Ramesh Thakur’s article on “The Government and Politics of India” encompassed the political system of India in its entirety, including not only political parties but also a historical breakdown of geographical and regional issues. The complexity of India’s political system is outlined in significant detail and also includes alternatives to the one-party dominant system. This summary includes pages 201 to 216 from the article presented on October 29, 2003 during Week 8 of Political Parties (316F), covering the Bharatiya Party, Religious Nationalism, Attempts to Broaden Support Base, Class Based Parties, Regional Parties and Pressure Groups.
The Bharatiya Party (BJP) is nationalist party with highly competitive and ethnic-linguistic ideals. The BJP has had a long-standing ideology based highly on criticism of Congress socialism, with support founded on liberalization. In 1907 the Hindhu Mahasabha was formed in Punjab but was later re-organized in 1915 and was based on opposition to Western secularism but the party failed to gain support and dissolved. In 1925 the RSS otherwise known as the Volunteer Corps was formed but was later banned after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
In 1951 various leaders from the RSS broke off and formed the Jan Sangh party designed strictly with the Hindhu culture as its foundation with the motto “One country, one nation, one culture and one law” (pg.207). By 1984 the Jan Sangh was renamed the Bharatiya Party but was still unable to succeed in the political party system in India and it wasn’t until the fall of the Janata government in 1991 that the BJP emerged as a viable alternative. The authour claims that the BJP was successful based on a number of factors including leadership based on opposition to Congress, party discipline, systematic election campaigns, well spoken leaders, grassroots support, middle-class appeal and a patriotic and nationalist approach.
The Jan Sangh party had such strong links with the former RSS that many people referred to the party as the “symmetrical equivalent to the communist parties” (pg.208). By attacking capitalists both domestically and internationally the Jan Sangh party appealed particularly to youth, as the concept of a Hindhu Nation was further emphasized by the rebirth of religion and Muslim opposition. In the elections of 1989 the BJP had gained 85 seats and by 1991 the BJP had 479 candidates throughout India. But with the assassination of Rajiv Ghandi support swung back towards Congress and the significant increase of seats from 85 to 119 for the BJP was overshadowed. In the elections of 1991 even with the assassination of Congress party leader Ghandi still fresh in the public eye, the BJP was still able to gain power in four national states; Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Utter Pradesh.
In the Marxist region of West Bengal the BJP did not even win one seat but was still able to gain “10% of the total vote of the state” (pg.209). The BJP secured 119 constituencies and came in second in 158 constituencies, while still remaining the “only political party to increase its share of the popular vote” (pg. 209) between elections. The only areas where BJP support did not increase were among Muslim states with constraints based on the BJP’s urban and Hindhu appeal. The authour contends that in order for the BJP to succeed nationally it needs to branch out and appeal to those not previously targeted in the past but the party still remains the only opposition party to Congress.
In order to gain a majority government in India a party needs “273 of the 543 elective seats” (pg.209). The BJP with its past unsuccessfulness in east and south regions has been regionally confined and even with support in the north and west regions it would still be unable to win a majority government. With southern India being “anti-centre, anti-Hindi and anti-Brahmin” (pg.210) the BJP was only able to make political headway at the dividing line between northern and southern India.
In the East the BJP attempted to make headway by “exploiting fears of Muslim refugees from Bangladesh swamping Hindu-majority West Bengal” (pg.210) and has had relative success in the exploitation of the immigration issue. A number of nationalist states mirror that of West Bengal with Pakistani residents, predominately Hindhu who entered the country prior to the Bangladesh War in 1971 and became citizens and those who entered after the war were labeled refugees. The issue exploited by the BJP was that illegal immigrants had the opportunity to vote as anyone could register to vote as long as they had a local address. Another issue worth exploiting was the Tin Bingha dilemma where the 1947 partition left border disputes between India and Pakistan. Hindus had found themselves in East Pakistan while Muslims ended up in India.
The 50’s brought forth an agreement based on the mutual transfer of overlapping territory but it fell through as it could not be agreed upon by both parties. A decision was later reached as Bangladesh emerged as an independent country but overlapping territory continued to exist in the newly formed area with a large percentage of the Muslim population still remaining in the country. In order to connect the population with India a strip of territory was leased in the Tin Bingha corridor but in doing this “50,000 Hindus were cut off from the rest of India” (pg.211) and would only be allowed to pass during designated times.
The lease was later cleared in 1990 with strong BJP opposition with its “national challenge” to “preserve the loyalty of its niche Hindu support and yet reach out to a broader coalition of social forces” (pg.211). It is clear that when mobilizing minority groups Congress prevails but displaces when opposition such as the BJP manages to exercise a nationalizing influence. Congress is no longer the party to be defeated as the BJP has proven its successful capabilities and influence in Indian politics but the only factor limiting the BJP is its conversion from a “religious pressure group outside the established political framework to a party of government” (pg.212).
In India communist practices emerged in the late 1920’s with two communist parties vying for political support; the Communist Party of India(CPI) and the CPI(Marxist). The CPI was a supporter of Congress while the CPI(M) was an opponent, aligning itself with the Janata Party in 1977. Both parties were revolutionary and had strong Marxist traditions with a commitment to parliamentary politics, the issue of regionalism and heavy industrialization. But with the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, the CPI and the CPI(M) were faced with major difficulties in India’s political system. The reaction of the CPI(M) was one of immediate praise but remained silent when the coup collapsed.
The image of the party previously valued on restraint was instantaneously tarnished as it was seen as an “obstacle to the consolidation of left-democratic unity” (pg.213) and the party was declared a fallout. In 1992 the CPI(M) reaffirmed its Marxist-Leninist approach and by 1994 adopted an industrial policy welcoming “foreign investment” while recognizing “the key role of the private sector in promoting growth” (pg.213). On the other hand the CPI was less thrilled about the abolition of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as they believed that Lenin was the “symbol of the struggle of exploitation” (pg.213). Consequently the CPI became stagnant.
With communism coming to an end in the party system, regional parties in India emerged. Regional parties are distinguished by “regional nationalism, cultural identity,
linguistic opposition to Hindi, political commitment to greater regional autonomy and focus on state-specific issues” (pg.214). Regional parties that emerged were the Dravidian Parties in Tamil Nadu, the Telegu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, the Akali Dal in Punjab and the National Conference Party in Kashmir. The region of Tamil Nadu was dominated by the Dravidian DMK and AIADMK parties with a focus on social change between Brahmins and non-Brahmins. In Punjab the Akali Dal possessed popular appeal and played an important role in the protection of Sikh interest although it was unable to command the majority of all Sikhs.
Even though it is had no support by the non-Sikh population it still had role in the state. In the Hindi Belt regional strength was present within populous areas of India, which granted power to central governments. The Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD) was formed in 1964 and created a coalition government in the state of Utter Pradesh consisting of a multitude of castes as well as Muslims. In 1977 the BKD joined forces with the Jan Sangh and the Lok Dal was born.
Even with the shift from communist parties to strong regional parties, there has still been little development in the area of pressure groups in Indian politics. Pressure groups in India have yet to gain a legitimate platform as they are viewed as external to the political system and are usually controlled by various political parties. These groups have little impact on public policy and the “failure to integrate pressure groups into the policy process is that interest articulation is dominated by street politics” (pg.215). It is apparent that Indian politics is dominated by factional coalition building as this has been the most successful route for political parties void of pressure groups. It is clear that the nationalist struggle continues to dominate Indian politics and that Congress usually wins majority support but simultaneously threatened by successful opposition parties in system that is neither centralized nor fragmented.
Thakur’s article “The Government and Politics of India” is in-depth and detailed in its relation to the historical and chronological events and factors in India’s political history. With such detail there is an overwhelmingly abundance of information on various regions in India and it is somewhat essential to have a clear geographical understanding of the North-South and East-West partitions throughout the country. Even though the article is somewhat outdated, as now the party in power in India is the Bharatiya Party, the information is still useful in assessing the future route that Indian politics will take in its nationalistic struggle.
Thakur, Ramesh The Government and Politics of India MacMillian Press, London, 1995: pages 220-256 of 395.