Starting from September 5 this year over 590 million people of India will go to polls in order to ellect their 13th parliament since independence in 1947. Within a short period of two years three governments have fallen. The phenomenon of coalition governments at the center is taking roots. What is important in India is that these ruling coalitions at the federal level are with regional and provincial parties.

National Political Parties

The emergence of national level political parties in India started with the independence movement. The Congress clearly emerged as the strongest national party. Apart from organizing at all levels of society, Congress offered a promise of realizing the dream of a free and independent nation. More than two decades of mobilization all over the country provided the Congress with a momentum which makes its presence still felt in the political arena. The other major national level political party which emerged in mid 20’s was the Communist party which mobilized workers, and the later the peasants, on economic demands and they also had a dream to offer, an egalitarian society in socialist (communist) India. The birth of the right-wing political formations also began at the same time but could not gain the stature of any meaningful presence at the national level in the political arena.

The Congress party continued its uninterupted rule for 30 years till the government of Indira Gandhi was ousted after she had imposed a state of emergency in 1975. The challenge to the Congress came from parties emerging from a socialist movement, a worldwide phenomenon in the 60s and 70’s. In India it took the form of the Janata Party (People’s Party). By this time it became clear that the communist parties, with their multiple splits, have become confined to certain regions in India. The emergence of the Janata Party forged the way for a place for a national party in opposition to the Congress. Janata Party was a mix of numerous smaller parties and disgruntled elements from the Congress. While all the constituents of the Janata Party, including the communist parties, either consolidated their regional bases or dissipated. Only the BJP moved towards becoming the national party next to the Congress.

By their tactical alliances in the electoral field and arousing religious fervor the BJP emerged as an important player in the parliament. Now the question was to make it into a real national party. In other words, the emergence of a national party requires not only mobilizing people on economic issues but also providing them with a dream similar to what the Congress had promised before independence and what the Communist parties have been trying to offer. Thus started the mass campaign of the Righwing nationalist combine with fascist tendencies headed by their political wing called the BJP. The various massive nationwide hate campaigns which left thousands dead, mostly muslims, and finally the demolition of the Babri mosque. All this with the dream of a Hindu nation. "Say with pride, you are a Hindu". When the Congress was leading the struggle for independence, it was part of a worldwide phenomenon of national liberation movements. The highs and lows in the communist movement were also representative of a global phenomenon. Is there a worldwide phenomenon today which is represented by the Hindutva movement in India?

Regional Party National Outlook

The new emerging regional parties were not in opposition to the national parties. Rather they emerged in their respective provinces with a national perspective. They saw their role as one of safeguarding regional interests by participating in determining the structure of the central governments. It is quite clear that no single regional party has the potential to emerge as the ruling party at the center but their strength in their respective provinces has changed the dynamics of national parliamentary politics. As a result, in India today we have two weak national parties, the Congress and the BJP and several strong regional parties.

It must be noted that the BJP has not been able to destroy the regional parties and there are no significant signs of it doing so. BJP’s Hindutva movement cannot gain the same stature as that attained by the Congress during the struggle for independence. The foreigner of 1947, the British, cannot be created from the malnourished and utterly poor section of the Indian society, namely Muslims, Christians and tribals. Nor are there enough Sonia Gandhi’s (wife of the former Prime Minister who is of Italian origin and thus had recently become the target of the BJP in its nationalst campaign) to provide the fuel! In fact the importance and neccity of coalitions with regional players has been fully realized by the BJP and thus it will be contesting the coming elections as a coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The electoral politics in India will move along for quite some time with coalitions of regional parties, either with one of the two national parties or a coalition among themselves in opposition to the two national parties. In the coming elections in September this year it is possible that once again a BJP led coalition will come to power. This will ofcourse mean that the dismantling of democratic and secular institutions will continue and the country will be pushed more towards social and economic insecurity.


The responsibility for the ascendancy of the BJP lies squarely on the shoulders of communist parties, which have failed in more than one way. They have the unique ability to combine a national program with a regional outlook and they aim at holding on to what they have rather than increasing their base. However, mass support is like capital; if it does not grow it disappears. It clearly happened to the CPI this time. It also happened to the CPM to a limited extent. It is desirable but doubtful that communists can pose a threat to the BJP in immediate future. The leaders and articulate cadres of these parties might appreciate fundamental ideological and political differences that keep them as separate parties but to the workers, peasants and intelligentsia of India there is no substance in this division. Electoral alliances among communists do not make up for their existence as separate parties.

For better or for worse, Congress is the only organization in a position to defeat the BJP in the short run. In the long run, however, the left and democratic forces have to build a grass root democratic organization promoting a secular culture in India. It becomes the responsibility of Indians living abroad to do whatever is necessary to create secular formations and contribute to the emergence and consolidation of a secular democratic culture in India

Feroz Mehdi
Go to Ceras Newsletter 16 Go to Page Top