Political parties are essential institutions for representative democracy. Political parties perform various roles. For example formation of government, formation of opposition, political education, political socialization etc.
On one hand there are scholars like Laski who believe that political parties are essential for democracy. On the other, there are leaders like Gandhi MN Roy and Jaiprakash Narayan who believe in a party-less democracy.
What is party system?
Party system is not based on number of parties but it is based on number of parties having systemic relevance.
For example at the time of independence there were multiple parties but Indian party system was known as one party dominant system.
Unique features of political parties in India and their difference from parties in the western countries .
According to Zoya Hasan political parties in India reflect many unusual features.
1] No concern for ideology – there is a growth of catch-all parties.
2] Rather than policy-oriented, parties are office-oriented
3] The disconnect between people and parties.
4] Connection between political parties and corporate groups including among the communist and socialist parties.
5] Some parties have unique nomenclature like AIADMK.
6] None of the parties have any grand design
Views of Paul Brass
Indian parties reflect paradoxical features. There is a blend of Western bureaucratic structure with indigenous political practices and institutions.
Political parties lack intraparty democracy.
Views of Yogendra Yadav
Political parties in India are going through the process of institutionalization as well as deinstitutionalization. On one hand, their reach is increasing but on the other hand, the depth and intensity of the voters have been declining. The role of political parties has got reduced to the instrumental act of voting. They have overlooked the broader agenda of a democratic nation and nation-building.
Nature of Indian party system has multiple stages
Stage 1. Up till 1967. Congress system
Stage 2. From 1967 to 1977. Breakdown of Congress system.
Stage 3 1977 in 1979. Two-party system.
Stage 4 from 1979 to 1989. The emergence of a multi-party system.
Stage 5 1989 till 2014. Multi-party democracy system, age of coalition politics.
Stage 6 2014 onwards. BJP dominant party system.
History of Party System in India
At the time of independence, India had multiple parties but the Indian party system as described by Morris Jones used to be known as a one-party dominant system.
Letter on Rajni Kothari has coined the term ‘Congress system’. It shows the dominant status of Congress. no other party with the exception of Kerala and Kashmir could form the government even at the state level. Rajni Kothari calls Congress, a party of consensus and other parties as parties pressure.
Why Congress was party of consensus ?
Rajni Kothari calls Congress a Rainbow coalition. Congress itself was a Grand coalition. Congress programme could incorporate the interest of the different sections of the society.
The status of opposition parties was like pressure groups. there located outside the margins of the party system.
Unique features of India’s one party dominance system.
China does not have a democratic one-party system, India’s party system retained democratic character. The other parties were outside the margin but they made sure that the ruling party does not become autocratic.
Reasons for the Congress system.
The hegemony of the Congress was because of its role in the Indian National Movement. Congress became a mass party under the leadership of Gandhiji. Congress maintained centrist agenda. Congress rejected communalism as well as communism.
Nehru maintained a democratic intellectual climate within the party. Nehru promoted freedom of speech and expression within the party, the culture of toleration and accommodation. Nehru showed sensitivity towards minorities. Most importantly Nehru could convince the Indian masses that Congress is critical for the survival nation.
Breakdown of Congress system.
Breakdown started in 1967 when Congress lost its majority in nine States. In 8 states for the first time the non-Congress government could come to power and in the 9th State Congress could form a government only in the coalition.
Why the decline of Congress system?
Internal and external factors.
1] De-institutionalization of democracy within the party
2] Concentration of power in the hands of a single leader
3] Lack of intraparty democracy.
4] Intra-party elections have not taken place since 1972.
5] Congress last the touch with grassroots leaders. Newline Central leadership was dependent on loyalists. There is no scope for internal criticism and descent.
As suggested by Yogendra Yadav, the decline of Congress is linked to the deepening of democracy. 1st democratic upsurge has resulted in OBCs coming out of the party.
2nd democratic upsurge resulted in the Dalits coming out of the party.
Today Congress remains the party of minorities and Scheduled Tribes community. At present Congress’ social base comes from minorities and even in the 2014 election 35% of minority words had gone to Congress.
Other causes for the decline of the Congress system also includes Green Revolution and state reorganisation. this has resulted in the strength of OBCs and the rise of the regional parties.
Present status of congress
According to Suhas Palshikar, Congress is not in a state of decline, rather the 2014 election mark the death of Congress. The number of seats which country got in the 2014 election is even less than the number of seats Congress could get after the emergency.
Congress’ social base, as well as territorial base, has shrunken.
Views of Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Congress should leave the majority and minority complex. Congress should know how to make strategic alliances. Instead of the party of defence, Congress should emerge as a party of transformation. The party should go back to the role of organising social movements and should not restrict itself to electoral calculus.
The nature of party system in India since 1989
Politics does not operate in a vacuum, similarly, parties also do not operate in a vacuum. The party system gets influenced by all factors internal and external. The Indian party system is also changing in the context of the changing external and internal development. India, which is known as one-party dominance system, got transformed into a multi party system. From 1989, the era of coalition politics started. From 1977 itself we see the process of fragmentation and regionalization.
Causes for the rise of regional parties.
There are institutional factors
1] Delinking of parliamentary and state legislative elections. It has given opportunities for Regional parties for mobilization of people on local issues.
2] India’s Federal system
State governments deal with those issues which are of day to day relevance. This also gives an advantage to the regional parties. The leaders associated with regional parties are in Greater contact with the people at the Grass root level.
3] Linguistic reorganisation of states has given rise to the dominant caste forming their own regional parties.
Social and economic factors
1] The Green Revolution gave rise to the intermediate caste asserting their power even in the political sphere.
2] The deepening of social cleavages as a result of the continuous mobilization of people on ethnic grounds.
3] The growing politicization of religion
4] The growing consciousness about rights and democracy
5] The suspension of democracy and the introduction of emergencies also led to the fragmentation of Congress and the strengthening of regional parties.
Regionalization of Indian political party system has resulted into both negative as well as positive consequences.
1] It led to the rise of coalition politics.
2] Coalition politics in the absence of healthy coalition culture has given rise to
A] Party paralysis
B] Increased role of money and muscle power.
C] Politicization of the post of speaker.
D] Decline of parliament.
On the other hand, regionalization has resulted into,
1] Our democracy becoming more representative.
2] Regionalization has strengthened the federal axis of Indian political system. It has strengthened the bargaining power of state governments.
Some of the other consequences include
1] Regional issues dominate over national concerns.
2] Greater role for state even in foreign policy.
3rd front is a fluid category. It’s combination keep on changing. It is primarily the collection of regional parties. 3rd front is not insignificant. It continues to have significant share of votes and has dominant presence at state level. Since 3rd front represents OBCs as well as other sections like Muslims, Dalits, 3rd front is always an important force.
3rd front has also formed government at the union level 2 times.
In 1989, National Front Govt. was formed with the support of BJP.
United Front Govt. in 1996, with the support of Congress and CPI(M).
However, 3rd front could never provide stable government. It has never been stable internally. It emerges before elections and dissolves after elections.
In 2008, 3rd front formed United National Progrssive Alliance.
In 2014, 14 parties formed 3rd front as an alternative to corrupt Congress and communal BJP. However it was dissolved within 24 hours.
In 2019 elections, 3rd front was formed under the banner of Mahagatabandhan. And even Congress was part of it. It was, however, ineffective to influence election outcome.
Problems with 3rd front.
1] Too many leaders.
3] Too parochial in their approach.
4] Lack nationalist agenda.
AAP (Aam Adami Party) is a byproduct of globalization. AAP phenomenon is not unique to India. The other parallel examples are Tehreek-i-insaf in Pakistan, Syriza Party in Greece, Workers Party in Brazil, People’s movement in HongKong.
AAP is also considered as urban phenomenon. Globalization has resulted into the increase of inequalities. Globalization has increased democratic consciousness awareness about good governance. AAP was formed in 2012. It emerged out of anti-corruption movement. AAP describes itself as anti-politics and anti-ideology. AAP is against power politics.
According to them, they are joining politics, not for power, but for change. They need power to change the system from within because the pressure from outside has not worked. AAP rejects high command culture. AAP goes for bottom-up approach. AAP stands for the intra-party democracy. No two members of the same family can contest elections or can become member of executive council. Members have right to recall the executive council members.
According to Milan Vaishnav, rise of regional political parties is an eternal theme of Indian politics.
Regional parties operate within limited geographic area and bank on language, minority, religion etc.
Number of regional parties in India is much larger due to large variety.
According to Sudha Pai, regional parties are rooted in regional ground. They should not be seen as a byproduct of regionalism, rather phenomenon in its own right. It is a result of linguistic reorganization, decline in congress system, uneven development etc.