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Emerging Trends in Indian Electoral Politics and Party System- Part 2

By Dr Shashikant Pandey | PUBLISHED: 03, Dec 2010, 18:52 pm IST | UPDATED: 06, Dec 2010, 13:14 pm IST

Emerging Trends in Indian Electoral Politics and Party System- Part 2

The paradox of Indian democracy is that enlightened middle class has shown indifferent attitude towards electoral process. In the era of globalization, he is so deeply involved to fulfill his unending quench for attaining material pleasure that he fails to realize his larger national responsibility. This raises the question that when the most educated and enlightened group will fail to fulfill their national obligation then how can we expect our political system to improve automatically.

In western democracy, highly educated and successful groups not only take part in electoral process but also put pressure on government through various pressure groups and also by forming civil society groups on a large scale, whereas in India, people belonging to middle and upper class maintain indifferent attitude and people belonging to lower social, economic, educational background register their participation in large number. For the success of democracy, the participation of have and have not is equally required.

If we analyze the prevailing trend in Indian democracy, we find that on the one hand electoral process has raised the level of political awareness and on the other hand it has also increased the misuse of electoral process by political parties for their narrow ends. Winning election has become the sole criteria for political parties. In order to win election, political parties compromise with values, ethics and morality which used to be associated with it. It has further consolidated primordial values. In this process, they fail to realize that they have larger national responsibility as well. The kind of tactics applied by political parties for winning election has promoted casteism, communalism, regionalism, sectarianism and above all use of money, muscle power and criminalization of politics.

It has weakened the base of Indian politics. In fact, this has become an accepted feature of Indian politics. No political party is ready to discuss this issue that what should be done to do away with such malpractices. Even, Indian public too cannot escape from its responsibility as they are electing people who are of dubious credentials. Quest for power has laid to the erosion of values from Indian politics.

Conducting free and fair election is the responsibility of the Election Commission and it has been working hard to live up to its constitutional obligation. Due to the effort of the commission, electoral violence, misuse of money, bogus voting have been substantially reduced. The oppressed and deprived section of our population who could not even dare to go to polling booth, are electing their representative without any fear. However, it would be too early to say that in India, free and fair election has been totally established.

Coming to the second theme of the present paper, i.e. party system. It is closely associated with electoral politics. Maurice Duverger aptly defined that electoral system leaves its impression on the political life of the country through political parties only. In Indian competitive party system, political party’s gains power through competitive electoral battle. In order to win election, political parties, indulge in all sorts of manoeverality like arousing passion in the name of caste, region, religion etc. In fact, political parties have compromised with ideology in order to gain power. Over the years, one finds a marked change in the way party  system operates in India.

The party system is now said to be moving from a one party dominance system to a multi-party competition, from social cohesion to fragmentation, from a stable pattern to fluidity, from order to chaos as the principle of party competition. One party dominance has been replaced by coalition government. It has led to the emergence of regional centers of power. Regional political parties are playing very crucial role in the national politics.

Initially, Congress party played a very vital role in shaping Indian party system. However, it cannot escape from the responsibility of decay that has set in Indian party system as it is the oldest political party in India. The ‘catch- all’ character of the Congress party won helped it to win election, without forcing any change in its policies or leadership pattern. The Congress party was supported by masses from diverse background but as pointed out by Yogendra Yadav, the party’s upper class- upper caste leadership remained the legitimate representative of the masses.

Congress system was not open to vulnerable section and this may be due to the background of the political class. Charismatic personality of Nehru helped it to remain in power till the end of the decade of sixties. In 1967, serious challenge to Congress dominance emerged and its hegemony as a dominant party was challenged. Its ability to accommodate dissent got challenged forcing many groups to break away.

When Mrs. Gandhi came in power and started facing challenge, in order to consolidate her position she decided to centralize the power.Mrs. Gandhi’s slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao’ won her vote as well as support. However, her style of functioning and dependence on ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ alienated her from other party leaders. It laid to revolt by many national leaders including regional leadership. Rajiv Gandhi’s appearance on the political map of India was under extraordinary circumstances. It re-established one- party dominance. However; his support base started dwindling once his name appeared in Bofors deal.

Congress to post- Congress transformation was never an easy process. However, it led to the establishment of coalition government. The emergence of NDA followed by UPA led to the changed pattern of representation. Those regions/ communities which were feeling deprived, their sentiment was used by regional leaders to form  regional parties. These regional parties now have become so strong that they are playing deciding role in the formation of central government.

The most important factor responsible for the change in federal political arrangement is nationalization of regional issues and regionalization of national issues and it is largely because modernization, politicization and economic development and on the other hand because of mandal-mandir controversy. In post 1989 period we observe a new trend towards regionalization of Indian politics and it reflects the representative character of Indian polity. It has also brought those into the center stage of Indian politics who were left on the margins.

In fact, regional parties have mushroomed in Indian politics in large numbers in recent years. However barring few states, they have not brought about substantial change and in many states, state governments were replaced by national parties. However some regional governments like the one in Bihar and Orissa have shown the path.

 In India, party system has covered a long journey from one party dominance to coalition government. And in this process democracy has further got consolidated. Coalition governments, which are generally associated with instability, inordinate delay are after initial hiccup running successfully. Change is imminent in party system and Indian democracy is no exception to this. However the question arises as to whether it has consolidated democratic roots or it reflects the misuse of political system for narrow selfish purpose.

Emerging Trends:

Democracy has deepened further in last sixty years in India and its credibility has vindicated itself. Participation of weaker section especially S.C. and S.T. has increased manifold thereby consolidating democratic process. The pattern of representation to Loksabha and Rajyasabha reflects that every segment of the population is getting represented.

Earlier, only educated middle class used to get chance to be elected as people’s representative. However, in recent years, the trend has changed and women, S.C., S.T. and farmers too, are getting chance to contest and win election. Political participation of minorities, Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes have increased. One party dominance and its ill-effects are things of the past. Regional parties are ruling in many states and also part of ruling alliance at the central government. Defection, President rule, election related violence etc. have become a rarity. Right to information, Right to education, Panchyati Raj act have really empowered and enlightened the common public.

However it does not mean that all the changes had positive impact only. If we minutely analyze Indian electoral politics as well as party system, we find that along with some positive changes there is some negative development as well. The vote bank politics has laid to the decline of moral values from our politics. Caste, region, religion still plays decisive role in electoral politics.

Democracy not only ensures adult franchise but also ensures participation in political process. The question is whether Indian democracy has truly ensured the participation of every segment of the population in electoral process. Unless the fruits of democratic success are not shared with deprived and poorer section of the population, the goal of democracy cannot be said to be realized. In Indian context, the worrying aspect is that pace of development is very slow.

Institutions which are considered essential for its successful functioning have declined over the years. For example, electoral system, despite serious effort has failed to invent any device to check the entry of anti- social elements in entering into electoral process which questions its legitimacy. Political parties still involve themselves in immoral practices in order to win election which goes against the democratic spirit. In order to gain political power, they always make use of primordial loyalties like caste, religion, region etc. The basic livelihood issues like unemployment, poverty eradication and other such issues have gone to the backburner.

Normally in a healthy democratic setup, elections are contested on issues relating to problems affecting people. However, in Indian democracy, it seems as a chimera. On the whole, Indian democracy is passing through a transitional phase and the pace of change is very fast. On the one hand many issues have been addressed, some new issues have cropped up and some old issues remain to be resolved. The need of the hour is that divisive tendencies are closely monitored and evaluated and long term and lasting strategy should be devised to address the socio- economic problem then only we would be able to establish a successful, egalitarian republic. Finally, in the words of eminent historian, Ramchandra Guha, it can be said, that Indian democracy is a work in progress and therefore we will have to wait and watch for new developments especially in the field of party system and electoral politics in India.

Read Also: Emerging Trends in Indian Electoral Politics and Party System


The writer, Dr. Shashikant Pandey, is Assistant Professor, Dept of Political Science, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar (Central) University, Lucknow-U.P. He is scholar and Gold medalist  from B.H.U.
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