Indian constitution amalgamates remarkable features of various democratic establishments. It guarantees its people Westminster parliamentary system with single member plurality elections.
Political theorists Siana Glouharova and Oliver Heath write,”In a seemingly major challenge to Duverger’s laws, India has developed a large multi party system despite its SMP electoral system.
Part of the answer is that the extreme multi-party system in the all-India parliament masks the nature of party competition. Electoral competition can be thought of as a series of different regional level two-party contests.” But first two decades of twenty first century saw strong undulations towards dual party system. India’s third front is also undergoing several transformations to fight for their existence.
Identity politics centred at PM Narendra Modi has done a great harm to the regional parties of North India. In 2014 General Elections, Samajwadi Party’s (SP) vote share declined by 0.05% while Nationalist Congress Party suffered a loss of 0.58% in vote share. Oppositely, BJP’s vote share with the face indentity of Narendra Modi saw a jump of 12.20%.
The recent trend observed in Northern India is the politics of alliance. The alliance here doesn’t mean any allegiance to central coalitions like BJP led National Democratic Front (NDA) or INC led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) but of regional parties which are sectionally allying to counteract BJP.
Once staunch opponents in the state of Uttar Pradesh, SP and BSP have now come condensed for a merger. This has significantly divided voters on the ideological ground. BSP supremo Mayawati has given maximum tickets to Brahmins.
Party think-tank believes that this attempt will give a profit over the BJP and also prevent caste swing towards the Congress. But this stands against the ideology with which Kanshi Ram started a new party–to stand for Dalits. Giving away the political power to people of dominant castes, like Brahmins or Thakurs, will alienate voters belonging to traditionally oppressed castes like Jatavas or Chamars.
Nepotism is an issue still alive among voters of new generation. AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, which has for long targeted the DMK for dynastic politics, has now fielded kin of its leaders in General Elections 2019.
This has drawn public criticism. Drawbacks like this are set to determine voter’s orientation in a progressive era like ours.
A journalist was arrested in Odisha for offensive comments on Konark Temple. Another journalist was detained in Manipur under draconian National Security Act for calling CM Biren Singh a Modi puppet.
Odisha is under the rule of BJD, a regional party, and Manipur’s government is also a coalition government of regional parties headed by BJP. Bhobishyoter Bhoot (Ghost of the Future), Anik Dutta’s fourth film, was taken off in West Bengal because it allegedly made strong remarks against Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, again a regional party. Incidents as such indicate how dictatorial regional parties could be. These are certainly not segments of democracy and may distance vote capital.
Janata Dal (United), led by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, broke away from Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in 2017 as BJP allegedly threatened JD(U) with CBI probe in a two decades old murder case. Ex-BJP strongman Uday Singh told me in an interview that Nitish couldn’t afford fate like Lalu. Regional parties in India usually suffer vindictiveness at the hand of national party at the centre, many concur with the incumbent leadership.
The role of regional parties
There have been many times when the role of regional parties was strictly evident. India saw several inter provincial disputes, notably Narmada and Godavari River disputes. The disputes surfaced because of presence of strong regional political forces which were opportunist but democratic. The River water disputes like Narmada and Godavari emerged because of failed mutual adjudication.
For instance, in Cauvery dispute, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka led by regional forces confronted each other for their water share available in the Cauvery basin. Tamil Nadu unhappy with Karnataka’s response to the demand of three-fourths of water sought Supreme Court’s intervention.
Tamil Nadu pleaded that its farmers needed more water for the cultivation of samba. The Karnataka government responded by saying it wouldn’t be able to release any more Cauvery water, as low rainfall during the monsoon had left its reservoirs half-empty.
However, SC didn’t rule in the favour of Tamil Nadu. But the importance of regional parties, no matter chauvinist, was apparent. If there had been any national party ruling both states, cauvery dispute might never reach any resolution leaving farmers in dilapidated state.
The fate of Independent(s)
With regional parties, independent candidature is a major representation of regional voices. Only three independent candidates could be elected to 16th Lok Sabha in the house of 543. The vote share faced a depreciation of 2.17%. Philanthropists like eminent director Prakash Jha (in 2004) were defeated because of their independent candidature. In present situation where Modi wave is not a myth it will be next to impossible for independent candidates to gain ground.
Young political icons like Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan (based in UP) and Jignesh Mevani are being seen as accepted leaders of Dalit community. Ravan has announced to challenge Narendra Modi in his constituency and BJP bastion Varanasi. The people independent of any dogmatic leaning only have the ability to become leaders and challenge the powerful incumbents. The motive of such independent leaders is welcoming. This independent cadre may stitch the chasms of regional diplomacy.
Fund Crunch: A major issue
The political mobilization of corporates towards India’s two largest parties- BJP and INC, and their amicable capital treatment of these political parties hint at a larger picture in making. It is quite understandable that the political dynamics of this century is a trade war. In truth, industrialists will only favour those who are capable of making government and mitigating their difficulties. Regional parties usually suffer credit crunch and this alleviates their pain and obstructs their campaign.
To deal with this, regional parties are now changing their funding models. For instance, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was seen organizing dinners and lunches to raise fund. DMK which finds base in Tamil Nadu has developed a strategy of honouring maximum contributors; M. Karunanidhi, in 2014, gave gold rings to the secretaries who contributed maximum election fund.
Parties of Jammu & Kashmir have been allegedly receiving funds from secessionist sources. Even miniscule hint at it may invite flak from central government which doesn’t want presence of any dissident parties in the valley. The recent crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islami and JKLF is a testimony to this fact. Parties based in J&K and India’s eastern states concomitant to chaotic turbulence have to revise their funding techniques and adopt strong measures to maintain ledger accounts, hence to avoid censure because of any biased scrutiny.
Regional parties despite of their oddities add colours to the world’s largest democracy, their existence will determine the existence of Indian democracy.