India achieved independence in 1947 and in the beginning the country was dominated by a single party, The Indian National Congress (INC). The influence of the party can be gauged from the fact that the INC ruled democratic India from 1952-1977. Yet, the INC, with representatives from across the cross section of the society, had enough trouble trying to keep them together. So even if the party did not have any external opponents, it had enough trouble with people representing different regions, culture and castes, each with their own agenda. Gradually it became difficult for the Congress to fulfil individual expectations in the party.
Given this situation, regional parties began to make their presence felt in the political horizon of India. The actual evolution towards a multi-party system began in 1977. It gradually became apparent that India could function as a successful democracy only if there was a multi-party system. This is largely because India is a land of diversity bound together by multi-lingual and multi-cultural threads. Keeping these factors in mind, Indian democracy is based on a federal, multiparty, parliamentary system. The multi-party system successfully took roots with the emergence of the regional parties in the different states of the country.
These began to flourish given India’s federal system. “Most electoral districts in India are ethnically heterogeneous, and all are large enough to require mass campaigning by candidates, thus permitting or even encouraging the development of mass party organizations within district boundaries” (P Chhibber, 1). Accordingly state assembly votes are held in an electoral arena that often enables regional parties to obtain power by espousing issues of regional concern. “Although regional parties have exercised authority at the state level, collectively they receive only from 5 to 10 percent of the national vote in parliamentary elections.
Only during the governments of the Janata Party (1977-79) and the National Front (1989-90) have they participated in forming the central government” (James Heitzman, Robert L. Worden). The emergence of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) did for some time demonstrate the potential for a two-party system when the party won the elections in 1996, 1998 and 1999. It is noticeable, however, that no party was ever able to muster an absolute majority of votes in a national election without the support of the regional parties.
The rise of the regional parties can be attributed to the fact that “Ethnicity is supposed to be the primary basis of voter alignment because ethnic identities can be inferred from such obvious markers as name, dress or speech, and politicians and voters count on support from their co-ethnics” (Kanchan Chandra, 1). All this goes to say that people in India vote for parties that represent their interest. The interest can be in terms of caste, religion, region and language. The advantage of this is that in a multiparty system people from all sections of the society get representation.
Initially, the multi-party system brought in its wake the advantages of a better representation from all sections of the diverse society that characterizes India. It also brought to an end the supremacy of the Congress in the country. “The elections have brought to an end the era of high-caste, strongly centered Congress Party rule. From now on, any national government in India will have to include the explicit representation of regional, caste, class, and religious minority interests, even as it cedes to state and local governments much of the power historically reserved for New Delhi” (Mira Kamdar, 1).
But a multi-party system, despite its advantages, does not necessarily mean good governance for the country. We can, for example, take the case of the present National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that is an amalgamation of various political parties from across the country. When the issue of signing the nuclear deal with the USA came up, there were many in the alliance and more so the Left parties, that were against the deal and to make their point, they withdrew their support. The government nearly dissolved due to the crisis but after re-alignment, managed to survive.
Yet, this brings up an important issue related to the type of governance provided by a multi-party system. When all representative parties have different agendas, it becomes difficult to come to a common consensus regarding important issues. So it is not just a lack of political will that becomes the reason for bad governance; the major issue is uniting different fronts on a common platform. What this means is that the resources that could have been utilized to provide good governance have to be diverted to keep the parties together.
Two party system scores in this front for the party with the majority is in a better position to implement their agendas. Major regional parties in India Though there are numerous regional parties that dominate at the state level there are a few that have made their presence felt in the national arena. The regional parties capable of building the coalition with the Congress and the Bhartiya Janta Party and forming the government at the national level include two Communist parties of India, the Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and the Samajwadi Party.
Other prominent parties that have been partnering in alliances with national parties in the central government since the second half of the 1990s, regional parties include the Telugu Desam Party from Andhra Pradesh, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam from Tamil Nandu, the Akali Dal of Punjab, or the Biju Janata Dal from Orissa. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Regional political parties in India have been the strongest in Tamil Nadu, where they have dominated state politics since 1967. The major regional party in Tamil Nadu is the DMK.
The DMK’s growth in the 1950s and 1960s is traced to the party giving greater representation to the “forward” non-Brahmins, although the most numerous caste group that supported the DMK through these years (the Vanniar) was a “most backward caste,” and the DMK mobilized many such groups. The DMK routed the Congress in the 1967 elections in Tamil Nadu and took control of the state government. Since then the party has played an important role at the Central level and has also been part of collation governments. Telugu Desam The Telugu Desam party has strong routes in Andhra Pradesh.
The party was formed by N. T. Rama Rao (popularly known as N. T. R. ), an actor who frequently played Hindu deities in Telugu-language films. The party was formed with the aim of enhancing Andhra Pradesh’s regional autonomy. The Telegu Desam ruled the state from 1983 to 1989 and played a key role in the formation of the National Front coalition government in 1989. The Akali Dal The party represents India’s Sikhs, who are concentrated in the state of Punjab. “It was first formed in the early 1920s to return control of gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) to the orthodox Sikh religious community.
During the 1960s, the Akali Dal played an important role in the struggle for the creation of Punjab as a separate state with a Sikh majority”(James Heitzman, Robert L. Worden). Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) “With increased visibility from the 1990s onwards, Dalit-educated generations have led political mobilization against the upper castes and proselytized among the masses of rural poor from within the folds of a Dalit-led political party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)” (Manuela Ciotti, 1).
The party was formed to chiefly represent Bahujans(OBC, SC, ST & Minorities), who are thought to be part of the bottom of the social ladder of the Indian caste system The party is pre-dominant in the Uttar Pradesh state of India, though it is now gradually making its presence felt at the national level. The BSP is a caste-based party formed to serve the lower classes or the Dalits concentrated in this northern state of India. Rashtriya Janta Dal The party was founded in 1997 by Laloo Prasad Yadav and is the predominant party in Bihar.
The RJD is also a member of India’s governing coalition led by the Congress Party. Conclusion India’s remarkable political stability and high degree of participation can be largely attributed to the multi-party system that provides adequate representation to various sections of the society. The multi-party system does not only serve to check political violence or temporary challenges to law and order but also s them to incorporate dissidence and opposition successfully into the political process paving the way for greater harmony and peaceful co-existence.
The multi-party system in India is not only responsive to any change in the shift of the public opinion but also each citizen to vote according to his or her ideology. It ensures that the two major parties, the Congress and the Bhartiya Janta Party moderates its views and does not have conservative and liberal swings. This also ensures that no single party can set a policy without challenge.
James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden, editors. India: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995. P Chhibber, KW Kollman. American Political Science Review, 1998 – <http://www.polisci. berkeley. edu> 2 June 1998 Party Aggregation and the Number of Parties in India and the United States Kanchan Chandra. Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Head Counts in India. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. 2004. ISBN 0-521-81452-9. Manuela Ciotti; ‘In the Past We Were a Bit “Chamar”‘: Education as a Self- and Community Engineering Process in Northern India. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 12, 2006. Mira Kamdar. India Multicultural Democracy at the Millennium World Policy Journal, Vol. 13, 1996.