What is a Political Party?
A political party is a collection of people who band together to run for office and maintain power in the government.
It mobilises voters to support shared interests, concerns, and objectives.
A political party establishes a political agenda and policies, and then attempts to persuade voters by claiming that their policies are superior to those of other parties.
A political party is a way for people to communicate with the government and have a say in how a country is governed.
There are three parts to a political party:
(i) the leaders
(ii) the active members
(iii) the followers
Functions of Political Parties
1. Fights Elections : Candidates are nominated by political parties in order to compete in elections. In some countries, candidates are chosen by a party's members and supporters (eg., USA). In India, candidates are chosen by top party leaders.
2. Giving Choice of Policies : Different parties have different policies and programmes from which voters can choose. In a democracy, a large number of people with similar viewpoints band together to form a party, which then directs the government's policies.
3. Critical Analysis and Opposition : The losing parties forms the opposition, expressing differing viewpoints and criticising the government for its failures. They organise anti-government protests.
4. Framing Public Opinion : They have an impact on public opinion. Parties, with the help of pressure groups, launch movements to address people's problems.
5. Access to Govermment : They help people gain access to government services and welfare programmes. The local party leader serves as a conduit between citizens and government officials.
What is the need of political parties?
The functions that political parties perform demonstrate that democracies cannot exist without them.
If there were no political parties, then:
(i) All election candidates would run as independents. They can't promise the people any major policy changes. No one will be in charge of the country's administration.
(ii) Only representative democracy can function in large societies. Political parties have evolved into a clearing house for different points of view on various issues, which they then present to the government.
What are some common party systems?
There are three types of party systems:
(i) One-Party System
(ii) Two-Party System and
(iii) Multi-Party System
There is no competition in this system. The lone party nominates the candidates and the voters have only two choices :
(i) Not to vote at all
(ii) Write ‘yes’ or ‘no’ against the name of the candidates nominated by the party.
This system has been popular in Communist countries and other authoritarian regimes e.g., China, North Korea and Cuba.
This system was also prevalent in USSR till Communism collapsed.
Two Party System
In a Two-party system power shifts between two major, dominant parties. In this system, to win elections, the winner has to get maximum number of votes, but not necessarily a,majority of votes. The smaller parties usually merge with the bigger parties or they drop out of elections.
This parliamentary system prevails in Great Britain and Canada, in which only two parties hold significant numbers of seats.
Supporters of this system believe that this prevents dangers of fragmentation (too many parties winning seats from different constituencies) and the government can run smoothly.
Multi-Party System is the most common type of party system.
1. In this system, three or more parties have the capacity to gain control of the government separately or in coalition.
2. When no party gains a majority of the legislative seats in multi-party parliamentary system, then several parties join forces and form a coalition government.
Supporters of this system point out that it allows more points of views to be represented in the government.
Critics of this system point out that multi-party system sometimes leads to political instability.
What is an Alliance?
When several parties in a multi-party system join hands for the purpose of contesting elections and winning power, it is called an alliance or a front.
India, in 2004 and 2009, had three such Alliances for parliamentary elections :
(i) National Democratic Alliance
(ii) The United Progressive Alliance and
(iii) Left Front.
Political Participation in India
Level of participation in the activities of the parties is very high in India.
Advanced countries like Canada, Japan, Spain and South Korea have comparatively much less active participation.
People in India who feel close to a political party become members. Lately the membership of political parties has also gone up.
Political Parties in India
Registartion with Election Commission
Every party in India has to register with the Election Commission. The Commission treats every party as equal to the others, but it offers special facilities to large and established parties. They are given a unique symbol and are called, “recognised political parties.”
When is a political party recognised as a state party?
The Election Commission has laid down detailed criteria of the proportion of votes and seats that a party must get in order to be a recognised party.
A party that secures at least 6% of the total votes in an election to the Legislative Assembly of a State and wins at least 2 seats is recognised as a State party.
When is a political party recognised as a national party?
A party that secures at least 6% of the total votes in Lok Sabha elections or Assembly elections in 4 States and wins at least 4 seats in the Lok Sabha is recognised as a national party.
Difference between a National Party and a Regional/State Party
1. A national party has influence all over the country or in many states of India. The influence of a state party is in a state or a few regions.
2. National parties care for national interests, whereas regional parties promote mainly regional interests. For example, the DMK or AIDMK.
3. Regional parties stand for greater autonomy for the states. The national parties, on the other hand, have to harmonise various conflicting regional interests.
4. An exclusive symbol such as (lotus or hand) is reserved for a national party throughout India. But in case of a regional party, a symbol for it is reserved for it in the state which it is recognised.
Introduction to Major Political Parties in India
1. Indian National Congress (INC)
Founded in 1885, it led the movement for independence. After independence it became free India’s premier political party. In the first five General Elections held, the Congress virtually controlled the politics of the country. It lost the elections in 1977 following the Emergency rule.
It made a comeback in 1980 under Indira Gandhi with a massive victory and reached its peak in the election of 1984. After 1991, the Congress was on the decline and BJP rose in power. In the elections held in May 2004, the Congress emerged as the winner with the help of its allies. It formed a coalition government called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
It has been on a decline since 2014
In its manifestos, it projected a vision of a politically united, economically prosperous, socially just and culturally harmonious India.
2. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
Created in 1980, it champions the socio-religious values of the Hindu majority of India, conservative social policies, and strong national defence. Since its formation, the BJP has been a strong rival of the Indian National Congress.
It has allied itself with regional parties to challenge the Congress Party, which dominated Indian politics for 40 years. The BJP’s rallying cry is “Hindutva”. It wants full territorial integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India and a uniform civil code.
The BJP, in alliance with several other parties, led the Government of India between 1998 and 2004 and has been in power since 2014.
3. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
The Bahujan Samaj Party is a party formed to represent the OBC, SC, ST and religious minorities, those at the bottom of India’s caste system. The BSP was formed in 1984 by two leaders, Kanshiram and Mayawati.
The main base of the party is in Uttar Pradesh. It also has a substantial following in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Punjab. It draws inspiration from the teachings of Sahu Maharaj, Mahatma Phule, Periyar Ramaswami Naicker. The BSP also draws inspiration from the teachings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
4. Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI–M)
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), usually known as CPI (M), split from the Communist Party of India in 1964.
It is strongest in the states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura as of 2006, and led the government in all these states till 2011 when it lost power in the first two.
It believes in Marxism-Leninism and supports socialism, secularism and democracy. It opposes imperialism and communalism. Its supporters are farmers, agricultural labourers and intelligentsia. In West Bengal CPI(M) has enjoyed power without a break, for 30 years.
5. Communist Party of India (CPI)
It was formed in 1925, believes in Marxism-Leninism, secularism and democracy. It is opposed to the forces of communalism and secessionism.
It believes that parliamentary democracy helps the interests of farmers, the working class, and the poor.
The split in the party in 1964, and the formation of CPI (M) made its position weak. It has following in the states of Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. It aims and propagates unity and coming together of all left parties to form a United Left Front.
6. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
It was formed on May 25, 1999, by Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangama, and Tariq Anwar after they were thrown out of the Congress Party. They had objected to a person of foreign origin becoming the Prime Minister of India. NCP have a major support in Maharashtra state.
The NCP claims that it supports democracy, Gandhian secularism, equity, social justice and federalism.
7. All India Trinamool Congress (AITC)
Launched on 1 January 1998 under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee.
Recognised as a national party in 2016.
The party’s symbol is flowers and grass.
Committed to secularism and federalism.
It has been in power in West Bengal since 2011.
Also has a presence in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura. In the General Elections held in 2014, it got 3.84% votes and won 34 seats, making it the fourth largest party in the Lok Sabha.
State Parties in India
1. All parties, other than the seven national parties, are classified as state parties by the Election Commission of India. They are also called regional parties.
2. They can be all-India parties but have been successful only in some states. Examples; Samajwadi Party, Samata Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal. They have national level political organisations.
3. Some like the Biju Janata Dal, Sikkim Democratic Front, Mizo National Front have state identites. In the last years, no national party has been able to secure majority on its own in the Lok Sabha.
4. The national parties have been compelled to form alliances with state parties. This has led to coalition governments in the Centre since 1966.
State parties have played an importrant role in strengthening federalism and democracy in our country.
Challenges Faced By Political Parties
1. Lack of internal democracy within parties
Power concentrated in the hands of few.
No organisational meeting s. No keep-ing of membership register
No internal, regular elections.
Ordinary members do not have access to information, cannot influence decisions.
Disagreement with the leader leads to ouster from the party’.
2. Dynastic succession
Leaders on top have unfair advantage to favour people close to them or family members.
Top positions con-trolled by family members in most parties
Bad for democracy
Tendency seen all over the world, even in the older democracies
3. Money and muscle power
This is a very visible form of power during elections
Candidates who can raise money are nominated.
Rich people and companies who give funds have influence on policies
4. No meaningful choice to the voters
There is not much difference in ideology among parties
They only differ on details of implementation rather than fundamental principles.
In India also there is not much difference among parties on economic issues
How can parties be reformed?
Efforts Made to Reform the Political Parties
The Constitution was amended to prevent defection. Now the MPs and MLAs will lose their seat in the Parliament or a State Assembly if they defect.
The Supreme Court passed certain orders to reduce the power of money and criminals. A candidate has to file an affidavit giving details of his property and criminal cases pending against him.
The Election Commission— Political parties are asked to file their income tax returns. They have to hold organisational elections.
Suggestions Given to Parties for Reform
Compulsory to regulate internal democracy, hold open elections. maintain registers, follow its own constitution. Have an independent judge in party disputes.
Mandatory' to give minimum party tickets, (about 1/3) to women, should be a quota for women in decision-making bodies of the parly'.
There should be state funding, government should give a grant to political parties to support election expenses, e.g. petrol, paper, telephones