New inputs of party system in India

Challenge to multi-party polity in India: Real or imaginary? | ORF

by Dr. Rajkumar Singh    9 September 2020

Indian party system’s experiences were of co-existing with the competition but without a trace of alteration. As a result, the opposition parties confined themselves to a role quite distinctive instead of providing an alternative to the Congress Party they functioned by influencing sections within Congress. They opposed by making Congressmen oppose. In other words, groups within the ruling Party assumed the role of opposition parties, often quite openly reflecting the ideologies and interests of other parties.  The Congress, in the period, occupied most of the space in the political system because ‘there was plurality within the dominant Party which made it more representative, provided flexibility, and estimated internal competition. At the same time, it was prepared to absorb groups and movements from outside the Party and thus prevent other parties from strength.  But Congress, even during the height of its power and influence, represented the democratic model allowing elements of opposition leading to the existence of a multi-party system.

The theme of the Indian party system

In general political parties are born of the natural contrast between those who cling to the old and those who embrace the new but on the other, some accept that they arise from the pugnacious instinct of men. In any society, there is a conflict of wills in society, and that conflict is decided by the decision of the intermediate-mass which is not firmly convinced of the truth of any general cause. To attract support, it is necessary to advertise one’s view. Parties are the natural method of effecting that end. Their form is largely dependent upon the conditions of any given time. They may group themselves about religious issues, economic issues or there will be a tendency for radical solutions to attract the young. Under the natural origin of political parties, they suffer from all the evils of group separatism. They distort the issues they create. They produce the divisions in the electorate which very superficially represent the way in which opinion is in fact distributed. They secure, at best, an incomplete and compromising loyalty. They falsify the perspective of the issues they create. They build about persons, an allegiance which should go-to ideas. They build upon the unconscious and they force the judgment of men into the service of their prejudices.  But in the case of Indian Party system the above complexities did not arise particularly in the years following the country’s independence. It all started in a happy and purposeful manner.

Types of the party system in India

In India, there are two types of parties: one broad-based and functional, and the other local in character and based on primary groups or centred around personalities. The co-existence of both types of parties must be regarded as an important characteristic of the Indian Party system. Thereby the numerical representation of the parties or their territorial diffusion does not have any significance in categorising them in one way or the other. The classification is entirely related to the degree of social differentiation. Although these parties are frequently built upon traditional loyalties and to a great extent, they are considered eligible by various social, linguistic, and religious groups. They comprise very heterogeneous social currents and interests in the complex of which differences in political representation naturally exist. In the process of creating political consciousness these parties work as a media of integration and have the capacity to provide the public with a measure of national identity as distinct from parochial parties.  In fact, there is a strong underlying feeling among all the people and political parties of the basic need for one sovereign Indian identity, even from the point of view of regard for their individual regional interests or pride in their regional identities. It is this feeling, historical, emotional, and also utilitarian – that makes them use their separate identities for pressuring the Indian polity to giving them regional concessions rather than for breaking up the country’s single political identity. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, also rightly pointed out on the occasion of his parting-speech, that if a constant compromise between the many heterogeneous social groups is not made, democracy in India is bound to collapse. At the same time, he demanded of the Parties to strive for inter-party tolerance and political restraint’. In fact, political parties coordinate between various thoughts-ideologies, represent heterogeneous social interests, and provide political training to citizens. While acting as a ruling party, they translate the dreams and aspirations of the country to reality. As the opposition, they aim at keeping the ruling party on the right track by adopting various methods.

The Indian party system in a global context

However, the Indian model of one-Party dominance, in the early years, was different from the once-dominant Party system of Ghana, Mexico, Algeria, and Egypt. The Indian Party system’s dominance was democratic and constitutional. It was marked by the in-built corrective and restraining force provided by factionalism within the Congress and occasional threats from without. Congress maintained an “umbrella” character and tried to build “consensus” and in this process accommodated various shades of political ideas and interests. In view of Maurice Duverger a party is dominant, if it displays the following two characteristics in a two-party or multi-party system: i. It clearly outdistances its rivals over an extended period of time; and ii. it identifies itself with the nation as a whole. Its doctrines, ideas, and even its style coincide with those of the times. The electoral success and the working of the Congress Party during the first twenty years after independence prompted Morris Jones and Rajni Kothari to characterise the Indian Party system as that of one-Party dominance. The historic role of the Congress in the national movement, the trauma of partition, the charisma of Nehru’s leadership, and the weaknesses of regional political parties led to the beginning of Parliamentary democracy in India with Congress at its centre. In the formative years, the founding class drew its legitimacy from its association with the freedom struggle, it renewed that legitimacy from the democratic promise, a promise that was a total and complete variance with the colonial state and feudal order. Within a decade of Independence, the constitutional order was definitely fulfilling two primary conditions, of popular acceptability and political representativeness. Simultaneously, the new nation-state was trying to prove its competence by undertaking a welfare agenda.

On the whole, the Congress occupied the broad center of the political spectrum as well as most of the left and right. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Indian National Congress was able to assimilate divergent interest, dividing the opposition by responding to the fragmentation on the lines of caste and ethnicity within Indian society and winning wide support. Indians gather around a leader either on the basis of caste, religion, economic interests, or maybe even birth. All that the leader has to do is to feed a hundred such people and push his caste or community or religion or even personality to assume leadership status, of course, the importance of the leader is directly proportional to the number of people he can feed. This was the phase of Nehru’s undisputed supremacy in the country and the total dominance of the Congress party.

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