of the Syndicate. He was elected to the first Lok Sabha from the Chitradurga constituency in 1952.

Jagjivan Ram - 1970-71

Another Congress president who went on to join the Janata Party, Jagjivan Ram was the Deputy Prime Minister of India when Morarji Desai was the PM. Later, he formed his own party, naming it Congress (J) and remained an MP until his death.

Shankar Dayal Sharma - 1972-74

Another President from the Congress chiefs stable, Sharma was also the Vice President under R. Venkataraman. He swore in three Prime Ministers in the last year of his Presidency.

Devakanta Barua - 1975-77

Known best for his proclamation, “India is Indira, Indira is India,” Barua later parted ways with the party that was named as Indian Congress (Socialist). He was the Governor of Bihar from 1971-73.

Rajiv Gandhi - 1985-91

Taking over the reins of the party after his mother’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi remained the president until his assassination in 1991.

P.V. Narasimha Rao - 1992-96

The first Prime Minister of India from a non-Hindi speaking region, Rao’s term also oversaw the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Sitaram Kesri - 1996-98

Sitaram Kesri’s years as president were marked with significant departures by senior party leaders. He was removed from his post after the party’s electoral defeat in 1998.

Sonia Gandhi - 1998-2017

Sonia Gandhi has held the Congress president’s post for the longest period of time. Her presidency saw the Congress win two subsequent elections in 2004 and 2009, and lose to the BJP in 2014, ending up with just 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

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