The Indian party system has the following characteristic features:
The continental size of the country, the diversified character of Indian society, the adoption of universal adult franchise, the peculiar type of political process, and other factors have given rise to a large number of political parties. In fact, India has the largest number of political parties in the world. At present (2013), there are 6 national parties, 51 state parties and 1415 registered – unrecognised parties in the country 2 . Further, India has all categories of parties—left parties, centrist parties, right parties, communal parties, non-communal parties and so on. Consequently, the hung Parliaments, hung assemblies and coalition governments have become a common phenomena.
Lack of Clear Ideology
Except the BJP and the two communist parties (CPI and CPM), all other parties do not have a clear cut ideology. They (i.e., all other parties) are ideologically closer to each other. They have a close resemblance in their policies and programmes. Almost every party advocates democracy, secularism, socialism and Gandhism. More than this, every party, including the so-called ideological parties, is guided by only one consideration—power capture. Thus, politics has become issue-based rather than the ideology and pragmatism has replaced the commitment to the principles.
Quite often, the parties are organised around an eminent leader who becomes more important than the party and its ideology. Parties are known by their leaders rather than by their manifesto. It is a fact that the popularity of the Congress was mainly due to the leadership of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and TDP in Andhra Pradesh got identified with MG Ramachandran and NT Rama Rao respectively. Interestingly, several parties bear the name of their leader like Biju Janata Dal, Lok Dal (A), Congress (I) and so on. Hence, it is said that “there are political personalities rather than political parties in India”.
Based on Traditional Factors
In the western countries, the political parties are formed on the basis of socio-economic and political programme. On the other hand, a large number of parties in India are formed on the basis of religion, caste, language, culture, race and so on. For example, Shiv Sena, Muslim League, Hindu Maha Sabha, Akali Dal, Muslim Majlis, Bahujan Samaj Party, Republican Party of India, Gorkha League and so on. These parties work for the promotion of communal and sectional interests and thereby undermine the general public interest.