The chapter introduces students to the era of one party dominance in Indian Politics. It also talks about the challenges of building a democracy, and how the other opposition parties emerged in the political picture other than the Congress. We also highlight various political parties: Swatantra Party, Communist Party Of India.
Challenges In Building Democracy
What were the Challenges in Building Democracy?
Independent India was born in very unfavourable circumstances. The Political leaders and constitution-makers of India decided to establish a democratic nation.
Many leaders in other nations decided not to pursue the democratic path as it was thought that it would introduce internal differences. ‘Making National Unity’ as their priority, non-democratic regimes took control with a promise of restoring Democracy which was close to impossible.
India’s Constitution was adopted on 26 November 1949 and signed on 24 January 1950 and it came into effect on 26 January 1950. As of then, India was being governed by an interim government.
Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India was set up in January 1950 with its first chief election commissioner Sukumar Sen. The ECI was responsible for drawing of boundaries of the electoral constituencies and the preparation of the electoral rolls.
In the first draft of the rolls, the ECI identified one of the major issues that the names of the women were not properly recorded. They were simply listed with the reference of their male-dominant member.
The Election Commission refused to accept these entries and ordered a revision if possible and deletion if necessary.
The process of conducting the election on this huge scale was happening for the first time. There were 17 crore eligible voters who had to elect about 3200 MLAs. It was not just the size of the country that made the electorate unusual.
The Election had to be postponed twice and finally held from October 1951 to February 1952. But this election is referred to as the 1952 Elections.
It took Six Months for the Campaigning, polling and counting to be completed. Elections were Competitive, on average there were more than four candidates for each seat.
The level of participation was encouraging more than half the eligible voters turned out to vote on the day of elections.
India’s general election of 1952 became a landmark in the history of democracy all over the world. It was no longer possible to argue that democratic elections could not be held in conditions of poverty or lack of education.
It proved that democracy could be practised anywhere in the world.
Why did the Congress Dominate the First Three General Elections?
The Congress party won the Elections as it was popularly known and it had inherited the legacy of the national movement.
It was the only party then to have an organisation spread all over the country. Jawaharlal Nehru led the party’s campaign throughout the country.
The victory of the Congress did surprise many. The party won 364 of the 489 seats in the first Lok Sabha and finished way ahead of any other challenger.
The Communist Party of India that came next in terms of seats won only 16 seats.
Congress also scored a big victory in the state elections which were held with the Lok Sabha elections.
It won a majority of seats in all the states except Travancore-Cochin (part of today’s Kerala), Madras and Orissa. But even in these states, Congress formed the government. So the party ruled all over the country at the national and the state level.
Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister after the first general election.
What made Congress lead the Second and Third General Elections?
In the second and the third general elections, held in 1957 and 1962 respectively, the Congress maintained the same position in the Lok Sabha by winning three-fourth of the seats.
None of the opposition parties could win even one-tenth of the number of seats won by Congress.
In the state assembly elections, Congress did not get a majority in a few cases. The most significant of these cases was in Kerala in 1957 when a coalition led by the CPI formed the government.
The Congress won three out of every four seats but it did not get even half of the votes. In 1952, for example, Congress obtained 45 per cent of the total votes. But it managed to win 74 per cent of the seats.
The Socialist Party, the second-largest party in terms of votes, secured more than 10 percent of the votes all over the country. But it could not even win three per cent of the seats.
In this system of election, that has been adopted in our country, the party that gets more votes than others tends to get much more than its proportional share. That is exactly what worked in favour of Congress.
If the votes of all the non-Congress candidates were added it was more than the votes of the Congress. The non-Congress votes were divided between different rival parties and candidates. So the Congress was still way ahead of the opposition and managed to win.
What was the Nature of Congress Dominance?
India was not the only country to experience party Dominance but the difference is in India democracy was not compromised.
In countries like China, Cuba and Syria the constitution permits only a single party to rule the country. Some others like Myanmar, Belarus, Egypt, and Eritrea etc. are effectively one-party states due to legal and military measures.
Many parties contested elections in conditions of free and fair elections and yet Congress managed to win election after election. This was similar to the dominance the African National Congress has enjoyed in South Africa after the end of apartheid.
The roots of this extraordinary success of the Congress party go back to the legacy of the freedom struggle.
Congress was seen as the inheritor of the national movement as many leaders who were at the forefront of that struggle were now contesting elections as Congress candidates
The Congress was already a very well-organised party and by the time the other parties could even think of a strategy, the Congress had already started its campaign.
The Congress had the ‘first off the blocks’ advantage. By the time of Independence the party had not only spread across the length and breadth of the country as we had seen in the maps but also had an organisational network down to the local level.
All these factors contributed to the dominance of the Congress party.
Congress as Social and Ideological Coalition
Congress as a Social Coalition
Congress in 1885 evolved as a pressure group for the newly educated, professional and commercial classes to a mass movement in the twentieth century.
The Congress began as a party dominated by the English speaking, upper caste, upper middle-class and urban elite. But with every civil disobedience movement it launched, its social base widened.
The diverse groups, with different interests came together.
Peasants and industrialists, urban dwellers and villagers, workers and owners, middle, lower and upper classes and castes, all found space in the Congress.
The leadership also expanded beyond the elite class and professionals to the agriculture based leaders.
The Congress transformed into a rainbow-like social coalition broadly representing India’s diversity in terms of classes and castes, religions and languages and various interests.
Many of these groups merged their identity within the Congress. Very often they did not and continued to exist within the Congress as groups and individuals holding different beliefs.
Congress as an Ideological Coalition
Congress as a Single party accommodated different Ideologies. It accommodated the revolutionary and pacifist, conservative and radical, extremist and moderate and the right, left and all shades of the centre.
The Congress was a ‘platform’ for numerous groups, interests and even political parties to take part in the national movement.
In pre-Independence days, many organisations and parties with their own constitution and organisational structure were allowed to exist within the Congress.
Some of these, like the Congress Socialist Party, later separated from the Congress and became opposition parties.
How the Party managed and tolerated these Factions?
This coalition-like character of the Congress gave it an unusual strength.
Firstly, a coalition accommodates all those who join it. Therefore, it has to avoid any extreme position and strike a balance on almost all issues. Compromise and inclusiveness are the hallmarks of a coalition. This strategy put the opposition in difficulty. Anything that the opposition wanted to say, would also find a place in the programme and ideology of the Congress.
Secondly, in a party that has the nature of a coalition, there is a greater tolerance of internal differences and the ambitions of various groups and leaders are accommodated.
Even if a group was not happy with the position of the party or with its share of power, it would remain inside the party and fight the other groups rather than leaving the party and becoming an ‘opposition’.
These groups inside the party are called factions. Instead of being a weakness, internal factionalism became the strength of Congress. These factions were based on ideologies but mostly they were personal rivalries.
There was room within the party for various factions to fight with each other, it meant that leaders representing different interests and ideologies remained within the Congress rather than go out and form a new party.
The factions took different ideological positions making Congress appear as a grand centrist party. The other parties primarily attempted to influence these factions and thereby indirectly influenced policy and decision making from the “margins”. They were far removed from the actual exercise of authority.
They were not alternatives to the ruling party; instead, they constantly pressurised and criticised, censured and influenced Congress.
The political competition took place within the Congress. The system of factions functioned as a balancing mechanism within the ruling party. In the first decade of electoral competition, Congress acted both as the ruling party as well as the opposition.
This period of Indian politics has been described as the ‘Congress system’.
The Emergence of Opposition Parties
India had a larger number of diverse and vibrant opposition parties than many other multi-party democracies. Some of these had come into being even before the first general election of 1952.
These parties played an important part in the politics of the country.
The roots of almost all the non-Congress parties of today can be traced to one or the other of the opposition parties of the 1950s.
These parties offered a sustained and often principled criticism of the policies and practices of the Congress party which kept the ruling party under check.
The interim government that ruled the country just after Independence and the first general election included opposition leaders like Dr. Ambedkar and Shyama PrasadMukherjee in the cabinet.
Jawaharlal Nehru was very fond of Socialist Party and invited socialist leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan to join his government.
The ability of the Congress to accommodate all interests and all aspirants for political power steadily declined, other political parties started gaining greater significance
The Congress dominance constitutes only one phase in the politics of the country.
The party was under the leadership of Acharaya Narendra Dev. The origins of the Socialist Party can be traced back to the mass movement stage of the Indian National Congress in the pre-independence era.
The Congress Socialist Party (CSP) was formed within the Congress in 1934 by a group of young leaders who wanted a more radical and egalitarian Congress.
In 1948, the amendment of Congress’s constitution prevented its members from having a dual party membership which caused the formation of Socialist Party.
The Party’s performance was not very impressive and caused much disappointment.
Socialists believed in the ideology of democratic socialism which distinguished them both from the Congress as well as from the Communists.
They criticised the Congress for favouring capitalists and landlords and for ignoring the workers and the peasants. The socialists faced a dilemma when in 1955 the Congress declared its goal to be the socialist pattern of society.
It became difficult for the socialists to present themselves as an effective alternative to the Congress.
Many leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Ashok Mehta increased their distance from and criticism of the Congress party. The Socialist Party went through many splits and reunions leading to the formation of many socialist parties.
These included the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, the Praja Socialist Party and Samyukta Socialist Party.
The leadership of the party includes Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan, Asoka Mehta, Acharya Narendra Dev, Rammanohar Lohia and S.M. Joshi.
The Parties like Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and the Janata Dal (Secular) originated from the Socialist Party.
The Communist Party of India
The CPI was an inspiration from the ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ in Russia and advocated socialism as the solution to the problems of the country.
The Indian National Congress and the Communists worked within the same circle for the nation in 1935, later the communists parted their way out by supporting the British in the war against Nazi Germany in 1941.
The CPI had well-oiled party machinery and a dedicated cadre at the time of Independence; also Independence raised different voices in the party.
The party thought that the transfer of power in 1947 was not true independence and encouraged violent uprisings in Telangana. The Communists failed to generate popular support for their position and were crushed by the armed forces.
In 1951 the Communist Party changed their path of violent revolution and decided to participate in the approaching general elections.
The CPI emerged as the largest opposition party by acquiring 16 seats in the first general election. It remained dominant enough in the states like Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Kerala.
Leaders of the party were A. K. Gopalan, S.A. Dange, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P.C. Joshi, Ajay Ghosh and P. Sundarayya.
A major split in the party happened during 1964 following the ideological rift between the Soviet Union and China. The pro-Soviet faction remained as the CPI, while the opponents formed the CPI(M)
Bharatiya Jana Sangh
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was formed in 1951 with Shyama Prasad Mukherjee as its founder-President. The lineage of the party can be traced back to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu Mahasabha before Independence.
The Jana Sangh pursued a different ideology and programmes like, ‘one country, one culture and one nation’ was its idea and believed that the country could become modern, progressive and strong on the basis of Indian culture and traditions.
The party called for a reunion of India and Pakistan in Akhand Bharat.
The party played an impressive role in the fight for making ‘HINDI’ as an official language and was also opposed to the granting of concessions to religious minorities. The Jana Sangh advocated India for being a nuclear state after China carried out its atomic tests in 1964.
It remained on the margins of electoral politics and was able to secure only 3 Lok Sabha seats in 1952 elections and 4 seats in 1957 general elections to Lok Sabha.
Its support came mainly from the urban areas in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
The party’s leaders included Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Balraj Madhok.
The Bharatiya Janata Party traces its roots to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
Swatantra Party was formed in August 1959 after the Nagpur resolution of the Congress which called for land ceilings, take-over of food grain trade by the state and adoption of cooperative farming.
The party was led by old Congressmen like C. Rajagopalachari, K.M Munshi, N.G.Ranga and Minoo Masani.
The Swatantra Party wanted the government to be less and less involved in controlling the economy. It believed that prosperity could come only through individual freedom.
It was critical of the development strategy of state intervention in the economy, centralised planning, nationalisation and the public sector.
It instead favoured the expansion of a free private sector.
The Swatantra Party was against land ceilings in agriculture and opposed cooperative farming and state trading. It also opposed the progressive tax regime and demanded the dismantling of the licensing regime.
It was critical of the policy of non-alignment and maintaining friendly relations with the Soviet Union and advocated closer ties with the United States.
The Swatantra Party gained strength in different parts of the Country by way of mergers with numerous regional parties and interests.It attracted the landlords and princes who wanted to protect their land and status that was being threatened by the land reforms legislation.
The industrialists and business class who were against nationalisation and the licensing policies also supported the party.
Its narrow social base and the lack of a dedicated cadre of party members did not allow it to build a strong organisational network.