India’s political history is very young history! Before Independence India was ruled by the British Empire that bought nearly 400 princely states under their rule for over a period of 200 years. When India became independent in 1947 it was ruled by the Indian Constituent Assembly for a period of three years. Subsequently the very first Indian General Elections were held between 1951 & 1952. The First General Election saw the participation of nearly 55 parties of the 200 parties that were formed, but the largest parties of these were the Indian National Congress, followed by Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Communist Party of India, KisanMazdoorPraja Party, and the Socialist Party to name a few. Unlike the US and UK which primarily have a dual party political system, since the first Indian General Election India has been a country of multiparty politics.
A group of people with a common political agenda usually form organization what is known as a Political Party. They come together to participate in the democratic elections and form a government which will run the country. A party consist of the following components:
- Working Members
Need for a Political Party: A Democracy thrives of the fact that a varied views, opinions, issues of the society are grouped as per a common agenda which essentially formulates a political party. Without a political party it would be just many individuals with many agendas. The Responsibilities of a Political Party entail –
- Participate in the election of the country
- Form the government and run the country.
- A party can propose a new law or, change and abolish an existing law subjected to debate.
- Form an opposition party to ensure that the ruling party is responsible for its actions while in tenure.
- Provide people access to government welfare schemes.
Some of the challenges a political party faces are:
- Dynastical Succession.
- Concentration of Power in the hands of a few leaders.
- Lack of Choices of parties with similar ideologies
- Money and Muscle Power ruling the party instead of Ideologies.
India is a Democratic Federal, Parliamentary Republic Country and is a dual polity system.
In dual polity system, two types of government are formed to rule the country – Central Government and State government. President is the head of the country and Prime Minister is the head of the Government. A chief minister is the head of a state. Following this principal, India has two kinds of political parties – National Parties and Regional Parties. National level parties take part in General Elections to form the Government at the center and regional parties take part in state level elections to form state government.
National Level Political Parties
The Election Commission of India registers all the political parties in Indian and provides guideline for code of conduct of these parties. A political party is considered as Nation party if it meets the following criteria:
- The party is registered and a recognized party in 4 or more states.
- When at General Election the Party needs to get 6% of the polled votes in four or more states.
- It needs to win 4 Lok Sabha seats in the General Elections
- Finally the party needs to win 2% of the Lok Sabha seats from at least 3 different states.
State Level Political Parties
India currently has 29 states and each states comes with its own cultural, regional and traditional intricacies. These unique features of each state have seen the emergence of the political parties which are functional and popular in their respective states. These state level political parties understand the local customs, traditions, and the cultural fabric of the area as well as the pulse of the region.There are close to 50 recognized and 20 unrecognized,regional parties in India as of Sept 2014. The Election commission provides a list of symbols for each of the registered party to choose from which becomes it symbol in the ballot paper.
A state level political party must meet the following criteria to be called a Regional Party:
- The part should win a minimum of 3 seats or a minimum of 3% of the seats in the Legislative assembly.
- The party should win at least one seat in the Lok Sabha Elections for every 25 seats or any fraction thereof allotted to that state.
- A political party should secure at least six percent of the total valid votes polled during general election to a Lok Sabha or State Legislative Assembly and should, in addition, win at least one Lok Sabha, and two Legislative Assembly seats in that election.
- Under the liberalized criteria, one more clause has been added to provide that even if a Party fails to win any seat in a State in a general election to the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly of the State, the party will still be eligible for recognition as State Party if it secures 8% or more of the total valid votes polled in the State.
State Level Party in National Politics
State level parties take a very long time make their mark at the national level owing to the fact that they need to establish themselves as a credible party on their home turf before foraying into national politics. A party’s ideologies need to be accepted at a national level for them to be established at the national party level. This is the main hurdle for a regional party to become a national level party.
Most regional parties try to make entry into national level politics through alliance with established national parties with similar ideologies to create a foothold. Only once the alliance is successful at a national level will the regional party have a chance to try and make a mark at the national level. A failed alliance usual sets the regional party back to where it started and result in a longer duration to re-establish itself in national politics. Also political ideologies play a pivotal role in any party’s success and a regional party ideology may seem like revolutionary ideology at the national level.
Another important aspect of the political fabric of India is that most parties are leader centric. The leader is all powerful and pretty much the sole decision maker of the party. Often it is difficult to break this kind of strong hold in a party which leads to reluctance to accepting fresh blood into the party for the fear of losing their hold in the party. Often national parties are dominated by a particular family like the INC is by the Gandhi family.
Finally most national parties tie up with many smaller parties, joint candidates or independent candidates with the same ideology before the elections. This is done to gain the majority in case they do not meet their required number of votes, this leads to a defeat of a rival party and its alliance with a regional party which come together because of a common agenda.
National Level Parties
In India the following six parties are considered as national level parties:
Indian National Congress
INC or Indian National Congress – The Oldest and one of the largest parties of pre and post independent India is the Indian National Congress. Formed in 1885 this party is also one of the oldest political party in the world and has been dominated by the Gandhi- Nehru family for the longest of time. In all of the 15 general elections of India the INC has won 6 elections with a fleeting majority and in 4 elections it formed a coalition government which was known as the UPA or United Progressive Alliance.
All in all the INC has held power for nearly half a century in India.The Party symbol is the Open Palm and mostly use the Indian Tri colours with the open palm in the center as their flag, however the official party color is Deep Sky Blue. Their ideology is of Secularism, Democratic Socialism, Liberalism, and Populism. The INC is currently lead by Sonia Gandhi who is the president of the party.
The party faced a terrible defeat in the 2014 General Elections which was first time for the party since its inception prior to the independence of India. This defeat threatened its very status as national level party for the very first time in the history of the party.
Bharatiya Janata Party
Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP – The largest Party in India in terms of membership, BJP is the current ruling party in India after its landslide victory in the 2014 General Elections. The party originated from the Bharatiya Jana Sangh which was formed in 1951. The party was officially established in 1980 and contested for the 1st time in the General Election in 1984.
The party is Right Wing party and its ideologies consist of Hindu Nationalism, Conservatism, and Integral Humanism. The party has a strong relation with the RSS or RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh. The party is recognized by the Lotus Symbol and the official party colourare Saffron and Green which are seen on the party flag along with the Lotus Symbol.
The BJP has come to power three times as a coalition party known as the NDA or National Democratic Alliance. The party is led by Amit Shah who is the current president and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP has been in power since 2014.
Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPIM is a left wing party with a democratic centralism and Communism which was formulated by Vladamir Lenin and Carl Marx of Russia. The CPIM was established in 1964 after it separated from the Communist Party of India or CPI. The CPIM is the leader of the leftist coalition party.The CPI is predominately seen in the states of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal and is currently in power in the north eastern state of Tripura. The party is identified with the sickle, hammer and a star. The party’s colours are Red and White. The party is led by Sitaram Yechury who is the General Secretary.
The CPIM had some troubled early years which lead to the formation of the party. THE CPIM was a struggling with radical members who wanted to bring in hard core communism through a rebellion and force however there were other in the party who wanted to focus on supportive role for the central government. This clash caused a sever difference when the Indo-China war took place when many of the party member were arrested and jailed for supporting China. This also lead to the upsring of the Naxalite movement of rebels from the Naxalbari in West Bengal who had feud with the rest of the party members.
Communist Party of India
CPI or Communist Party of India is next oldest political party of India after the Indian National Congress. Founded in 1925 the CPI is a left-wing party with Communism Marxism-Leninism ideology. The CPI is the only other party after the India National Congress that participated in 14 General Elections as a national party. It could not participate in the 2014 General Elections as it could not manage to win the minimum number of seats and unable to get the minimum votes polled.
The Party is most popular in the states of Kerala, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Currently the party is part of many coalitions in these states with the Leftist and the Left Front parties. The CPI’s symbol is very similar to the CPIM expect that with the sickle it has ears of corns instead of a hammer. Both the parties share the same colour Red.
Despite is endearing presence for nearly a century, the party has failed to create a government at the central level due to some of its radical ideologies of rebellion and militia. The party’s current leader is SuravaramSudhakar Reddy who is the General Secretary.
The BahujanSamaj Party or the BSP is one of the youngest party of Indian political system. Founded in 1984 by Kanshi Ram the party’s main ideology is Human Rights, Secularism, Dalit Socialism and Left Wing Populism. The Bahujan means people of majority and the BSP’s target group of Schedule Cast, Schedule Tribe and the Other Backward casts. The BSP has a strong presence in UP but have made quite a mark in national politics under the leadership of Kansih Ram.
In-spite of unable to winning any seats in the 2014 general elections it was the third most voted party in the election. The party first made its mark as a regional party in Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly and joined forces with the Samajwadi Party to form a coalition government in 1993. In 2007 the party found success in the state assembly elections with a fleeting majority of votes that were caste from the upper caste. The party is recognized by the Elephant Symbol and uses the colour blue as its party colour.Mayawathi is the present leader of the BSP.
National Congress Party
The NCP or National Congress Party was formed as a result of a split from the Indian National Congress in 1999. The party was founded by Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar and P.A.Sangam after they were expelled from the INC when they challenged that Italian origin Sonia Gandhi should not lead the Indian National Congress. After the expulsion the NCP joined forces with Indian Congress (Socialist) Party from Maharashtra. The party was first based as a regional party in the state of Maharashtra but eventually gained popularity in close to seven other states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal as well as in the Union Territory of Anadaman and Nicobar. This lead to the party being promoted to a national level party in 2000, from a regional party within two year of its formation.
The party’s ideology is of Indian and Civic Nationalism coupled with both Progressivism and Conservatism and has Centrism in political status. The party Symbol is Analog clock in black and white with an alarm button on top and two legs and the time showing “Ten after Ten.”Their party colour is Pacific Blue but uses the Indian Tricolour as their flag along with their symbol in the center. The current party leader is the founding member Sharad Pawar who is the Chairman.
State Level Parties
While most regional parties are confined to their respective states some of the regional parties have made way into national politics and are in a position of influence. Some of the parties that are known are:
- Telugu Desam Party and Y.Rajashekar Reddy Congress Party from Andhra Pradesh,
- Telangana RastriyaSamithi and All India Majlis-e-IttehadulMuslimeen from the newly formed Telangana State.
- All India Anna DravidaMunnetraKazhagam or AIADMK and DravidaMunnetraKazhagamor DMKfrom Tamil Nadu.
- The RastriyaJanta Dal from Bihar and Jharkhand.
- AamAdmi Party from Delhi.
- The All India Trinamool Congress from West Bengal.
- Maharashtra NavanirmaSenaand Shiv Sena from Maharashtra.
- Janata Dal from Bihar
- Samajwadi Party from Uttar Pradesh
- Jammu & Kashmir National Conference from Jammu and Kashmir