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Friday, November 26, 2010

party system in india


The Indian political parties are categorized into two main types. National level parties and state level parties.

National parties are political parties which, participate in different elections all over India. For example, Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janata Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and some other parties.

State parties or regional parties are political parties which, participate in different elections but only within one state. For example Shiv Sena participates only in Maharashtra, Telegu Desam in Andra Pradesh, Akali Dal in Punjab, Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) in Tamil Nadu and there are other such state parties. There are some small communist parties who participate only within one state. Some states have more than one state party. For example in Tamil Nadu another important state party is All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK). Because of these long party names many party names are abbreviated to their initials.

Some of the political parties have their origin from before India's independence, for example, Indian National Congress, Forward Bloc, Akali Dal, National Conference and some other parties. Some of these parties were either social or political organization before India's independence and they became political parties after India's independence. But many of the present parties were established after India's independence. Members, who split from larger parties, established some of these parties. For example in the 1960s, Lok Dal was established by people who split from the Indian National Congress. Communist Party of India (Marxist) was established after the split in Communist Party of India and there are other such examples.

In Indian politics, there are political parties in which one person pulls all the strings. This feature existed even before India's independence, when Mahatma Gandhi was the father figure of the Indian National Congress until his death in 1948 even though he resigned from the Congress in 1933. Indira Gandhi for some period was in complete control of her party. Her party was also named, Congress (Indira). Shiv Sena is dominated by Bal Thakarey. Even when the Shiv Sena won the state elections in Maharashtra, Bal Thakarey handled the establishment of the state government but did not appoint himself as the Chief Minister but appointed someone else for this post.

Some of these parties, like the Shiv Sena in which one person pulls all the strings, have their stronghold in the public not because of their leader but because of party ideology. While other parties are completely dependable on the respect the leader of the party has in the public. One such party is Samata Party and its leader is George Fernandes. Another such party was Lok Shakti and its leader was Ramakrishna Hegde.

Many of the large national parties have a pre-election agreement with smaller parties on joint candidates in some constituencies. This candidate belongs to one of the parties and the other party supports this candidate. This is done to prevent a possibility of parties, with common national agenda or common state agenda, nominate their own different candidates causing the splitting of the votes of their wing and so losing the constituency to the rival wing.

In Indian politics there are also many independent candidates. These candidates participate in election constituencies independently without the support of any party. In very few cases the larger parties also support independent candidates.

Another feature unique to Indian politics is the high number of film actors who join the Indian politics. The Indian cinema produces films in different languages. The largest and the most popular film industry is the Hindi language film industry. Many national parties recruit Hindi movie actors in their parties. While many state parties with state chauvinism attract local film industry actors in their parties. These actors do not only appear along side with the party politicians to attract the mob towards the politicians gatherings, but they even participate as candidates in elections. Some of the state parties in south India were established by former movie actors.

India has a multi-party system with a predominance of small regional parties. National parties are those that are recognized in four or more states. They are accorded this status by the Election Commission of India, which periodically reviews the election results in various states. This recognition helps the political parties to claim unique ownership of certain identities, such as the party symbol, until the next review of their status. Below are national parties as per October 2004.

The Constitution of India stipulates that India be a federal polity with a central government in New Delhi, and state governments for the various states and Union territories. Consequently, political parties in India are classified as national and state (regional) parties based on their realms of influence. See list of recognised political parties in India.

National parties

National parties are political parties which participate in different elections held all over India. Some of the national parties have their origin even before India's independence.

The oldest national party in India is the Indian National Congress (INC). In was established in 1885 as a pro-British Indian organization. Later on it became the main voice of India's freedom struggle. After India's independence, the British passed the administration of India to the leaders of the Indian National Congress.

Until 1966 the Congress was a stable party. In 1966 Indira Gandhi became the leader of the Congress and Prime Minister of India. From this period the Congress lost its stability. Some of the veteran members of the Congress did not accept her leadership and they tried to dispose her. In 1969 the Congress split and her opponents established a new Congress part. But still INC was the largest and ruling party of India.

Indira Gandhi's Congress lost the 1977 elections to the Janata Party. A few months after the defeat, another split happened in the Congress party. The party of Indira Gandhi was called Congress ( I ), the initial denoting of her name. During this period many more splits and coalitions occurred within the different Congress parties. Some of these new party members including its founders returned later on to the Congress ( I ) party and the party was renamed Indian National Congress.

But there are others who left the INC at different periods and established parties outside the fold of Congress and have a name Congress in their party name. Before the 1999 elections some senior members of the INC were forced to resign because they questioned the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. These people have created the National Congress Party to participate in 1999 elections.

The INC is in the Indian political arena prior to India's independence. There were other parties, which were established after independence, and, for some period, were challenging the continuous rule of the Congress, some of them were almost vanished from the political arena. The first political party which, was seen as challenging the Congress continuous rule was Swatantra Party. It was established in 1959 and was supported by some big businessmen. It opposed the socialism policy of the Congress It had members in the Lok Sabha until 1977. Another party, which challenged the Congress party but later on almost vanished from the political arena, was Janata Party. Janata Party was the first political party in India to establish a non-Congress government when it won the 1977 elections.

Janata Party was established before the 1977 elections. The person responsible for the formation of Janata Party was Jayaprakash Narayan, called in short JP. JP was a freedom fighter and a social activist. Many in India respected him and saw in him a moral figure.

In the early 1970s the reign of Indira Gandhi began to show signs of corruption and dictatorship and there was a general feeling that liberal democracy is coming to an end. JP openly attacked Indira Gandhi's policy and asked other leaders to express their views about the dangers. Between 1975-77 emergency rule was declared. During this period many of Gandhi's political rivals were arrested and put behind the bars. Censorship was enforced on Indian press. The justice system was restricted and turned into 'puppet show' of the government. The people also suffered a lot from this emergency rule. Under the birth control policy many people were forced to have sterilization. Even so Indira Gandhi was sure that the Indian people would support her because her general intention was to make India a better place and so she declared elections in 1977.

To prevent her victory different political parties organized as one party. This party was called Janata Party. The main factions of this party were, Congress (O), Lok Dal, Jan Sangh, and other parties. This party won the 1977 elections and Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister of India. But this party as it was formed did not survive for a long time. This party which was actually a group of factions with one desire to defeat Indira Gandhi, did not find any thing common among its members after they defeated Gandhi. As long as JP was alive, the different factions still stayed together. But after his death in 1978 a clear split occurred in the Janata Party between Morarji Desai's supporters and Charan Singh's supporters. In 1979 Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister and other members tried to replace Prime Minister. During this period Jagjivan Ram, an untouchable according to strict Hindu society, was very near to become a Prime Minister. But finally Charan Singh of the Lok Dal faction was proclaimed the new Prime Minister. A few weeks after Charan Singh became the Prime Minister, because of the instability in the coalition, the president declared on new elections.

In 1980 new national elections took place in which Indira Gandhi's Congress again won the elections. Later on after these elections, different factions of the Janata Party broke up from the Janata Party and established their own parties. Among these parties were Jan Sangh which later on was renamed Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Janata Party continues to survive, but is very small. In the 1996 elections it did not win any seat in the national elections and in the 1998 elections it won only one seat.

Another political party which, was actually a political bloc of different factions and managed to form a government was Janata Dal. This party was established because of the claim that there was corruption in the Congress government. In 1984 Rajiv Gandhi formed the Congress government. The finance minister of his government was VP Singh. VP Singh found out that a Swedish company, Bofors, was bribing some senior members of the Congress. Singh tried to investigate this affair. Gandhi moved him from the office and made him Defence Minister, but Singh resigned from the government and started a new party called Janata Dal. This party was made up of former Janata Party, Lok Dal and some INC members. In the 1989 elections this party came second after INC but it managed to establish a coalition government with other parties. This coalition was called National Front. This front also broke up after two years.

Between 1996 and 2004 the largest party was the Bhartiya Janata Party. The BJP began its political career after India's independence with only three members in the first elections held in 1952. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party, which draws its inspiration from Hinduism. This party sees in India a Hindu state and it emphasizes Hindu pride and Hindu past of India.

This party was established after India's independence, but its origin is also pre-independence. In the 19th century a Hindu nationalist organization, Arya Samaj, was established. The ideas of this organization influenced another Hindu organization established later in British India, the Hindu Mahasabha. Hindu Mahasabha opposed the secular Congress philosophy and wanted to establish a Hindu state in British India. Another Hindu organization in British India was Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), meaning national volunteers organization. One person who belonged in different stages of his life to these two organizations assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. After his assassination these two organizations were outlawed for sometime. The leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Shyam Mookherji resigned from the party and established with the members of RSS a new Hindu nationalist party, which was named Jana Sangh. This party had moderate ideas than the its former components. In its first two decades the party's major holds were in north India's Hindi speaking regions, because this party supported turning Hindi into the national language of India (see Official Language of India). In 1977 this party was an important faction of the Janata Party. In the 1980s it broke from the Janata Party and changed its name to Bhartiya Jana Sangh. Later on it renamed itself as Bhartiya Janata Party.

There are also other national parties, which were established in India. The Bahujan Samaj Party was established in the 1980s. But even though this party is a national party, its represents only the oppressed classes of India. Samajwadi Party was established in 1992. Two communist parties, Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist party of India- Marxist (CPM) are also national parties. There are some parties who have national agendas but participate only in certain regions of India and not all over India. For example Forward Bloc (see also Subhas Chandra Bose) which participates in elections only in West Bengal and neighboring Bihar.

Regional Parties

Regional parties are parties whose main holds are in one certain state and mostly they participate in the elections only within that state. Most of these regional parties have agenda fitting certain culture dominant within that state. Some of these regional parties also participate in neighboring states, which have constituencies with culture similar to the first state. Different state parties were established at different periods because of different reasons. Some even have origins prior to India's independence.

In Tamil Nadu in south India, two main state parties are All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK). Of these two parties the DMK is the veteran party. The origins of these parties are prior to India's independence. The main ideology of this party is Tamil national pride. Before India's independence there were two Dravidian parties. One was Independent Party, which demand an independent Dravidstan in south India. Other was Justice Party, which had a Dravidian pride ideology. After India's independence, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) was established from the merger of these two parties in the former state of Madras, in south India. This party first demanded an independent Dravidstan for all of south India. Later on the demand was changed to independent Tamil state. Finally this party compromised on a Tamil Nadu state within the Indian Union.

In the beginning this party was anti-north Indian. They opposed to any entrance of any kind of cultures of north India. They specially attacked the attempt to introduce Hindi language in Tamil Nadu (see also Official languages of India). This party members also saw in the Tamili Brahmans agents of north India who immigrated to south India to enforce to north Indian Aryan culture on the south Indians (see Aryans and Dravidians). The party demanded to reserve the government jobs for Dravidians and not to 'immigrant' Brahmans. In 1972 this party split and a new party was founded by MC Ramachandaran and it was named All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK). In 1987 Ramachandaran died and Jayalalita inherited him. In the last few years these Tamilian pride parties have moderated their ideologies and before the 1998 elections the AIADMK even cooperated with BJP, which is considered as a north Indian party.

In Andra Pradesh, also in south India, Telegu Desam was founded in 1982 by Telegu film actor, NT Rao. The ideology of the party is similar to the ideology of the AIADMK, which is local cultural pride. In the Telugu Desam case, the local cultural pride is of Telugu culture.

Another one state party is Akali Dal and its main hold is in Punjab, north India. This party is considered a state party, but actually it is a religion oriented party whose followers are the Sikhs. This party also has its origin prior to India's independence. Before independence this party demanded from the British a separate entity for the Sikhs in Punjab. During the independence period these demands were delayed for a while. After independence this party began demanding special status for the Sikh culture and the Punjabi language. They struggled for a Punjabi state with a Sikh majority within the Indian Union and recognition of Punjabi as a distinct language. They succeeded in forming the establishment of Punjab in 1966, but it had a very small majority of the Sikhs (see Internal map of India). But they also succeeded in obtaining the recognition of Punjabi as a distinct language and not as a dialect of Hindi (see Official languages of India). Later on the Akali Dal broke up into some factions. Some of the militant factions of the Akali Dal demanded an independent Sikh state to be called Khalistan. But the dominant Akali Dal faction in Punjab wants Punjab to be a part of Indian Union.

In Assam in east India and in Maharashtra in west India there are political parties which came into existence because of the discriminatory feelings of the local 'sons of soil' population.

In British India, Assam was a British province. For some period the British attached Assam to the neighboring Bengal province. During this period the Bengalis held many senior government posts. Later on Assam again became a separate province, but the government posts were still hold by the Bengalis. In the 1960s and the 1970s many Bengali oriented people immigrated to Assam. In the 1980s the Asom Gana Parishad was founded with an agenda to give back Assam to the Assamese people.

In Maharashtra, in west India, the local population is known as Maharashtrians. Their language is known as Marathi. Sometimes the Maharashtrians are also known as Marathi. The capital of Maharashtra is Mumbai, formerly Bombay. During the British rule, the city of Bombay was the capital of Bombay State. The Bombay State included in it regions of present day Maharashtra and present day Gujarat. The main language of Gujarat is Gujarati. The Gujaratis are the business communities of India. The city of Bombay was the business center of India. Many business communities from Gujarat settled in Bombay and were the important business community of Bombay. But the majority of the population of Bombay was Marathi and they were the working classes of the city. Many Indians from all around India also immigrated to Bombay to find a better future. This made Bombay the largest Indian cosmopolitan.

In 1960 Bombay State was divided into Maharashtra and Gujarat. Bombay the cultural capital of the Marathis and the Gujaratis was made capital of Maharashtra. After Maharashtra was established, a general feeling among many Marathis, was that Bombay is ruled and governed by 'foreigners'. Their main targets were not the Gujarati business communities, but immigrants who arrived from all over India and settled in Bombay. So these people established the Shiv Sena party. This party which began as a protest movement of the Marathis in Bombay, slowly became popular all around Maharashtra. This party ideology was spiced with Hindu-Marathi nationalist pride. Its rivals consider this party as a fanatic and anti-Muslim party. According to the party policy, many places in Maharashtra were renamed with Marathi oriented names. For example Bombay was renamed back to its original name Mumbai (see Changing names of Indian places).

There are other state parties in India. To name a few there are, National Conference in Kashmir, Haryana Vikas Party in Haryana, Manipur People's Party in Manipur, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak in Goa, Sikkim Democratic Front in Sikkim, Mizo National Front in Mizoram, and many other parties. People who broke away from larger national parties, like the Congress founded some state parties. For example the West Bengal Trinamul Congress, Tamil Manila Congress, Kerala Congress. There are also communist state parties.

Parties that have received certain amount of votes or seats in a state might be recognized as a state party by the Election Commission. Recognition as a state party given the party the possibility to reserve a particular election symbol in the concerned state. A party might be recognized in more than one state. A party recognized in four states is automatically recognized as a national party. Below is the list of recognized state parties ahead of the Gujarat & Himachal Pradesh state assembly elections in December 2007. The states where the party has gained recognition is also stated, although the party may very well be active in more states and territories than that.

Indian state governments led by various political parties as of 2007

· All India Forward Bloc (West Bengal)

· All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK, "All India Anna Federation for Progress of Dravidians") (Tamil Nadu, Puducherry)

· All India Trinamool Congress (Meghalaya, West Bengal)

· Asom Gana Parishad ("Assam People's Federation") (Assam)

· Biju Janata Dal (Orissa)

· Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation (Bihar)

· Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK, "Federation for Progress of Dravidians") (Tamil Nadu, Puducherry)

· Federal Party of Manipur (Manipur)

· Indian Federal Democratic Party (Kerala)

· Indian National Lok Dal ("Indian National People's Party") (Haryana)

· Indian Union Muslim League (Kerala, registered as 'Muslim League Kerala State Committee')

· Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (Tripura)

· Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (Jammu and Kashmir)

· Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (Jammu and Kashmir)

· Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party (Jammu and Kashmir)

· Janata Dal (Secular) ("People's Party (Secular)") (Karnataka, Kerala)

· Janata Dal (United) ("People's Party (United)") (Bihar, Jharkhand, Nagaland)

· Janathipathiya Samrakshana Samithy ("Association for Defence of Democracy") (Kerala)

· Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) ("Jharkhand Liberation Front") (Jharkhand, Orissa)

· Kerala Congress (Kerala)

· Kerala Congress (Mani) (Kerala)

· Lok Jan Shakti Party (Bihar)

· Lok Satta Party (Andhra pradesh)

· Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (Goa)

· Maraland Democratic Front (Mizoram)

· Manipur People's Party (Manipur)

· Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Tamil Nadu)

· Meghalaya Democratic Party (Meghalaya)

· Mizo National Front (Mizoram)

· Mizoram People's Conference (Mizoram)

· Nagaland Peoples Front (Nagaland)

· Pattali Makkal Katchi (Tamil Nadu, Puducherry)

· Praja Rajyam Party (Andhra pradesh)

· Rashtriya Janata Dal ("National People's Party") (Bihar, Jharkhand)

· Rashtriya Lok Dal ("National People's Party") (Uttar Pradesh)

· Revolutionary Socialist Party (West Bengal)

· Samajwadi Party ("Socialist Party") (Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand)

· Shiromani Akali Dal (Party of Akal - Authority for the Political matters of Sikhs) (Punjab)

· Shiv Sena ("Army of Shivaji") (Maharashtra)

· Sikkim Democratic Front (Sikkim)

· Telangana Rashtra Samithi ("Telengana National Association") (Andhra Pradesh)

· Telugu Desam Party ("Telugu Nation Party") (Andhra Pradesh)

· United Democratic Party (Meghalaya)

· United Goans Democratic Party (Goa)

· Uttarakhand Kranti Dal ("Uttarakhand Revolution Party") (Uttarakhand)

· Zoram Nationalist Party (Mizoram)


The Left Front is an alliance of Indian leftist parties. In West Bengal and Tripura there are state-level committees of the Left Front. Currently Left Front governments rule both states.

In West Bengal the following parties are part of the Left Front:

Communist Revolutionary League of India was a member of the Bengali LF between 1995 and 2000. The convenor of the West Bengal Left Front committee is Biman Bose, politburo member of CPI(M).

In Tripura, the following parties are members of Left Front:

In Kerala, a formation of left parties led by the CPI(M) called the Left Democratic Front is the governing group in the Kerala State Assembly.

In Tamil Nadu, left parties form part of the Democratic Progressive Alliance along with the regionalist DMK.

In Maharashtra, parties such as the Peasants and Workers Party of India, Kamgar Aghadi and Shetkari Sangh are the allies of the Left Front.


The search for a viable national alternative to the Congress goes back more than fifty years, But India is too large, and too unwieldy, to be represented by two parties alone, or even, as it now seems, by two coalitions each dominated by a single party, says Ramachandra Guha. The search for a viable national alternative to the Congress goes back more than fifty years, to the first general elections of 1952. Just before that election, two former cabinet colleagues of Jawaharlal Nehru established political parties to challenge the Congress. One was Shyama PrasadMookerjee, who begat the Jana Sangh, the other, B. R. Ambedkar, who revived the Scheduled Castes Federation (later named the Republican Party). Neither of these two doctors was, of course, ever members of the Congress itself. However, two more political parties were started at the same time by lifelong Congressmen who felt compelled to leave their parent organization. One was the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Parishad, whose prime mover was Acharya Kripalani; the other the Socialist Party, whose leaders included such gifted men as Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan.

Shortly before the 1952 elections, these four challengers were joined by a fifth: the Communist Party of India, which came overground at the behest of Moscow, seeking to exchange the bullet for the ballot. These five parties had several things in common. First, all were led by politicians of competence and calibre. Second, none had a ghost of a chance of winning an overall majority in the 1952 elections. Third, all of them knew this. Fourth, all hoped that in the course of time the Congress would be able to meet popular expectations, and that their party would emerge as the natural alternative to it — perhaps in time for the third general elections in 1962 or, if disenchantment proceeded faster than anticipated, in 1957 itself.

Despite their ideological differences, then, the communists, the Jana Sanghis, the Socialists and the Republicans all believed that Indian democracy would, in course of time, evolve around two poles: one represented by the Congress, the other, hopefully, by themselves. In this they were influenced by the history of Western democracies such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, both marked by a more-or-less stable two-party system. Why should India not follow that path too?

In the event, these putative “national” alternatives all performed miserably in the polls of 1952. The Congress was hegemonic, which was not to the liking of one Congressman, C. Rajagopalachari. In October 1956, “Rajaji” made public his belief that there should be an opposition group within the Congress, without which — so he feared — the party “would simply degenerate into a hunting ground for every kind of ambition and self-seeking”.

The proposal was rejected; so the veteran turned to promoting an opposition outside the Congress instead. As he argued in an essay of May 1958, a healthy democracy required “an Opposition that thinks differently and does not just want more of the same, a group of vigorously thinking citizens which aims at the general welfare, and not one that in order to get more votes from the so-called have-nots, offers more to them than the party in power has given, an Opposition that appeals to reason…”. Such an opposition, even if it did not succeed in ousting the ruling party, might yet challenge and humanize it.

A democracy run by a single party automatically becomes a tyranny; such was Rajaji's rationale for starting Swatantra.

http://www.indiatogether.org/images/pixels/ffffff.jpgIn the Cold War, Rajaji tilted slightly towards the US — he was appalled by the “godlessness” of Communism as much as by its denial of liberty — while among his friends and advisers were some fervent free-marketeers. These ideas informed the new political party started by Rajaji in June 1959. Named the Swatantra Party, this focused its criticisms on the “personality cult” around the prime minister, and on the economic policies of the ruling Congress. Its founding statement asked for a “proper decentralized distribution of industry” through the nurturing of “competitive enterprise”; and, in agriculture, for the encouragement of the “self-employed peasant proprietor who stands for initiative and freedom”. It rejected the “techniques of so-called socialism” and the “bringing into being of ‘Statism”’.

A democracy run by a single party automatically becomes a tyranny; such was Rajaji’s rationale for starting Swatantra. For “the Congress Party has so far run without a true Opposition. It has run with accelerators and no brakes”. This party, promoted by an old man, quickly gathered momentum. Those who joined up included captains of industry, naturally, but also peasant-leaders worried by Congress threats to promote “co-operative farming”. Although conventionally described as “Conservative”, the party was in fact a curious amalgam of Westernized free-market liberals, ex- maharajahs, and agrarian leaders, all of whom had their own reasons for seeking an alternative to the Congress.

Swatantra had a reasonably coherent economic philosophy, as well as some capable leaders — notably Minoo Masani and N. G. Ranga. The party did quite well in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections (winning 18 seats) and even better in 1967 (when it won as many as 44). Masani himself was an uncommonly eloquent leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. But then, in the mid-term poll of January 1971, the party won a mere 8 seats, vanquished by an “Indira wave”, which had re-positioned the Congress as a party of the poor and all else — Swatantra included — as merely masks for the vested interests of the rich.

India now seemed set to return to one-party dominance. But in June 1975, Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency and then in January 1977 revoked it. Opposing the Congress now were the newly formed Janata Party, composed of characters drawn liberally, and illiberally, from all the alternatives of the past — the Jana Sangh, the Socialists, the Swatantra. When Janata was voted to power, some hopeful commentators saw this as the harbinger, at last, of a genuine two-party system in India. But these hopes were na├»ve, to say the least. For the party was formed on a one-point platform, and this was personal rather than ideological — namely, the removal of Indira Gandhi from power. Soon the Socialists fought with the Swatantra-ites, and both battled with the Jana Sanghis. In less than two years of its winning a general election, the Janata Party had broken up into its constituent parts.

The Congress easily won the 1980 elections and then those of 1984, more easily still. Halfway through his term as prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi placated the reactionary Muslim clergy with regard to the Shah Bano affair and then, to make amends, assuaged the reactionary Hindus by opening the locks of the Babri Masjid. With these two acts he gave birth to a new, countrywide challenge to his dominant party. The Jana Sangh, reborn now as the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, railed, to surprising effect, against the “appeasement of minorities” and the “insult to Hindu pride”. It steadily increased its vote-share as well as its number of seats. In 1996, it came to power at the head of a coalition which lasted a mere 13 days. It came back, however, in 1998 and again in 1999, after which the BJP headed a coalition government which lasted a full term in office.

Now, again, commentators saw the maturing of a two-party system in India. Of course, with the rise of regional parties, neither the Congress nor the BJP could command an overall majority in parliament. Still, with 193 seats to its account after the 1999 elections, the BJP was driving the National Democratic Alliance wagon. In the first weeks of 2004, some ideologues within the ruling party were speaking hopefully of getting a majority in the impending general elections. Meanwhile, the Congress looked down-and-out; as its own leaders privately conceded.

In the event, 2004 ended with a Congress coalition in power; and the BJP seemingly in (terminal?) decline. However, with a mere 145 seats, the Congress is even less in command of its coalition than the BJP once was. Now, at last, it is perhaps time to stop searching for a Holy Grail that most likely never did exist. For India is much larger than the UK; and far more culturally diverse than the US. Its population is too large, and too unwieldy, to be represented by two parties alone, or even, as it now seems, by two coalitions each dominated by a single party.

The Bharatiya Janata Party ( India ) and the Rise of Hindu Nationalism

The BJP ot the Bharatiya Janata party in India is unique among India's political parties in that neither it nor its political predecessors were ever associated with the Congress. Instead, it grew out of an alternative nationalist organization--the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS--National Volunteer Organisation). The BJP still is affiliated with the network of organizations popularly referred to as the RSS family. The RSS was founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. Until 1928 a member of the Congress with radical nationalist political leanings, Hedgewar had grown increasingly disenchanted with the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Hedgewar was particularly critical of Gandhi's emphasis on nonviolence and civil disobedience, which he felt discouraged the forceful political action necessary to gain independence. He established the RSS as an organization that would provide training in martial arts and spiritual matters to rejuvenate the spiritual life of the Hindu community and build its unity.

Hedgewar and his successor, M.S. Golwalkar, scrupulously endeavored to define the RSS's identity as a cultural organization that was not directly involved in politics. However, its rapidly growing membership and the paramilitary-like uniforms and discipline of its activists made the political potential of the RSS apparent to everyone on the political scene. There was considerable sentiment within the Congress that RSS members should be permitted to join, and, in fact, on October 7, 1947, the Congress Working Committee voted to allow in RSS members. But in November 1947, the Congress passed a rule requiring RSS members to give up their affiliation before joining. The RSS was banned in 1948 after Nathuram Godse, a former RSS member, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. The ban was lifted in 1949 only after the RSS drafted an organizational constitution that was acceptable to the government. Intensely loyal RSS members refused to give up their affiliation to join the Congress and, instead, channeled their political energies to the Jana Sangh (People's Union) after its founding in 1951.

The Jana Sangh grew slowly during the 1950s and 1960s, despite the efforts of RSS members, who quickly took control of the party's organization. Although the Jana Sangh succeeded in displacing the Hindu Mahasabha (a communal party established in 1914 as a counter to Muslim separatists) as the preeminent party of Hindu activists in the Indian political system, it failed to develop into a major rival to the Congress. According to political scientist Bruce Graham, this failure occurred because of the Jana Sangh's inability "to transcend the limitations of its origins," in particular, its identification with the Hindi-speaking, northern heartland and its Brahmanical interpretation of Hinduism rather than the more inclusive and syncretic values of popular Hinduism. However, the experience of the Jana Sangh during the 1970s, especially its increasing resort to populism and agitational tactics, provided essential ingredients for the success of the BJP in the 1980s.

In 1977 the Jana Sangh joined the Janata Party, which defeated Indira Gandhi and the Congress (I) in parliamentary elections and formed a government through the end of 1979. The rapid expansion of the RSS under Janata rule soon brought calls for all members of the RSS family to merge with Janata Party affiliates. Ultimately, intraparty tensions impelled those affiliated with the Jana Sangh to leave the Janata Party and establish a new party--the BJP.

The BJP was formed in April 1980, under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Although the party welcomed members of the RSS, the BJP's effort to draw from the legacies of the Ja-nata Party as well as that of the Jana Sangh were suggested by its new name, its choice of a green and saffron flag similar to that of the Janata Party rather than the solid saffron flag of the old Jana Sangh, its adoption of a decentralized organizational structure along the lines of the Janata Party rather than the more centralized model of the Jana Sangh, and its inclusion in its working committee of several non-Jana Sangh individuals, including Sikandar Bakht--a Muslim. The invocation of Gandhian socialism as one of the guiding principles of the BJP rather than the doctrine of "integral humanism" associated with the Jana Sangh was another indication of the impact of the party members' experience in the Janata Party and "J.P. movement."

The new synthesis, however, failed to achieve political success. In 1984 the Bharatiya Janata party won only two seats in the parliamentary elections. In the wake of the 1984 elections, the BJP shifted course. Advani replaced Vajpayee as party president. Under Advani's leadership, the BJP appealed to Hindu activists by criticizing measures it construed as pandering to minorities and advocating the repeal of the special status given to the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneously, it cooperated more closely with other RSS affiliates, particularly the VHP. During the 1980s, the BJP-VHP combine developed into a dynamic political force through its brilliant use of religious symbolism to rouse the passions of the public. The BJP and VHP attained national prominence through their campaign to convert back to Hinduism members of the Scheduled Castes who had converted to Islam. The VHP also agitated to reclaim the Babri Masjid site and encouraged villagers throughout the country to hold religious ceremonies to consecrate bricks made out of their own clay and send them to be used in the construction of the Ramjanmabhumi Temple in Ayodhya.

In the general elections of 1991, the Bharatiya Janata Party expanded its support more than did any other party. Its number of seats in the Lok Sabha increased from eighty-five to 119, and its vote share grew from 11.4 percent to 21.0 percent. The party was particularly successful in Uttar Pradesh, where it increased its share of the vote from 7.6 percent (eight seats) in 1989 to 35.3 percent (fifty seats) in 1991, and in Gujarat, where its votes and seats climbed from 30 percent (twelve seats) to 52 percent (twenty seats). In addition, BJP support appeared to be spreading into new areas. In Karnataka, its vote rose from 2.6 percent to 28.1 percent, and in West Bengal the BJP's share of the vote expanded from 1.6 to 12.0 percent. However, the elections also revealed some of the limitations of the BJP juggernaut. Exit polls showed that while the BJP received more upper-caste support than all other parties and made inroads into the constituency of Backward Classes, it did poorly among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, constituencies that it had long attempted to cultivate. In Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, three state governments run by the BJP since 1990, the BJP lost parliamentary seats although its share of the vote increased. In Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP also won control of the state government in 1991, veteran political analyst Paul R. Brass cogently argued that the BJP had reached the limits of its social base of support.

The limits of the BJP's Hindu nationalist strategy were further revealed by its losses in the November 1993 state elections. The party lost control over the state-level governments of Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh while winning power in Gujarat and the National Capital Territory of Delhi. In the aftermath of the Hindu activists' dismantling of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, the evocative symbolism of the Ramjanmabhumi controversy had apparently lost its capacity to mobilize popular support. Nevertheless, the BJP, by giving more emphasis to anticorruption and social issues, achieved unprecedented success in South India, where it won 28 percent of the vote and came in second in elections in Karnataka in November 1994. In the spring of 1995, the BJP won state elections in Gujarat and became the junior partner of a coalition with Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji--Shivaji Bhonsle was a seventeenth-century Maratha guerrilla leader who kept Mughal armies at bay) in Maharashtra (see The Marathas, ch. 1). In view of the potential demise of the Congress (I), the BJP stands poised to emerge as India's largest party in the 1990s. However, it is likely to have to play down the more divisive aspects of Hindu nationalism and find other issues to expand its support if it is to win a majority in the Lok Sabha.

Communist Parties

The Communist Party of India (CPI) was founded on December 26, 1925, at an all-India conference held at Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in late December 1925 and early January 1926. Communists participated in the independence struggle and, as members of the Congress Socialist Party, became a formidable presence on the socialist wing of the Indian National Congress. They were expelled from the Congress Socialist Party in March 1940, after allegations that the communists had disrupted party activities and were intent on coopting party organizations. Indeed, by the time the communists were expelled, they had gained control over the entire Congress Socialist Party units in what were to become the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. Communists remained members of the Indian National Congress although their support of the British war effort after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and their nationalist policy supporting the right of religious minorities to secede from India were diametrically opposed to Congress policies. As a result, the communists became isolated within the Congress. After independence, communists organized a peasant uprising in the Telangana region in the northern part of what was to become Andhra Pradesh. The uprising was suppressed only after the central government sent in the army. Starting in 1951, the CPI shifted to a more moderate strategy of seeking to bring communism to India within the constraints of Indian democracy. In 1957 the CPI was elected to rule the state government of Kerala only to have the government dismissed and President's Rule declared in 1959.

In 1964, in conjunction with the widening rift between China and the Soviet Union, a large leftist faction of the CPI leadership, based predominantly in Kerala and West Bengal, split from the party to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M). The CPI (M)-led coalition victory in the 1967 West Bengal state elections spurred dissension within the party because a Maoist faction headed a peasant rebellion in the Naxalbari area of the state, just south of Darjiling (Darjeeling). The suppression of the Naxalbari uprising under the direction of the CPI (M)-controlled Home Ministry of the state government led to denunciations by Maoist revolutionary factions across the country. These groups--commonly referred to as Naxalites--sparked new uprisings in the Srikakulam region of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and other parts of West Bengal. In 1969 several Naxalite factions joined together to form a new party--the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)--CPI (M-L). However, pursuit of insurrectionary tactics in the face of harsh repression by the government along with an array of ideological disputes kept Naxalite factions isolated in their local bases.

In the 1990s, the CPI (M) enjoys the most political strength of any communist group. Nationally, its share of the vote has gradually increased from 4.2 percent in 1967 to 6.7 percent in 1991, but it has largely remained confined to Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal. In Kerala the CPI (M) in coalition with other parties wrested control from the Congress and its allies (frequently including the CPI) in 1967, in 1980, and in 1987. Support for the CPI (M) in Kerala in general elections has ranged from 19 percent to 26 percent, but the party has never won more than nine of Kerala's twenty seats in Parliament. From 1977 to 1989, the CPI (M) dominated Tripura's state government. It won two parliamentary seats in 1971, 1980, and 1984, but it lost all of its seats in 1977, 1989, and 1991. In West Bengal, the CPI (M) has ruled the state government with a coalition of other leftist parties since 1977, and, since that time, the party has also dominated West Bengal's parliamentary delegation.

Support for the CPI is more evenly spread nationwide, but it is weak and in decline. The CPI share of the parliamentary vote has more than halved from 5.2 percent in 1967 to 2.5 percent in 1991.

In 1982 a CPI (M-L) faction entered the parliamentary arena by forming the Indian People's Front. In the 1989 general elections, the front won a parliamentary seat in western Bihar, and in 1990 it won seven seats in the Bihar legislative assembly. However, the Indian People's Front lost its parliamentary seat in the 1991 parliamentary elections when its vote in Bihar declined by some 20 percent.

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