Jan Sangh-BJP is only behemoth sans vertical split—a bane of Congress, Communist, Socialist, regional parties.

Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) is an “-nth” fissure in the history of the 1885-vintage Indian National Congress, which had seen a split between moderates and hardliners way back in 1907 during Surat AICC session. Many splits followed. Most rebels at some time or other reverted back to Congress. Some, like the Socialists, who broke away from Congress in 1951, became factotum of anti-Congressism, which was synonymous with opposition politics till the Modi-Shah led BJP juggernaut dislodged the Grand Old Party in 2014, giving way to anti-BJPism as the motif of opposition culture. The difference between Congress rebel outfits of yore and the present dispensations like Trinamool Congress, NCP, YSRCP, NR Congress and now PLC, is that their divorce seems irreversible—they threaten to take away the parent party’s turf, in their respective regional domains. Recent statements and activities of Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee (who has forayed into Goa across the peninsula and in Tripura recently), Jagan Reddy and Sharad Pawar’s reluctance to accept Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka led party’s suzerainty shows that they are not averse to have Congress as part of the anti-BJP bandwagon for the sake of “opposition unity” (as distinct from a United Opposition, which Congress dreams of leading).
Congress, Socialist parties and Communist parties have seen umpteen vertical splits. Janata Party, formed by anti-Indira Gandhi forces in 1977, split in 1979 and thereafter there have been many “Janata” dispensations—they have split and come together again, and then split. Pranab Mukherjee used to compare these splits to biological amoebae. He ought to know—a product of Bangla Congress (a rebel outfit formed by Ajoy Mukherjee and Sushil Dhara in West Bengal in 1966, which shared power with Left parties and then merged back—Pranab had himself floated Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress along with former AICC strongman, S. S. Mohapatra in 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi ousted the Number Two of Indira’s 1980-84 regime and dropped him from Cabinet. Pranab was back in Congress in 1989 in Rajiv’s lifetime and rose to be a power centre again, ending his glorious innings as Rashtrapati (2012-17). Congress renegades Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, V. P. Singh, Chandrashekhar, H. D. Devegowda and Inder Kumar Gujral have served as Prime Ministers—some supported by the official Congress which sans numbers had to yield.
The only political party which was born without an umbilical link to Congress in free India was Bharatiya Jan Sangh, formed in 1951 by a former Cabinet colleague of Jawaharlal Nehru, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (he was Hindu Mahasabha leader, who quit the government. First Nehru cabinet had non-Congress members, in order to broad base the nascent government). Jan Sangh and its successor party BJP (formed in April 1980) is the only behemoth which has not seen a vertical split in its 70-year existence. Jan Sangh faced rebellion by six of its eight MLAs in Rajasthan in 1953—Shyama Prasad Mukherjee expelled them forthwith. Among the two loyalists who remained was Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who went on to become Rajasthan CM and BJP made him Vice President of India (2002-07). In 1973, a former President of Jan Sangh (1967), Balraj Madhok rebelled against Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani and formed a party. The fact that he was a founder member and had led the party to its highest Lok Sabha seat share (35 in 1967) did not trigger an exodus. He died a nonagenarian, in quiet oblivion, in 2016 during the Modi regime. The road he lived on was renamed in his memory. Madhya Pradesh, a Sangh bastion, saw rebellion by two former CMs—V. K. Saklecha (1984) and Sunderlal Patwa (1995) —who left and returned after some time. UP’s CM during Babri demolition in 1992, Kalyan Singh, quit BJP in 1993, floated his own party and returned to the fold in 2014 and was appointed Governor of Rajasthan. Former CM of Karnataka, B. S. Yediyurappa, quit in 2012, floated party and reverted back to BJP fold in 2014 and emerged as CM again. Gujarat ex-CM Shankarsinh Vaghela, a long-time associate of Narendra Modi (they toured the state on a motorbike in their younger days when BJP was a nascent outfit) quit in 1996, joined hands with Congress to gain power and later drifted into NCP of Sharad Pawar after his party Jan Vikas Morcha drew a blank in the 2017 Assembly poll. There have been some desertions from BJP ranks in West Bengal—Trinamool renegades, led by Mukul Roy, have returned to the Mamata stable after the last state poll. No traditional BJP-ite has joined an exodus.
Congress rebels walked out in 1951 after disagreeing with Nehru in the aftermath of Mahatma Gandhi’s death. Acharya J.B. Kripalani formed Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party (KMPP). Jayaprakash Narain and Acharya Narendra Dev formed Socialist Party in 1951 after quitting Congress (where they were prominent faces of the Congress Socialist Party, a caucus which functioned within main party during freedom struggle—many later year Communist stalwarts, notably E.M.S. Namboodiripad, first Communist CM of Kerala in 1957, were in CSP caucus). KMPP won 10 Lok Sabha seats in 1952, including the prestigious New Delhi and SP won 12. A year later, KMPP merged with SP and Praja Socialist Party was launched. In 1955, Ram Manohar Lohia split PSP and formed Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP), which had among its stalwarts Madhu Limaye and George Fernandes. Both PSP and SSP played frontline Opposition role both inside and outside Parliament in the Sixties and Seventies. The 1974 Railway strike was led by Fernandes. SSP and PSP merged in 1972 and SP was reborn. SP in turn merged with Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal in 1974 along with right-wing Swatantra Party and Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD) with its symbol “Chakra Haldhar” was launched. In 1977, BLD symbol was used by the united opposition—BLD, Congress (Organisation) and Jan Sangh under the name and style of Janata Party, which formed a short-lived government headed by Congress (O)’s Morarji Desai after ousting the Indira regime in March 1977. The Samajwadi Party of Mulayam-Akhilesh Yadav is an offspring of erstwhile BLD. So is Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Party led by Lalu Yadav’s clan. Charan Singh’s grandson Jayant Choudhry heads yet another BLD offspring, Rashtriya Lok Dal, which is now in seat sharing talks with Samajwadis for the 2022 UP poll.
Congress saw its first bitter split in 1907 when moderates led by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rashbehari Ghose and Madan Mohan Malviya (who backed home rule under the British) were bitterly opposed by the hardliners, the Lal-Bal-Pal group (Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal) who had among their prominent supporters Mohammad Ali Jinnah and advocated full freedom. Jinnah later broke away to lead the Muslim League, launched in Dhaka (then Dacca) in 1906 during the aborted Partition of Bengal (1905-11) as part of British “divide and rule” strategy. The Surat session in 1907 saw fisticuffs for the first time in Indian political history. Eggs were thrown, shoes used as missiles and sticks were used to beat up opponents. Police had to intervene and ban the gathering. (The hooliganism outside G23 Kapil Sibal’s home in Delhi by Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka loyalists on 30 September 2021 fades into insignificance, perhaps, given this Surat background.)
Indira Gandhi was not the first Nehru to have split the Congress (1969). Her grandfather Motilal Nehru along with Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das had quit Congress in 1923 and formed Swaraj Party, which had as stalwarts Hussain Mohammed Suhrawardy (a founder Pakistan in 1947), Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabbhai Patel’s elder brother, Vitthalbhai Patel (who was first President of India’s Central Legislative Assembly). Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru were staunch supporters of Mahatma Gandhi, whose decision to call off civil disobedience in the aftermath of mayhem against policemen in Chaurichaura had triggered the revolt by Motilal and C.R. Das. After Das’ death in 1925, Swarajists returned to the Congress fold. (The Patel brothers were in opposite camps; in 1938 Haripura session, held in Patels’ turf, Vittahalbhai backed Subhas Bose and the Sardar was in the Mahatma’s chalet.)
The split in 1939 March at Tripuri (near Jabalpur) saw elected president Bose being humiliated by Gandhi’s nominees and a breakaway party, Forward Bloc was formed. Forward Bloc, once a formidable force in pockets of West Bengal, is now part of the state’s defunct Left Front. Thus the first breakaway Congress outfit ended up in oblivion.
The 1951 walkouts by KMPP and SP elements was followed by the formation of Swatantra Party 1959 led by C. Rajagopalachari (Free India’s Governor General after Louis Mountbatten), Minoo Masani, N.G. Ranga, Darshan Singh Pheruman, K.M. Munshi who had revolted against the Congress tilt towards Socialism at the Avadi session (1955). A liberal party, it opposed Licence Raj. It won 44 seats in 1967 and became the principal Opposition in Lok Sabha till its tally was overtaken by breakaway Congress (Organisation) in 1969 which had 52 seats and its floor leader, Ramsubhag Singh, was recognised as India’s first recognised Leader of Opposition. Mauled by the Indira wave of 1971 Swatntra Party withered and merged with Charan Singh’s BKD in 1974 to form BLD.
The 1969 and 1978 splits were triggered by Indira Gandhi’s assertion of her supremacy. Most stalwarts returned to the official fold, with few exceptions. The Jagjivan Ram, H.N. Bahuguna combine shocked Indira Gandhi on 2 February 1977 when they formed Congress for Democracy (CFD), which contested the elections on its own and later joined hands with the Janata Party, Ram becoming Deputy PM and Bahuguna a minister. Post Janata split Ram floated his own party, Congress (J) and Bahuguna returned to Congress fold, to quit again due to differences with Sanjay Gandhi. In 1984, he lost to Congress’ Amitabh Bachchan from his bastion Allahabad (Prayagraj). “Mai neta hoon, woh abhineta hain!” said the Chanakya of 1969 split after losing his seat. His daughter is now a BJP minister in UP and a son became BJP CM of Uttarakhand.
Biju Janata Dal, which rules Odisha, is an offshoot of the 1967 Jana Congress floated by Harekrishna Mahtab, a former CM, in Orissa. Biju Patnaik quit Congress post the 1969 split and joined Mahtab to float Utkal Congress, which in 1974 joined BLD. After quitting Janata Party Biju Patnaik launched Biju Janata Dal.
V.P. Singh’s revolt and formation of Jan Morcha in 1988 triggered the fall of Congress in 1989. Both defeats of Congress—1977 and 1989—were led by former Congressmen. 1977 defeat was accentuated by CFD formation. Only in 2014 did Congress lose to a leader with no umbilical link to the GOP and its downturn continues.