Government, Political Parties
emergency laws, Muslim voters, Bahujan Samaj, Regional parties, coalition politics
Political parties play an important role in India’s democracy. For many years a centrist national party known as the Congress Party was the most powerful political party in India. Established in 1885 as the Indian National Congress, it led India in the struggle for independence. Its members have included influential figures such as Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. With few exceptions, the Congress Party provided the country’s prime ministers until the mid-1990s. The Congress, also known since 1977 as the Congress (I) Party, significantly declined in popular support in the 1990s after allegations of corruption.
India’s two major socialist parties evolved out of the Janata (People’s) Party. The Janata was a coalition of opposition parties formed in 1977 to defeat the Congress Party and abolish emergency rule, a set of extraordinary provisions restricting democratic freedoms that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had instituted in 1975. After winning the 1977 elections and repealing the emergency laws, the coalition fractured in 1979. Its primary successors are the Janata Dal (People’s Party), a secular, socialist party appealing to lower caste and Muslim voters, and the Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s) Party (BJP), which promotes Hindu nationalism and supports socialistic economic goals. The BJP became the largest single party in the Lok Sabha in 1996 and retained that position in the 1998 and 1999 elections. The party’s main supporters tend to be middle-class Hindu voters, who see the BJP as having greater discipline and integrity than the Congress or Janata Dal parties.
The far left of the political spectrum is occupied by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which draws support from urban and rural laborers. This party has been in power in the state of West Bengal since the 1977 election but is a force in only two other states, Kerala and Tripura. The more moderate Communist Party of India has been gradually losing its share of voters but remains a significant participant in coalition politics. The newest national party, the Bahujan Samaj (Society’s Majority) Party, draws on the support of the scheduled caste population.
Regional parties are of major importance in many states, including Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and several smaller states, particularly in the northeast. These regional parties deliberately focus on support of particular people of a particular state and thus have no ambition of extending their reach to other states. They elect a significant number of members of parliament, and many have been included in coalition governments by forming alliances with larger parties.
Article key phrases: