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Federation of Pol Parties: A DREAM OR REALITY?, Dr S Saraswathi, 10 Oct, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 10 October 2012

Federation of Pol Parties


Dr S Saraswathi

Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


An idea that was hotly debated in the mid-80s when the Indian polity faced the decline of the one-party dominance was the formation of a federal party system. This concept is being resurrected today thanks to the widespread opposition to Government-sponsored economic reforms among many political parties.  However, the circumstances then and now are different.


 Possibilities and probabilities of such a development in the party system do not remain constant for a span of three decades. It is believed that even a week is a long period in politics. Thirty years must have changed the context, the attitudes of actors, the exigencies of politics, and the pressure of non-political forces.


The Indian Constitution does not refer to political parties in the main articles.  It is only in the 10th Schedule, added in 1985 by the 52nd amendment pertaining to disqualification of members, following defections that the existence of parties is recognized. However, Indian politics and the electorate have known parties and have fought elections on party basis since the 1920s.  And, a number of parties are older than Independence.


Proliferation of regional parties after the incredible success of the DMK in the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in 1967, and emergence of regional units of national parties breaking from their parent bodies and forming separate parties in particular States since the 1970s are landmarks in the development of party politics in India. Both types are signs of assertion of local and regional factors in defiance of centralized and dominant single party political leadership. They are precursors to the present move on forming a federation of political parties.


It may be recalled that the victory of the DMK in Tamil Nadu in 1967 was a victory for the combined opposition of non-Congress parties against the ruling Congress in the Assembly elections. It succeeded because of the preponderant popularity of the leader of the alliance. The victory of the Janata Party in the General elections of 1977 was due to the merger of several parties and a unified opposition to the Congress under a common name. But, it failed miserably in governance due to inner contradictions among the constituent units.


National politics today has gradually reached a stage where coalition of parties is unavoidable to show majority for formation of governments at the Centre and also in many States. No wonder, it raises hopes among prospective national leaders with strong regional base to bring together some significant regional parties so as to build a united front of non-Congress and non-BJP parties to contest elections and capture power at the Centre.


There are national, regional and State parties as well as unrecognized registered parties. To gain recognition, a party must have solid background of political activity for at least five consecutive years. Rules prescribe the conditions to be fulfilled for recognition as a State party in terms of votes polled and/or seats secured in the last General elections. If a party is recognized in at least four States, it is granted recognition as a national party by the Election Commission.


There were only seven national political parties in the field in 2009 General elections. Regional parties number about 50. Mostly confined to a single State with the exception of a few that are active in two or more States, every  regional party assumes the posture of being the champion of State interests vis-à-vis other States and the Union.


Parties in India in the 1980s received serious attention only on the eve of a General election. There was no close link between people and parties, and no lasting attachment of the voters with any particular party. Membership was not very wide and in fact shunned by many as not their cup of tea. A common grievance has been that the winner would not be seen in the constituency once the elections were over.


Today, people’s interest in party politics has grown many times. Parties have become the rallying point for positive activities and also the target of attack for their omissions and commissions. Indeed, political awareness has dramatically increased.


Further, in many States there is more than one regional party fighting one another or one or more national party. Andhra Pradesh has five regional parties among which the Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti, and Praja Rajyam Party are more vocal. In Jammu and Kashmir, both J&K National Conference and  J&K People’s Democratic Party are fighting each other in alliance with a national party or alone.


In Tamil Nadu, there are two entrenched regional parties – the DMK, and the AIADMK – that bitterly fight each other, but have practically blocked the growth of national parties. More State level parties have come up to protect specific interests which prefer to ally with one of the established regional parties and not with a national party. This State demonstrates that regional parties are more relevant to the electorate than national parties.


Maharashtra has seen a split of a regional party and rivalry between the two groups-- Shiv Sena, and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena - despite the strong regional spirit of both sticking steadfastly to the concept of ‘Bhumiputra’ (sons of the soil).


Indeed, regional parties are growing stronger with every election. They accounted for about 9% of the votes in 1989 national elections winning 27 seats. This increased to about 27% of votes and 158 seats in 1999. Their number in Parliament crossed 200 in 2004 elections.


The rise of regional parties is one most significant development in party politics in India. No wonder, there is a move to form a front of regional parties to capture power at the Centre. But, real politics is not just building numbers. It also has to have real substance.


Aversion to national parties and protest to centralized decision-making power are negative factors and inadequate to bind the regional parties for long. For, relationships between States in India are in no sense ideal. It is crude politics, but real politics: Kannadigas stop buses and trains going to Tamil Nadu as a mark of protest to releasing more water from Cauvery; Maharashtrian groups have no love for Biharis who have migrated to make a bare living; Assamese look upon traders from other States as “outsiders”; some Tamil groups once looked upon Hindi as a foreign language.  


All this petty politics must be put down if we have to succeed in forming a federation of parties with sincere intention of promoting genuine decentralization.  Unfriendly relations between States will directly strengthen the hands of the Union Government and weaken the voice of the States.


Attractive names, meaningful slogans, and ambitious ideas are wanted in politics. But, they have to be accompanied with realistic appreciation of ground situation and firm measures to prepare the people for the change.


There must be some common positive factors uniting the federal front of parties – ideologies, policies, programmes, etc. – stemming from felt needs and genuine aspirations, mature sense of unity and integration, and a commitment for long-term development of the country. Otherwise, the high sounding experiment may prove to be another type of unprincipled alliance fostered on the nation for some short-term advantage for a party or a leader.--- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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