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Bjmc i, igp, unit-iii, effect of fragmentation of political parties
EFFECT OF FRAGMENTATI ON OF POLITI CA L PARTIES
ON THE FORMATI ON AN D WORKING OF THE GOVERNMEN T
DECLI NIN G SINGLE PA RTY DOM INA NCE AND THE RISE OF REGION AL PA RTIES Since I
ndependencefor quite a long time we witnessed the dominance of a single party which had a vast majority. Except
for 1971 and 1984, the popularity graph of the dominant party has slowly but steadily declined.
On the one hand, the Congress, which was once the dominant party, has started slowly diminishing in numbers. On
the other hand, we see the rise of regional parties. In the Twelfth and the Thirteenth Lok Sabha, the Opposition and
the ruling coalition have diverse range of regional parties supporting them. I n both the Twelfth and the Thirteenth Lok
Sabha, regional parties played a major role. Another important aspect is the regionalisation of a number of national
parties. A number of
so-called national parties, like the BSP, CPI (M), CPI , JD, Samata Party etc., are confined to certain States or areas. So, in
effect they have also become regional parties. We, the regional parties, are also confined to someareas and they are also
confined to some areas. Even the BJP and the Congressare confined to certain parts of the country. So, there would be
coalition governments in future also.
I t is because if you see the number of parties in Lok Sabha, in the First Lok Sabha, it was 22; in the SecondLok
Sabha, it was
12; in the Third Lok Sabha, it was 20 and the Fourth Lok Sabha, it was 19. So, like that, it you see, in the present Lok
Sabha, there are 38 political parties. Some of the countries like America and Britain, they are having two-party system,
whereas we are having multi-party system. Naturally, when there is
multi-party system, there would be somegap which some political party will have to fill. That is how the Telugu
Desam Party and so many other parties have worked, Now, gradually, the number of political parties represented in the
Lok Sabha has increased from 22 in the First Lok Sabha to 38 in the Thirteenth Lok Sabha. Due to the increase in the
number of political
parties, there is a need for coalition government. Some political parties as well as someleaders have lost people’s faith.
So, somebody has to fill the gap and the regional parties are filling that gap. That is why, the number of political
parties is increas- ing in a big way.
I f we see unstable coalitions, we had different coalitions under different leaders like, late Shri Morarji Desai, late Shri
Charan Singh, Shri V.P. Singh, Shri Chandra Shekhar, Shri Deve Gowda, Shri Inder K umar Gujral, and Shri Atal Bihari
Vajpayee (first tenure). Every day we used to talk as to how many daysthis Government was going to stay. So much of
unstability was there.
Sometimes, we talk about unstable coalitions vis a vis fall in annual GDP growth rate over the previous year. The
Govern- ments of late Morarji Desai and late Charan Singh achieved 10.5 per cent growth rate over the previous year;
the V.P. Singh Government and the Chandra Shekhar Government achieved
4.7 per cent growth rate over the previous year and Shri Deve Gowda’a Government achieved 2.7 per cent growth rate
over the previous year. This is one scenario.
I f we go to the other scenario, the Nehru era saw the most stable single party Government at the Centre. However,
1951-62, the average growth rate in GNP was 3.8 per cent per annum. The average growth rate during the unstable
nineties has been 5.7 per cent per annum. What I am trying to emphasis here is that sometimes, the stability depends
upon the eco- nomic policies and the approach of the Government. All these things are dominating the growth rate.
Even the stable Governments are not able to achieve good growth rate. After
1991 economic reforms, the growth rate is increasing becauseof the policies of the Governments.
The era of ‘ism’ is also over. Previously, we used to talk about communism, socialism and capitalism. Now, everybody
is talking about economic reforms with human face. Even China is talking about economic reforms only. Even after
being a Communist country, Vietnam is talking about economic reforms. China, it started economic reforms in 1978
and Vietnam started economic reforms in 1989. I n 11 years’ time starting from 1989 to 2000 Vietnam is doing very
well. They have undertaken economic reforms and they have done very well.
People are disillusioned with the performance of the govern- ments. If we see, people want us to perform. They want
that their grievances should be redressed. That is what they are expecting. I t is because of all these things there is
erosion of support for dominant parties. People are supporting those Governments which are performing and people
are not supporting those Governments which are not performing. Naturally, they are losing their base and support of
Now, I want to quote a news item, which appeared in BBC on
14 September 1999. I t said: —
“ There are many who believe that India needs a more stable system—a government with a clear majority that can deal
with important challenges rather than be distracted by the wheeling and dealing needed to maintain a viable coalition.”
oday, there is degeneration of politics. I n this respect, Profes- sor Hiren Mukherjee once said: —
“ ...There never was a time in living memory when politics and politicians were, almost rightfully, as denigrated, even
degraded and sometimes detested, in the eyes of our people as they are at the moment.”
Previously, coalitions were confined to post-electoral power sharing between parties who fought the elections on their
own. Kerala is the exception where the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front have been fighting each
Except two to three States, all other States are without coali- tions. At the same time, some parties at the Center join
after elections except the recent elections during which the (NDA) had some pre-poll understanding with other
1996, the government was more or less homogeneous while the Opposition was fractured.
I f we take into consideration the three to four yearsafter the decline of the Congress Party, during the first election of
1991, there were three groups, three coalitions viz. the BJP and the allies, Congress and the United Front. After the 1998
elections, naturally, UF had someproblem. If you see the recent elections, we are facing the problems. Now, NDA is
clearly emerging slowly. Even the Congressisaligning with other parties. Before elections, they thought that they could
get clear a majority and that they can form the government on their own. But even the Opposition parties are working
in coalition. This is the reality and this is how things are moving. Even the Opposition parties are having pre-poll
alliance. I t is likely to become the order of
the day. Even if tomorrow elections are held, there may be two coalitions and someparties may join one and some
may join the other group. But finally it will be stablised. This is how things are going to happen. Even now they are
working. Even if we see the world, coalition governments have been virtually the norm in continental Europe. By the
mid ’80s only Britain, Spain and Greecehad single party majority governments.
Coalitions have become as effective as single party governments. They are all developing countries. Even the
Japan is surviving with a difference of one vote. So a majority of the countries of the world are working with
coalition governments. I t is the reality. This is the situation even in the developed countries.
Even if we see the economic integration in Europe, they are having coalition governments. But they are having
European Common Market, Euro Currency, European Commission, etc. Therefore, we can see that all over the world
everybody is working for the economic purpose rather than the political agendato get votes in the elections as
everybody has to work for the people.
We are having so many diversities in I ndia. I ndia is a very diverse country with many languages, many religions, and
many cultures. Ours is a heterogeneoussociety. This isthe difference between our country and the other countries of
As regards coalition governments, people are saying that they areunstable, wheeling and dealing and that they lack
on vital issues like reforms. It is also said that coalitions may not work as effectively as single party government.
There are some advantagesin the coalition system like accom- modation of diverse interests, consensual decision-
making etc. It is also participatory, where there is no room for complacency and where there is pressureto perform. A
Coalition System is also more sensitive and responsive to regional concerns. There are strengths and there are
weaknesses, but ultimately India has reached the stage of coalition governments. One has to live in that.
I f you see Kenichi Ohmac’s “ The End of the Nation State” , he says:—
“ So long as nation states continue to view themselves as the essential prime movers in economic affairs, so long as
they resist—in the nameof national interest—any erosion of central control as a threat to sovereignty, neither they nor
their people will be able to harness the full resourcesof the global
This ismore or less a reality.
Today, in different States either regional parties or Congressor Communist Parties or BJP leads different
Governments. All over the world different experiments are going on. Previously it was the government of only one
party and therefore only one experiment. They were looking at the Centre. Today the situation has changed. States are
in competition among themselves. We are now competing with other States. My neighboring State, K arnataka, is
competing with Andhra Pradesh. The same is the case in Madhya Pradeshor Maharashtra or Gujarat. Like that, States
are competing among one another where experiments are going on. So many people are working in many directions.
Finally we are working together
and wherever there are strengths, we are following them. We are following all the successful stories adopted in different
States. There is more room for innovation and experimentation and consensus is still possible.
I f you see nation-wide, in different States we are having different political parties and different governments. Yet we
have arrived at a consensus on so many issues of critical nature. One suchconsensus has been on incentives for the
industry. Another is slab rate for taxation. Theseare all the major
decisions where we have got consensus. Previously, even when a single party was ruling the nation, they never thought
of it. Today we are able to get consensus among all the political
parties with different ideologies.
I f you see here the basic issues now are good governance, economic reforms with a human face, decentralization,
eradica- tion of poverty, extending basic needs and globalization. Apart from politics, one has to tackle these even in
coalition govern- ments. The World Development Report for the year 2000-2001 (Consultation Draft) says: “
Development programs can be more effective in meeting local needs if they can draw on the advantagesof local
information, local accountability and local monitoring” . This is how we have to go in for decentralization.
When we look at all these things, as our Hon. Speaker has rightly mentioned, there are two options; one is direct
elections and the other is indirect elections; one is parliamentary type of emocracy and the other is presidential type of
democracy. We are having parliamentary type of democracy. I n a presidential type of democracy there are advantages
and there are disadvan- tages. I f you go in for presidential type of democracy, you will have stability. At the same time,
the administration can be paralysed by a hostile Parliament. Getting Bills and other measures passed by it would be a
problem. I n the case of parliamentary democracy we no doubt have instability. Everyday we are working only to give
One more thing is proportional representation as our Hon. Speaker has rightly mentioned. Germany has proportional
representation with a qualifying vote of five per cent of total votes cast. This is how if they get votes, on the basis of
that they are given proportional representation. This system is more representatives and that is an advantage. It favors
national parties and eliminates small parties. But, if they get more votes, they will get more seats. I n the process, some
regional parties or small parties will be eliminated at the national level. I f they get more votes at the State level, they will
get the proportional representation. For that, they are keeping five per cent of the total votes cast.
The Law Commission has recently given somerecommenda- tions that every pre-election coalition front should be
treated as a political party for the purposesof the Tenth Schedule; 25 per cent increase in strength of the Lok Sabha/
State Assemblies to be filled through a List System; and no-confidence against an incumbent Prime Minister to be
simultaneous with passing of confidence in a successor.Recently we have seen so much of instability for days together.
I f somepolitical parties move the no-confidence motion, after it is passed, we have to call for a confidence motion in
the next incumbent. It will take a lot of time. The last time, it led to the dissolution of Parliament after all other parties
failed to form a government. I f it comes simultaneously, then there will be no instability.
All political parties are predicting the future. Sir Winston Churchill has said long back that “ political skill is the ability
to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability
afterwards to explain why it did not happen.” Then only things will happen. What is going to happen tomorrow, all
political parties have to foretell. Accordingly we have to prepare ourselves.
I f you see the future, the coalition governments have come to stay in India. A coalition culture has been evolving
slowly. I f you see yesterday,the National Front (NF) and the United Front (UF) governments suffered from total
instability. The two UF Governments, one led by Shri Deve Gowda and
another by Shri I .K . Gujral, were not stable. After that camethe BJP led NDA government which also faced instability
for some time. Now what we are seeing is that everybody is trying to adjust to these things. What I want to emphasize
here is that all
the political parties are now learning the art of coalition. There is no other way. People are fed up with elections. One
has to live with coalition and has to work with coalition. All parties have to realize that the future is for coalition. So, in
future, I am very confident that coalitions can be stable. The coalition govern- ment at the Centre is the example for
There should be public awareness. Thomas Jefferson has said that the “ quality of governance is ultimately dependent
on the quality of citizenship. If a nation expectsto be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”
This isin fact a reality. As of today ultimately good governance and perfor- mance are very very important. That is how
things are moving.
All of us have to work towards giving good governance.
Politics is only for elections. After the electrons, one has to work for the betterment of the people.
One has to prosper and eradicate poverty. That is where the politicians have to work. Even in I ndia, coalition
governments are a reality. Those who are participating in the coalition have to learn how to live with the coalition
government. Then only, it will be meaningful and it will help the nation.
COALITIONS PROS ANDCONS
Coalitions are products of the political realities as they emergein a parliamentary democracy. These may result out of
the complexities of a multi-party system where a number of minority parties join hands for the purpose of running
the government. Coalition governments, however, are not restricted to the developing societies only. There are quite a
few countries in the developed world too, where coalitions have been working successfully for long.
As you all are aware, coalition governments emerged in I ndia after the General Elections of 1967 in six States and
since then we have seen coalition governments at the Centre as well as in the States. Starting with 1989, we have had
several minority governments at the Centre, evolved either through formal coalition arrangements or at times through
informal under- standing. It has been argued that at the national level, instability in governments was created on several
occasions not primarily on account of the failure of the coalition experiment per se, but mostly on account of the
‘incomplete coalitions’ formed as a post-election arrangement, by the force of circumstances, with the larger parties
supporting the government choosing to remain outside the government, but extending support to it in Parliament.
Except for the fall of the Janata Party Government in early 1979, caused by a split in the ruling party, the subse- quent
fall of governments in mid 1979, 1990, 1991 and twice in
1997 wascaused by the withdrawal of support by parties supporting the government from outside. In most of these
cases, by the large, the coalition of parties in power remained intact. The only exception to this in the fall of the
government in 1999, which was precipitated by the withdrawal of support by one of the coalition, partners itself.
The reasons for coalition politics in I ndia may be fragmentation of mainline political parties and the emergenceof
regional parties. Some analysts contend that our legislative institutions today represent and reflect a greater plurality of
interests corresponding with the nature of our society which exhibits a great degreeof socio-political pluralism. There
is a viewpoint that the dynamics of present day political realities, in a way, has led to fractured electoral verdicts. I t
cannot, however, be said
that such verdicts are the outcome of a confused electorate nor can they be attributed to any indecisiveness on the part
of the voters. The I ndian voters have indeed shown that their interests would be better served if all the parties remain
conscious of the fact that they are an informed lot who want good governance and consensual politics, along with a
certain element of stability.
I ndia is a country which thrives in diversity—regional, ethnic, linguistic, religious and social. That being so, there is a
point of view that coalitions could well be a reflection of our diversities and pluralism, which have a bearing for the
concept of federal- ism. I n such a scenario, it becomesincumbent upon political parties and leaders to determine a
mechanism for accommodat- ing the diverse interests of the nation and perhapsa coalition is one mechanism, which
incorporates the multiplicity of
interests, ensures co-existence of various centersof solidarity and accommodates various groups. Since the common
political culture reflects the sub-cultures of social diversity, it becomes a mechanism for effective governance.
Proponents of such a view hold that I ndia is too pluralistic, socially and politically, to be effectively governed by a bi-
polar political system.
I t has been widely held on the basis of experience that the successful working of coalitions requires the clear
identification of the core of the coalition. The major partner in the coalition needs to play a major role in ensuring that
the coalition rules are strictly adheredto. This would also require a strict adherence to the principle of collective
responsibility by the Council of Ministers. Coalitions provide the ideal setting for a system of collective leadership, vital
for the success of parliamentary democracy.
I n our country, we have seen coalitions coming up either before the elections or after the elections. The pre-poll
coalition is considerably advantageousbecause it provides a common platform to the parties in order to woo the
electorate on the basis of a joint manifesto. The post-election union is intended to enable constituents to share
political power and run the government.
Political instability cannot by itself be the result of an unstable government. Also, there is no clearly visible link
between the existence of political instability and a coalition government. As long as there is a broad political
consensus and political accommodation, there is very little scopefor political instability.
I f coalition partners pull the government in different directions, it reflects on their art of governance, and not on the
stability of the system. I n fact, in several cases, it is seen that a small
majority in the legislature can provide greater stability because that forces the government and the coalition partners to
act more responsibly. By the same analogy, a government with a large majority, too sure of its position to bother
about accommodating diverse interests, could become a little less responsive in its functioning. Thus, it is possible that
even when there is a small majority accommodating diverse interests and sharing in power, the government can
provide political stability.
I n the light of the experiences, there is a section of opinion which feels that it is imperative to introduce various
electoral reforms to lend more stability to government. Various sugges- tions like introduction of the ‘List System’ on
the German model to reduce the gap between the votes polled by the political parties and the seats secured by them,
clear proposal for an alternative government if a no-confidence motion is carried, curbing the evil influences of muscle
and money power, state funding of elections, reduction in the multiplicity of political parties, etc., to list a few, have
I t is increasingly felt that the reasons, which were responsible for the failure of coalition governments in recent times,
are better understood now and these are slowly disappearing. We have a large number of parties in our polity, which
seek to represent a wide array of interests and opinions. Experience has taught the political parties that it is
cooperation that is needed and not confrontation, if they have to
successfully run a government. We do not have to look far to see how successful coalitions can be worked. The States
of Kerala and West Bengal have for long been working successful coalitions. What we have to do is to try to strengthen
the forces of democracy at the national level.
I ndia has entered another stage of political evolution wherein coalition politics and coalition governments have
become a reality. The other reality is that of a “ hung Parliament” wherein there is no one party or alliance that could
provide a stable government. I f we have to remedy the situation, our political parties need to learn as to how best to
organize the polity and its institutions so as to accommodate the varied diversities of the Indian reality. More
importantly, political parties and leaders have to pay greater attention to the compulsions of coalition politics if a proper
coalition culture has to evolve and get strengthened.
Elections represent the heartbeatsof democracy. If it happens to be too frequent or too irregular, democracy could
collapse. Thirteen elections in the life of a 52-year-old Republic may not be warranting the pressing of alarm bells in
any quarter. What we are witnessing now could well be a transitional phase of a polity like I ndia. Several Western
democracies also have gone through such uncertain phases before coming to experience high levels of political
stability. For a society as diverse as ours, it may be too early to conclude that parliamentary system has failed and that it
is time we considered changing our system of
government in favor of other models. Man’s ingenuity is yet to discover a totally crisis-proof system of governance.
Each system has certain society-specific relevance, and rating the success of a certain system in a particular society cannot
be taken as the criterion for its adoption in societies with different characteristics. From a one-party predominant
to a multi-party polity, we have traveled a long way. Native realities and emerging situations, coupled with rising
aspirations of the people, always influence the way the political system functions. In the unfolding scenario, the political
find it imperative to come to terms with the political realities of the day and adjust themselves to provide a stable
government, either through coalitions or otherwise.
Parliament and itsDiminished Role
I n most countries there has been a decline of legislatures. The cabinet and the bureaucracy have gradually eroded the
signifi- cance of parliament. A prime ministerial system of government seems to be replacing what was traditionally
known as the parliamentary one. In the early period of independence, Nehru took special care to give prestige to the
parliament by attending its sessions regularly, initiating major policy debates and admonishing members to keep up the
dignity of the House. This concern gradually diminished with the Prime Ministers attendance of sessions going down.
Parliament also began to spend less time on critical matters of policy and budget. The parliament has increasingly
devoted more time to political issues. But this time has increasingly been occupied more by confrontation than debate.
People have been treatedto unseemly behaviour of the members of parliament physically fighting with colleagues,
drowning other people’s voices or
flouting the ruling of the presiding officers. What was possible on the streets has becomepossible on the floor of the
House. The result has been that during the period 1985 to 1995 discussions on the financial approvals of only a few
ministries – sevento be specific- have been taken up. The Demands for Grants for as many as 11 ministries were not
taken up for detailed discussion even once and most of the time more than
85% of the Budget was passed without any discussion. (Shastri, 1998:185-86)
Consequently, the role of parliament in providing inputs to policy through discussions on the financial proposals of
the government has considerably eroded. The members do not have researchassistance and are driven more by the
political considerations of their constituencies. The parliament has increasingly devoted more time to political issues.
The result has been that during the period 1985 to 1995 discussions on the financial approvals of only a few ministries
– seven to be
specific- have been taken up. The Demands for Grants for as many as 11 ministries were not taken up for detailed
discussion even once and most of the time more than 85% of the Budget waspassed without any discussion. (Shastri,
1998:185-86) I n view of this trend, the Parliament decided to set up Standing Committees for most ministries in 1993.
These committees consist of members from both Houses of Parliament and chairs are chosen by proportional party
representation. Usually highly regarded parliamentarians are chosen to lead the commit- tees even if they belong to the
opposition. Every committee has a maximum of 45 members and each Member of Parlia- ment servesa two-year term
on at least one committee.
The objective was that this would provide for an opportunity for detailed discussions of the financial proposals and
also give the members of parliament an occasion to give more consid- ered opinion on the policy issues as suggested
through the proposed budget. The committees were designed to be a mechanism that would provide meaningful
dialogue between the government and members of Parliament. A system was established so that the legislators could
consider matters of a technical nature that Parliament, as a whole could not take time to discuss. Continuous
legislative oversight would ostensibly be produced in a setting where there was a constant turnover as the committees
could avail themselves of the testimony of expert witnesses, initiate studies, issue reports, and examine draft
legislation as a prelude to legislative action or postpone- ment. (Rubinoff, 1996:727)
Despite the establishment of these committees, legislators are dissatisfied with the way that they can influence the
govern- ment. Rubinoff (1996) interviewed a larger number of Parliamentarians who felt that the resourcesthat they
had at their disposal to perform their taskswere inadequate compared to those available to the executive branch. For
the most part, the inadequate time the new committees have had to prepare in- depth studies has led to perfunctory
reports not take seriously
by the government or the media. Another significant issue pointed out by Rubinoff (1996) is that there is no incentive
for the ministers to take the new committees seriously as long as they do not have to testify before them. With sessions
closed to the public and only secretaries (civil servantsheading the ministries) required to appear, there is no reason for
cabinet ministers to participate in committee activities. Since they were not confirmed by the legislature and enjoy
permanency of tenure through constitutional provisions, the secretaries who appear are not directly accountable to the
parliamentary system. The legislators unable to fall back on alternative sourcesof ideas or policy are overwhelmed by
the arguments put forward by the bureaucrats. For all these reasons, the committees have not been able to perform an
effective role in policy making.
The responsibility of the legislature does not stop at approving the financial outlays at the start of the year. It is also
important for the legislature to examine, after the financial year is over,
with the help of the audit reports prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, if public money was
spent according to its intentions and whether there was any waste, fraud or misuse. The work of the Public Accounts
Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings relies on the audit reports to examine this part of the
government activity and these committees have always been considered as important pillars of democracy and its
watchdogs. Unfortunately, this examination is also not taken seriously and is delayed by several years.‘As far as it has
been possible to find out, the central Public Accounts Committee has not yet given its report about even the Bofors
audit which is sometimes credited with bringing down the government of Rajiv Gandhi.’ (Joseph,
2000:2999) The financial irregularities that the CAG points out neither catch the attention of the parliamentarians or
of the media.
An important bottleneck for members of parliament in taking cognizance of policy ideas coming from diverse sources
is the fact that there is no provision of research staff to give them support to identify important issues. Only those
issues that are politically volatile and visible tend to catch their attention. This lack of expertise available to the
members of parliament has affected the working of the new committee system that has been adopted in 1993. Among
political parties in I ndia,
tradition of strong research cells to support the legislative activities of its representatives is weak. Parliament hasa
rudimentary staff that can collect relevant data or refer to important sources. There is a well-equipped library but
actual researchor drawing policy implications from data available has to be done by the members of the parliament
themselves. Not many are inclined to do so and most do not have the capability even if they may have the inclination.
The result is
that these committees fall short of the role that Congressional committees play in US even if they are modeled after
them. The tendency to pick up politically visible issues or those that will find prominent place in the media becomes
strong. Discussions in the Parliament or in the committees are bereft of policy concerns. (see Mathur and Jayal, 1993
for discussion on drought policy in Parliament and Jain, 1995 for similar discussion on electronics policy)
I n general, the Parliament has lost its sheen. There is general apathy among its members towards parliamentary work,
absenteeism among membershas assumed alarming propor- tions and defections for money and office have been a
common phenomenon. (Kashyap, 2000:138) Frequently debates turn
into unruly fighting matches and pandemonium prevails on the floor of the House. The result is that the role of the
Parliament as a body that seeks to influence government policy on the basis of it being the voice of the people has
The representatives also do not come from a background that reflects these urges. I t is important to point out that
the political parties also do not prepare them for this policy role.
The parties do not have any researchorganization that can frame alternative points of view. It is left to the individuals to
search for such opinions from professionals and academics that they may know or who are able to invite them to
seminars and discussions. Most of such inputs are of ad hoc nature and are generated only through personal volition.
The result is that the members of Parliament have rarely demandedresearch support; more committed among them
use the well-equipped parlia- mentary library or avail of the services of its professional staff.
Another reason why parliamentarians do not demand research support is that they do not consider their role as a
lawmaker as very important. The constituency demandsare so strong that they can ignore them only at the peril of
losing next elections. The constituency sees its MP as an intermediary sorting out all kinds of difficulties between the
constituents and the authori- ties that provide thoseservices. Thesemay range from
municipal problems, to getting employment, or even helping to jump the queue in getting air and rail tickets, or gas or
telephone connection. As Surya Prakash (1995:50) says ‘The MP may be an acknowledged authority on constitutional
law, foreign relations or defense. But this will hardly please his constituents. The clogged drains and bad roads will, in
all probability seal his fate.’
The Emerging Scenario
The early political leadership intended to shape India into a developmental state through an ambitious strategy of
eco- nomic planning and by providing autonomy to central institutions of economic decision-making. The technical
aura implanted on planning was possible by creating a prestigious Planning Commission as a unique institution away
from the normal functioning of the government. I t was a tribute to this
‘uniqueness’ when critics called it a ‘super-cabinet’. The Planning Commission was assigned a role notwithstanding the
require- ments laid down in the distribution of powers within the federal system of government. National
Development Council consisting of all Chief Ministers was created as a federal institution to take care of the views of
the states in deciding upon development policies. Considerable faith was placed on the civil service in carrying out the
development decisions because of its cadre-based structure that placed the I CS/ I ASin all critical positions at the
Center and the States. I t was assumed, as mentioned earlier, that these services will services will play a neutral and
impartial role and will not be influenced by local pulls and pressures.
This centralizing processof intermeshed state institutions was greatly supported by the centralizing tendencies in the
Congress party that dominated the political scene for around forty years. Even during the 1950s and 1960s, control
over important decisions was highly concentrated in Jawaharlal Nehru and
thoseclose to him. The story about more personal accumula- tion of power by I ndira Gandhi is too familiar to be
retold. Rajiv Gandhi made somefeeble attempts to reverse these centralization tendencies but gave up quickly.
Narsimha Rao knew that his survival lay in keeping final decisions to himself and did not even make any effort to
decentralize the system.
This kind of governmental system where the central state institutions held sway is now eroded. The Congress party
organization structure, which sustained this centralizing system by continually empowering its leader who was also the
Prime Minister, is now in complete disarray. The democratic upsurge has led to the rise of entirely new groups as
aspirants of power and with ambition of controlling the state apparatusto corner resourcesfor their benefit. It has
also led to formation of parties with regional interests but with national ambitions. Levels of political activity are much
higher today than they were in the past. Heightened politicization and growth of large number of assertive and
diverse groups has made consensus hard to achieve and it seems that coalitions have come to stay.
Demands for decentralization will grow. As local communities become politicized and begin to assert themselves, first
effort will be to struggle for control of local resources. Already this is being reflected in the environmental movements.
There will be a rise of community organizations that will demand greater freedom from statecontrol. This processwill
lead to increasing role of voluntary agencies that will help mobilize local commu- nities for this purpose.
The role of voluntary organizations will also grow as a source of shaping public policy. More and more voluntary
groups will try to federate themselves into larger associations to influence public policy. The tendency to take up larger
issues that affect wider areas will grow. Water harvesting as a movement to conserve water is spreading from the
limited areas where the first experiment were tried. Voluntary Health Association of India is becoming an umbrella
organization for a large number of voluntary health groups working in different areas in the country. The Right to I
nformation movement is spreading to different parts of the country and experience in one local area is being
transmitted to many others. Such examples are going to multiply.
Panchayatsas institutions of local governance will stabilize themselves. With the constitutional amendments, states
will concede more powers and responsibilities to the panchayats. State governments will play a supportive role in
strengthening local governance.
A centrally administered civil service attempting to bind the entire country together will undergo a change. It will be
more state - directed with the Centre establishing norms and stan- dardswithout the ability to enforce them.
Administrative reform to make administration more transparent and respon- sive to the people will be implemented.
Forces of structural adjustment and liberalization, together with technological imperatives and grassrootspressures
may provide the best confluence of forces that can break bureaucratic resistance and promote political will to make the
administrative system more open to reform and change
The most significant feature of the changed political system will be regionalization of I ndian politics. Two other
processes, apart from the ones mentioned above, support the rise of regional parties and regional elites. One is the
increasing role of non- governmental organizations in developmental activities at the local level. The leadership of such
organizations is rising in visibility and is trying to build national alliances to influence policy. These groups are also
helping in the processof deepen- ing democracy. The other process is the emergence of regional capitalists. As Baru
(1999:207-230) has shown, the processof agrarian change in agriculturally prosperous states has allowed a new
generation of agrarian capitalists or other middle class professionals to make a transition to capitalist entrepreneurs.
He has arguedthat regional political parties have been most active in states where regional business groups have been
more dynamic and assertive.
The processes of regionalization in I ndia will gain strength, as globalization and liberalization become the avowed goal
of India’s development policy. One important implication of this trend at the national level will be the persistence of
coalition governments. Regional parties will try to play a national role but this they cannot do without forming
coalitions with other parties with similar goals. The culture of coalitions will tend to stabilize. Perhapsthe daysof a
single large national party ruling at the Centre are gone.
One negative consequenceof this trend will be that disparities among states will grow. Those states that will develop
the capacity to negotiate with global economic actors will have greater opportunities for investment. I t does appear
that with development becoming more dependent on market forces and less on state intervention, more endowed
regions/ districts will do better creating further levels of disparities. Inter-state conflicts may grow leading to states
becoming more parochial and narrow-minded in labour migration and employment.
Finally, to conclude, the institutions dispensing justice and arbitrating in disputes between states and the Centre and
among states and between people and the State will play increasing role in laying down policies and making the State
act in protecting the rights of citizens. I n the emerging scenario, the ability of political parties to resolve social conflicts
may decline and the ability of the legislative processin doing the same may suffer. There will be more and more
recourse to the Courts and the constitutional arbitration machinery to deter- mine social solutions to essentially
I t is important to point out that democratization of Indian polity is taking place amidst uneven and slow economic
development. Pockets of poverty are rising which are engulfing large regions with large populations. Dismantling of a
central- ized planned system, though replaced by a more liberal regime, and has not yet had an impact on the poor and
the marginalized. Privatization and the emphasis on the market is further excluding the dalit and the minorities from
the main- stream. Distribution of economic benefits is getting skewed. Obstacles to equal opportunity and more
equitable distribution are immense. I t will require formidable skills political manage- ment and considerable vision to
see that the political contestation is not violent and contained within an equitable economic development
Decline of a Centralizing State Changing Nature of
Polit ical Pow er in India
I ndia adopted a democratic parliamentary system of govern- ment with universal adult franchise at a time when there
was around 35% literacy rate with more than 50% people living below the poverty line. Much of the effort since then
has been to empower the people to exercise their franchise effectively – raising literacy rates and reducing poverty
levels. The discourse on democracy also centered round the core western liberal concepts of individual rights, freedom
and equal opportunity. It is in making evaluations against these ideals that we often hear desperate accountsof how
democracy is not functioning well in the Indian context. The decline in the quality of public life and state’s incapacity
to meet the growing demandsof the
people is attributed to the pathology of the democratic political system. I ndeed, I ndia faces a paradox. There is a rise in
social conflicts, the economy has been passing through difficult
phases and democratic institutions are continuously under strain in trying to stem the tide of protest and violence in
Democracy, on the other hand, seems to have deepened and widened its reach. The proportion of socially and
economically deprived people coming to vote their own choice has risen in recent years. If there is so much
turbulence at the level of electoral outcomes, one of the fundamental reasons for it is that the participatory base of
electoral democracy has expanded since the 1990s. The odds that a socially and an economically
deprived person will vote are much higher today than when the country started on its path of democratic governance.
(see for elaboration Yadav, 1999)
This kind of democratic experience has severely strained the system of governance particularly after the democratic
participa- tory upsurge in the last two decades. The difficulties were compounded by the pattern of economic
development that took place in the country. While economic growth and removal of poverty continued to dominate
the development discourse, the actual outcome of policies was far from the ideals set. Population growth has
continued to hover around 2-2.5% per year; the rate of per capita income growth has been a little less than the
population growth, thus having not too substantial impact on poverty levels. I lliteracy rates have come down but a
little less than half the population still is unable to read and write. There has been economic development but it is
skewed. Some regions and states have done much better while a few states with large populations have lagged behind
consider- ably. The dilemma of increased political participation within a system of restrictive economic benefits is the
major challenge that the policy maker’s face asthe country enters the second millennium.
The Congress Part y and Its Decline
For a long time the Congressparty servedas an umbrella party, ironing conflicts and creating consensus on issues that
threat- ened to be divisive otherwise. This was the party that was in the forefront of the national movement for
independence and under the leadership of Nehru formed the government after independence. Among all the parties,
this party has towered
over all others and has remained in power except for brief periods from 1947 to 1995. It has been reducedto a minority
in opposition in the last few years.
The process of consensus building was the most important characteristic of the party. Nehru’s personal domination of
the party and the government did not overly constrain inner party democracy. I nternal democracy was maintained at
least for two reasons. First, Nehru took his role of implanting parliamentary and democratic institutions on to the I
ndia soil rather seriously. Secondly, his colleagues-both in government and party-were those with whom he had
personal relationships from the days of the freedom struggle when they were also companions in British jails. They
could advise him candidly without threaten- ing his leadership. Thus dissent wasexpressed openly and accepted in that
spirit. The organizational structure of the party was also suchthat it allowed for elections at every level from local base
upwards and parliamentary and organizational wings working together.
This structure helped in creating conciliatory machinery within the party at various levels, which prevented local conflicts
from becoming issues of national moment. As Manor (1988) points out, the management of resources– at which
many in the Congress excelled – was essential to achieve reconciliation, to mediate in factional disputes, and to
influence political decisions at state and district levels. Manor further described the Congress party as a giant system of
‘transactional linkages, a mechanism for the distribution of spoils in return for political support and organizational
loyalty. The main integrating ideas were oppor- tunism, self-aggrandizement, the impulse to enter patron-client
relationships, and to forge deals. As a consequencethe role of the party in policy-making gradually diminished while its
as an integrating mechanism in society came to be strengthened. During the 1960s observers attributed much of the
the Congress party to its ability to forge widespread patronage
networks which provided critical linkage between local demands and central responses (Weiner, 1967; K othari, 1975).
These naturally helped to solve a variety of power conflicts. Gradually, however, these links were destroyed. N o
elections were held within the party after 1972 as Mrs. Gandhi started to appoint persons to both governmental and
organizational positions for personal loyalty and not for their ability to articulate grass-roots demands. These
appointees did not have the capacity to influence local behaviour and could not mediate between social and political
conflicts. As a result, Congress lost its pre-eminent role in the political system. Rajiv Gandhi referred to its decline when
he called it a party of brokers of power and influence that had converted a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy.
The party of 1970s onward unlike its previous incarnation- became a centralized organization owing loyalty to single
leader. I t lost touch with real issues and was interested in government only so long as the flow of patronage continued.
Loyalty to a leader was also based on the ability to ensure this flow. The result was that it fell prey to internal bickering
and factional fights that were more personal than policy related. People oriented parties that were regional in nature and
that responded to sectarian interests multiplied and have become major
partners of coalition governments formed in 1989 and after
1996. Congress party itself has got reduced to one among many in contrast to the hegemonic position it occupied in the
political system earlier.
The Congress Party’s unquestioned dominance in the 1950s and
1960s rested in part on the prestige it retained from its role in I ndia’s independence struggle, and in part on an intricate
patronage network that stretched from Delhi to I ndia’s tens of thousandsof villages. (Kohli, 1996:118) The old
patronage system weakened due to various reasons. An important reason was the decline of the Party organization. The
central leadership usurped the entire structure that linked the villages with the highest decision making bodies lost its
salience as no democratic elections were held and all powers. The party began to depend on a charismatic leader who
relied on a group that was loyal to her. The institution of a ‘high command’ emerged which was supposed to take all
decisions and enforce them on the basis of loyalty among its followers. This was true of Mrs. I ndira
Gandhi and her successor son, Rajiv Gandhi and so also of Narsimha Rao who unsuccessfully tried to revitalize the
party. After 1996, the Congresshasnot been in power, but it contin- ues to depend on a central leader without
creating spending adequate effort to creategrassroots strength.
The decline of the Congress party can also be attributed to the spread of democratic ideas and intensification of
competitive politics in India particularly after the defeat of Congress in 1977 elections that gave a verdict on the
emergency imposed by Mrs. I ndira Gandhi. Many social groups that routinely accepted the manipulations of political
leadership now began to assert themselves and began to struggle for their equal rights under their own organizations
and leaders. Leaders, in turn, also found new opportunities to mobilize the deprived and competition in I ndian
politics sharpened. An important factor that influenced the sharpening of competition was the accep- tanceof the
Mandal Commission that resulted in the introduction of reservation in government jobs and educa-
tional institutions for the ‘other backward castes’. Together with the scheduled castes and tribes who had been
constitutionally provided these privileges, was added another group that essentially consisted of castes working on land
and someof whom had done well in the aftermath of land reforms and green revolution.
SUM MA RY
The fragmentation of the parties has aroused many regional sentiments among the people. The effects of the
fragmenta- tion has madecoalition governments a necessity. This has led to a loss of a centralized state and wastageof
money and power.
A SSIGN M EN T
Prepare a case study, on the party of your choice, its fragmenta- tion and its effects on the general public.
1. Public Policy and politics in India By Kuldeep Mathur
2. Indian Political Trials By A.C. Noorani.
3. Basu, Durga Das. The Laws of the Press in India(1962) Asia Publishing House, Bombay