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Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The system of governing by parties originated in England. As it now functions, people vote for parties and the party that wins the election, i.e. command a majority in Parliament, forms the Govern­ment. It holds power till the next election, unless it is voted out of office earlier and another party or Alliance may then come to power and the musical chair thus goes on.The system works more or less smoothly in England because there are as a rule two major parties: at present the Conservatives and the Labour parties and in USA Republican and Democratic parties
But in India there is confusing multiplicity of parties. The Congress is the oldest; its prestige results from its heroic role in the struggle for freedom. For more than thirty years it held absolute power both at the centre, and practically in all the states. At present the political parties are mainly divided into groups— Right and Left. To the right belong two main parties—The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) with its allies, besides the Congress.The Congress forms a solid and homogeneous party. The rich and well organized BJP is fairly strong in the Northern parts of India, while the Communists are strong in West Bengal and Kerala.Unfortunately, these coalescing groups have no common outlook. Most of them are fighting each other within the government. Smaller parties are constantly defecting from their electoral allegiance, and the coalition governments are easily ousted from office, reducing the Defection law to a mockery.
The domain of political parties in India has undergone amazing transformation since the time the country became a democratic republic. With the metamorphosis of the old parties, and in some cases their decline, demise or reincarnation, and the emergence of a large number of significant new parties, the party system has changed beyond comparison between what it was in the middle of the 20th century and what it is now. From a time when the political scientists and commentators had worked out theories of one-party dominance or felt anxious about the conduciveness of such a party system for democracy to blossom, we have now reached a situation where too many parties stampede and jostle for space in the party domain. Some see it as a natural, if not desirable, development due to the dynamics of the world’s most populous democracy marked by great diversity, cultural pluralism and economic underdevelopment. Others see in it fragmentation and decay of the polity, and apprehend a danger to democracy, to the unity of the country and the stability of governments (Suri 2005).

The working of parties over the past 50 years or more can be described as one of partial success. The working of parties over the past 50 years or more can be described as one of partial success. Parties played an immense role as mediating agencies in bringing about democratic transformation in a relatively peaceful manner (compared to several other former colonial countries), in a short span of time, and under conditions that were considered not very conducive to democratic development. They were instrumental in taking governments closer to the people. Today, all parties contest elections in the name of securing the common good. They maintain that they are committed to protect and promote the interests of the poor, marginalized and the socially disadvantaged.

Parties have exhibited a good deal of ideological flexibility. This has been the strength as well as the weakness of parties. All parties profess adherence to some kind of egalitarian, secular, socialist and democratic principles, although the meaning of these terms vary from party to party.

The representative character of parties also has increased over time. They draw more and more sections of society into the arena of politics and provided avenues for the elites from the weaker sections to manage public affairs, through a process that came to be known as ‘social-balancing’. Where and when this accommodation did not keep pace with the pressures, from different social groups, for leadership positions in party and government, new parties have emerged claiming to represent the aspirations of the weaker sections, backward classes, people of specific nationalities, etc.

While the success of parties gives us some satisfaction, their shortcomings cause disquiet. The very success of parties in establishing and working out democracy in the spirit of nationalism, secularism, and socialism gave birth to tensions that parties find difficult to manage or resolve.
Most parties have become centred around one leader who exercises absolute control over the party. The puzzle is that while parties have been instrumental in democratising state and society, they have tended to become internally less democratic.

The working of political parties in India, over more than five decades after Independence, presents us a contrasting picture of partial success, serious shortcomings and huge challenges. As such it generates mixed or contradictory feelings in us. While the success gives us some satisfaction, the shortcomings cause disquiet, and the challenges leave us in a state of doubt.

By the time the country became independent it had several parties competing with each other although the Indian National Congress had an imposing presence. The Justice Party was formed in 1917 with a view to mobilise non-Brahman sections of the then Madras Presidency; the Shiromani Akali Dal was formed in 1921 to establish Sikh control over gurudwaras; the Hindu Maha Sabha in 1925 to protect the rights of the Hindus; National Conference in 1932 to promote the rights of Kashmiri Muslims; Unionist Party was formed in Punjab in 1936; the Communist Party of India was formed in 1925; the Congress Socialist Party in 1935; the Forward Bloc in 1939; the Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1940; the Radical Democratic Party by M.N. Roy in 1942; and the Scheduled Castes Federation in 1940s to serve the interests of the downtrodden castes. Of course the Muslim League was formed in 1905 and, after a long period of mild constitutional activity, became an active contestant of the Congress in its claim to represent the interests of the Muslims. After the partition it was soon revived in 1948, although largely confined to Kerala.

The evolution of parties and party system in India after Independence may be viewed broadly as consisting of four phases, with each phase having its genesis in the earlier one and flowing into the next one: period of Congress consolidation and dominance (1952-67); consolidation of opposition parties and emergence of multi-party system (1967-89); period of flux (1989-98); shaping of coalitional party system (1998-2004).

The agitations led by Jayaprakash Narayan, the imposition of Emergency, in 1975-77 and finally the formation of the Janata party in 1977 brought far reaching changes in the structure of party competition. The Janata party itself came through the merger of different parties – Socialist Party, Bharatiya Lok Dal, Bharatiya Jan Sangh and the Congress (O) – with long-standing mutual opposition but now united in their will to defeat the Congress. The Congress for democracy under the leadership of Jagjivan Ram joined the party after the election.

The emergence of a viable non-Congress party and its capturing of power at the Centre raised the hope of a two-party system taking shape. But this experiment soon fizzled out with leadership quarrels in the Janata party. After a gap of nine years the non-Congress parties once again came to power in 1989, under the banner of National Front. But it too collapsed within two years. The leaders of these parties, although very experienced and talented, were unable to work out a broad programme to aggregate political groups and to overcome the deep-seated party identities as they were embroiled in suicidal power intrigues. Thus, the non-Congress alliance was unable on both occasions to consolidate the significant support it received from the electorate and continue in power. However, the Janata and National Front experiments proved that it was possible to displace the Congress if the non-Congress parties could come together.

The 1980s was a period of great flux. It saw the emergence of more and more new parties. Several National and regional parties were born as the Janata party began to fall apart. Some old parties took a new avatar, such as the BJP (formed in 1980), which began to gain strength as the major opposition to the Congress at the national level and in some States. The Bahujan Samaj Party began to take shape in the North as the representative of the dalits. New regional parties sprouted, developed and captured power in States: such as the TDP (1983) in AP and the AGP (1985) in Assam. As a result of reconfiguration of politics numerous small parties began to gain strength or emerge: All India Muslim League (1948), Shiv Sena (1966), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (1972), Manipur People’s Party, Mizo National Front (1965), J&K Panthers Party, Nagaland People’s Party, Nagaland People’s Council, Sikkim Sangrama Parishad, Indian People’s Front, etc. Due to the fragmentation of major regional parties different splinter parties of SAD, DMK (the Anna DMK in 1972), Republican Party of India and Kerala Congress began to appear.

Political parties

A political party is a group of individuals who are united in a specific political cause or opinion, especially on a national or regional basis

A political party's main function is to link the rulers and the ruled. This it does through nominating candidates for public offices, formulating policy and setting the agenda for the public, and mobilizing support for candidates and policies during an election.

Political parties are therefore an important feature of democratic political systems.

Types of party systems

Political scientists classify party systems often according to the number of parties it has:

(1) A single-party system. This exists in totalitarian countries like China and the former USSR, where only the Communist Party was allowed.

(2) A bi-party system. There are two dominant parties in this kind of system. The US and the UK have traditionally been dominated by two major political parties.

(3) Multi-party system. This exists in countries like France, Germany, and India - many political parties are involved and play an active role in politics.

Features of India's party system

India's party system has some unique features:

(1) Multiplicity of political parties. Because India has several regions, languages and communities, there are many political parties in India. More than 70 political parties contested in India's first elections in 1951, and the number is more now. India has several regional parties and a few national parties.

(2) Decline of the one party dominance and 'Congress system'. Till 1977, when the Congress party first lost an election, political scientists called India's party system one of 'single-party dominance' or the 'Congress system'. But the Congress is not longer the dominant political party. Since 1989, no party in India has been able to win an absolute majority.

 (3) Coalitions. Since 1989, every government in India has been based on coalitions of several political parties. At present the United Progressive Alliance, a coalition of the Congress, the DMK, the Trinamool Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, and others, is the ruling coalition.

(4) Parties based on multiple social cleavages. Some are formed on the basis of a regional identities, others on the basis of caste, and some are based on political ideas or philosophy. The SP, the BSP, and the Akali Dal, are examples.

Recently, the lower classes and castes have begun to form their own political parties.

(5) Fragmentation of political parties. There are frequent splits and mergers. The Congress itself has gone through several splits and mergers.

(6) Importance of state political parties. In states like UP and Tamil Nadu, the national political parties have only a weak presence. Political parties which are based in states, like the DMK and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have become more important because of coalition politics.

(7) Centralizing and divisive tendencies. While there are multiple political divisions in India, this has made it necessary for parties which want to gain power to look for support from many sections of society. Even the BJP has tried to reach across to people of other religions and languages in order to gain political power in the centre.


The Congress during the Freedom Struggle

The Indian National Congress was set up in 1885 by AO Hume, a retired British civil servant. Its purpose at this time was to bring all Indians together, give them a forum to engage in modern politics, and thus persuade the British to give political and administrative concessions.From the 1920s, the Congress functioned as a broad national movement rather than a political party. After Independence, it continued to dominate the nation as the leading political party till the 1980s.

Structure of the Congress

The All-India Congress Committe (AICC) is the main executive body of the party. Within the AICC, a smaller group called the Congress Working Committe (CWC) takes the main decisions regarding the party. The CWC includes the President of the Congress Party and 20 others - 10 elected by the AICC, and 10 appointed by the President.The Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) is composed of the Congress party members who are also Members of Parliament. It tries to develop and enforce consensus with regard to the work of Parliament.


The Congress party has been historically committed to:
  • a democratic, parliamentary ideology and non-violent nationalism. This  was the philosophy of the national movement. This helped to keep Indian democracy alive, inspite of single-party dominance for nearly half a century after independence.
  • the removal of feudalism and zamindari, laws protecting labour, and the formation of a socialistic society.
  • the linguistic reorganization of states, respect for minorities and the depressed classes, and a policy of consensus.  
Since Independence

Till the 1950s and 60s, the Indian party system was one of 'one party dominance'. The Congress was the only viable ruling party, and opposition parties could only criticise or pressurize it from outside.However, the organization of the party weakened gradually. Kamaraj in the 1960s suggested the Kamaraj Plan - the removal of ministers and party managers for party work.Nehru died in 1964, and was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, and then in 1966 by Indira Gandhi. From 1975 to 1977 Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency. This was very unpopular, and resulted in the Congress Party losing the elections for the first time in independent Indian history, in 1977.However, the Congress Party came back to power in 1980 because the Janata Party was not able to provide a stable government. From 1980 to 1989, Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi of the Congress were Prime Ministers.After the Congress lost the elections in 1989, it started the era of coalition governments. In this period, the Congress was in power from 1991 to 1996 (Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister), and then from 2004 (Manmohan Singh), both times as the leading party of a coalition.Since 2004, the Congress has been the leading party of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).


The Bharatiya Janata Party is one of the main political parties of India. In the centre, it is the main opposition party; in Gujarat, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh it controls the state government; in Bihar, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Punjab and Uttarakhand it is the one of the parties in the ruling alliances.The BJP is one of the 'Sangh Parivar', the family of Hindu nationalist organizations including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), etc.It was founded in 1980.

Before 1980

The BJP is a descendant of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), founded in 1950 by Shyam Prasad Mukherjee.  After the death of Shyam Prasad Mukherjee in 1953, it was taken over by Deendayal Upadhyaya. In 1968, Atal Behari Vajpayee became the President.Deendayal Upadhyaya and Vajpayee built up the organization from the local to the national level. Sthaniya samitis (local councils) and karya samitis (executive councils) were set up in villages, towns, districts, and at the national level. This was mainly in the Hindi-speaking areas in northern India, with some presence in Gujarat, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa.In 1977, it was one of the non-Congress parties which came together to form the 'Janata Dal' government. In 1979, after the failure to set up a stable government, the Janata Dal broke up. In 1980, Vajpayee, Advani, and Bhairon Singh Sekhawat founded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Vajpayee was the President of the party.


The highest office within the party is that of the President. This is presently held by Nitin Gadkari. The term of the office is 3 years.Below the President there are Vice Presidents, General Secretaries, Treasurers and Secretaries.  The highest decision making body is the National Executive Committee.The structure of the party is similar at the state level also.


The BJP is a right-wing party. 

  • In social matters, it is conservative and dedicated to India's traditional values. 
  • In economic matters, it has been liberal.
  • In religion also it is conservative. It opposes conversions.
  • It supports strong government and national defense. It wants Article 370 abrogated and anti-terror measures like the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act strengthened. 
  • It supports welfare measures for food security, shelter for all, easy agricultural loans, and universal education.

After 1980

The party led the Ram Janambhoomi Movement in the late 1980s. Through this it gained political support. Members of the BJP and other sangh parivar organizations broke down the Babri Masjid Mosque in 1992. After this, their political fortunes improved..In 1996, the BJP became the single largest party in Parliament for the first time in its history. However, it was not able to get allies and Vajpayee was Prime Minister for less than two weeks.In 1998, the BJP, as the head of the coalition of parties, was finally able to form a stable government. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister till 2004. His government continued the liberal economic policies of the previous Congress government. Foreign investment in India increased.The BJP's support today comes from mainly the upper and middle classes in Hindi-Hindu areas. However, it has a presence in some non-Hindi states like Gujarat and Karnataka.The BJP, however, lost the 2004 as well as the 2009 elections.


Before independence

The left movement began in India in the 1920s. This was due to the inspiration of the 1917 revolution in Russia, the growth in education, and the economic difficulties after the war.

There were two streams within the left movement:
  • communist organizations outside the Congress, and
  • the left wing within the Congress party

Communist organizations

In 1920, MN Roy founded a Communist Party of India at Tashkent, USSR. This was supported by the Comintern and its members were trained in Moscow. In India, it worked with terrorist organizations like Jugantar and Anushilan. However, the party was soon banned in India.In 1924, another ­Communist Party of India was founded by Sathyabhakta. This was independent of the Comintern, but was also banned.The Indian communists were thus forced to work with front organizations like the All-India Workers and Peasants Party. The communists chose to support the British during the Quit India Movement because both Britain and Russia were fighting against Germany. Later, they supported the Muslim League demand for a weak central government. These made the communists unpopular in India.

Left wing within the Congress

Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose were members of the Congress Socialist Party. Later, Subhas Chandra Bose founded the Forward Bloc within the Congress.

After Independence

There are several communist parties in India.

Communist Party of India (CPI)

It traces its founding to Sathyabhakta's party of 1924. After independence, it led armed struggles in Kerala, Hyderabad, and Bengal. However, it soon chose to work within India's system of parliamentary democracy.The CPI was the first non-Congress party to form a government. This was in Kerala in 1957 when EMS Namboodiripad became the Chief Minister. Later, Achuta Menon from the CPI was also Chief Minister of Kerala.The Sino-Japanese War of 1962 and some ideological matters led to the split in the party in 1964. One section broke away to form the CPI(M).Today, AB Bardhan is the President of the CPI. The CPI was part of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) till 2008, when it withdrew support because of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M) or CPM)

This was formed in 1964. People like EMS Namboodiripad and Jyoti Basu chose to join this breakaway party when it split from the CPI.In 1967 it won the elections in Kerala, and EMS Namboodiripad became the Chief Minister. In 1977, Jyoti Basu led the party to success in West Bengal. He stayed as Chief Minister till 2000.Today, it forms the state governments in Kerala (CM: VS Achuthanandan), Bengal (Buddhadeb Bhattacharya) and Tripura (Manik Sarkar). It was part of the UPA till 2008,  and also part of Tamil Nadu's ruling Progressive Democratic Alliance till 2008.

Other communist groups

In 1967, a group of the CPI(M) led by Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal chose to break away. They supported the armed revolt in a village called Naxalbari in West Bengal. This was the root of the Naxalite movement. They called themselves the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries.Similar groups were founded in Andhra Pradesh. However, these groups have been banned in India because they support armed rebellion against the government.


This was founded in 1999 by Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma, and Tariq Anwar.The Nationalist Congress Party has a secular and egalitarian ideology. It believes that high constitutional offices must be reserved for natural-born Indian citizens.Its base is mainly in Maharashtra, but it also has a presence in Kerala and Nagaland. It is a part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance. Sharad Pawar from the NCP is the Minister for Agriculture at present.


This was founded in 1984 by Kanshi Ram.The BSP is a centrist and socialist party which claims to follow the legacy of BR Ambedkar, the Dalit leader.Its main base is in Uttar Pradesh, among the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, the Other Backward Castes, and the Buddhists.Mayawati has been the President of the party since 2003. She is currently the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.At the national level, the BSP is the third largest national party with 10% of the national vote.


To contest in elections, a political party should be registered with the Election Commission. If a political party has won 4% or more of its state's quota in the Lok Sabha, or 3.3% of the members of the state's legislative assembly, it is called a recognised party. If a party is recognized in four or more states, it is known as a national party. Otherwise, it is called a state or regional party.India has six national parties: the Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Nationalist Congress Party, and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The following is a description of the main regional parties in India.


Dravida Munnetra Kalagam (DMK)

This was founded by CN Annadurai in 1949 after he broke away from the Dravida Kazhagam (Justice Party, led by Periyar). Since 1969, it has been led by M. Karunanidhi.

It won its first elections in 1967, and CN Annadurai became Chief Minister. After his death in 1969, Karunanidhi became CM. In 1972, MG Ramachandran broke away from the party to form the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Ideology. In the 1940s and 50s, the DMK followed an ideology of Tamil nationalism and supported the idea of a separate Dravida Nadu. However, since the 1960s, it has given this up. It took up the anti-Hindi cause, and espouses Tamil pride.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)

This party was formed by MG Ramachandran in 1972 and is now led by J. Jayalalithaa.The AIADMK first came to power in 1977 and MG Ramachandran became Chief Minister. In 1979, it became the first Dravidian party to become a part of the union cabinet (under Charan Singh).In 1980, however, it was dismissed by Indira Gandhi's government, but managed to be elected back to power the same year. After MGR died in 1987, his wife Janaki Ramachandran took over as Chief Minister. However, her government was dismissed in 1988.After this, the party was taken over by J. Jayalalithaa. Under J. Jayalalithaa, the party was in power in Tamil Nadu from 1991 to 1996 and then from 2001 to 2006, and then from 2012.

Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). This was founded by Dr. Ramdoss. It was now of the UPA and supported the DMK government in Tamil Nadu from outside, but has now separated. The party is stronger in northern Tamil Nadu.

Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). Founded by V Gopalswamy (Vaiko) in 1994, the party is known for its sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamils and the LTTE issue.

Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) was founded by former actor Vijaykanth in 2005. It managed to get 10% of the popular votes in the 2006 elections.

Andhra Pradesh today has a Congress government led by N Kiran Kumar Reddy.

Telugu Desam Party (TDP)

This was founded by former film star NT Ramarao (NTR) in 1982. NTR led his party to victory in elections that year and became the Chief Minister. In 1995, his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu took over leadership of the party after a power struggle. Candrababu Naidu was Chief Minister from 1995 to 2004. TDP favours separate statehood for Telangana.

Praja Rajyam Party (PRP). This was formed by Chiranjeevi in 2008. It has campaigned for a separate Telangana.

Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). The founder and leader of TRS is K Chandrasekar Rao (2001). The TRS was part of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress) but withdrew support after the UPA failed to create Telangana.


Other important parties in Kerala include:

Indian Union Muslim League (Muslim League Kerala State Committee). This has participated as a coalition partner in recent governments in Kerala. It also has some influence in Tamil Nadu.

Kerala Congress (M). Led by P. Mani, this is one of the splinter groups of the Congress in Kerala. It is a part of the UPA coalition.

CPI (M). This held power in Kerala till last year.

Janata Dal (Secular). This party, led by former PM HD Deve Gowda, is recognized in Karnataka and in Kerala.


The BJP, led by Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, is presently the ruling party in Karnataka.

Besides the BJP, the Janata Dal (Secular) (led by HD Deve Gowda) and the Indian National Congress have a presence in Karnataka.

Suri ,K C (2005), Parties under Pressure:Political Parties in India Since Independence, Paper prepared
for the Project on State of Democracy in South Asia as part of the Qualitative Assessment component Lokniti (Programme on Comparative Democracy) Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

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