Role of regional political parties in Indian politics
India as a democracy has the multi-party system in place, which means there are several political parties competing for power. Apart from the primary parties, each state has their own local political parties that rule and compete in their region.
The multi party system in India has many political consequences. In the event of an election, the norm states that the party with the majority votes wins the election. However, in order to form a government, a party should have a certain number of votes. This need not happen, leading to problems. The majority party has to therefore join hands with a regional party in order to form government. This is where the importance of the smaller regional parties comes into play.
This situation is applicable not only to the centre, but also to the state politics. If a party is unable to win the required number of seats, a coalition is the only option. This could mean two regional parties joining hands to form the government (an unlikely event!), or the majority parties joining hands with the regional party who are supportive or sympathetic towards them.
However, is this trend desirable? With small local parties sprouting on a regular basis, we must raise this question. Take the case of Tamil Nadu. The Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) started out as a party born out of certain political ideologies. But today there are half a dozen spin-offs, ranging from the AIADMK, MDMK, DMDK, PMK, VCK etc. Most of these other parties are a result of intra party feuds, and expulsions. Likewise in the communist stronghold of Kerala, there are several communist parties.
Sometimes variety is the spice of life. But if we are spoiled for choice, it will only confuse us. An ideal government should work in the interest of the people, not go about creating parties to fulfill personal grudges or ambitions. When the voter has too many political parties on the ballot, she or he might just end up punching the button randomly. What is the easiest way to figure out that the candidate or party will work in the favor of the people? It is even more difficult to vote for a fairly new party, which has not had occasion to demonstrate their intentions.
On the other side of the coin, having a regional party in the centre has benefits for the region. The state from which the supporting party hails will have greater representation in the centre, and their issues will get a solid platform. Then again, this could be detrimental to other states.
v Role of Regional Political Parties
- In the present political scenario of the country, the role of the regional parties has become all the more important.
- Legally speaking, there is no regional party as such provided for by and law of the land. The Election Commission in India recognizes two types of parties:
- The National parties and
- The State parties.
- In general parlance, the State parties are termed as regional parties.
- Most regional political parties have grown in the last three decades as instruments to capture the non-Congress space in their respective States and sometimes they play a crucial role in State politics. The regional parties—the AIDMK and ADMK, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Nagaland People’s Council etc., maintain that the problems of their regions are not being attended to by the Central Government.
- Other major regional parties like the Telegu Desam Party, Akali Dal etc. are some about the lack of educational facilities, good roads, water, electricity and communications in their respective regions.
- In our coalition politics, we have seen that on several occasions, the multi-party system has made the national political parties dependent on regional parties when no all-India party was in a position to secure absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.
- Because of this compulsion, the national political parties are constrained to conclude electoral alliances with the regional political parties. Most regional parties have come to stay as important political formations enjoining sizeable electoral support.
- In India’s federal democratic polity, regional and local parties would continue to have relevance and appeal, especially for certain dominant social and economic interests. Many of these parties, in effect, have a characteristic similar to pressure and interest groups, both in their size and role in the political system. Their influence waxes and wanes in the context of national parties.
- Several regional parties become coalition partners of national parties in forming State Governments. Some regional parties however, remain stable and major political formations in few States. In short, in our parliamentary coalition political system, the national parties cannot afford to ignore the regional political parties.
Do regional parties ensure a better functioning government?
- Ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while speaking about difficulties of coalition politics, made this particularly enlightening remark – “Sometimes the resolution of problems acquires an excessively political hue, and narrow political considerations based on regional/sectional loyalties and ideologies, can distort the national vision and sense of wider collective purpose.”
- This fits in very well with my argument about how regional parties have narrow interests and tend to place their regions interest above the nations – after all their votes come mainly from the region, and not the nation.
- A very good example of how this works is India voting against Sri Lanka in the UN for the injustice meted to the Tamils in that region, solely due to pressure from the DMK. This goes against our basic principle of never voting on country specific provisions, and has greatly harmed India-Sri Lankan relations. Several times, more prosperous regions fight for greater fiscal autonomy, at the detriment of poorer regions. It is here that national parties need to step in to be neutral and balance the claims of 2 regions. As the PM said, the wider vision and sense of collective purpose is lacking in Regional Parties.
- Do regional parties ensure greater representation (and consequently participation) of the different groups?
- It is often believed that regional parties cannot arise out of a vacuum and come up simply to represent the regional identity and the views of the people already prevalent. Regional parties are thus the ‘medium through which a discourse on cultural specificity is translated into political assertiveness.’
- However, this is a very simplistic picture of things. Sometimes regional parties create these ‘cultural specificities’ for electoral gains. They are thus ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ in a sense – they create a demand and market where none existed earlier. Regional parties are thus not always a product of regional identities, but, for electoral gains, regional parties can create and strengthen these regional identities.
- Do regional parties promote national integration of different parts of society?
- Another criticism of Regional Parties is their exclusionary ideology. Some parties like Shiv Sena function on double exclusion, by invoking Maratha and Hindu pride. These thus create artificial differences in society, by
- highlighting differences and ignoring the commonalities. Most national parties, on the other hand, have all inclusive ‘sarvajanik’ principles, inclusive of all people across the nation.
- Exclusionary ideologies are not always negative. They are sometimes needed in order to protect minorities.
- National parties, while trying to incorporate ‘all’, will invariably leave behind ‘some’. The practical reality is that while trying to target all groups, invariably those with greater power (financial and numerical) will always call the shots. Thus, in trying to represent ‘all’, the ‘some’ left behind are more often than not the minorities, due to their absence in the party cadre and non-prominence.