Policy Briefs & Reports

India’s Political Parties

Rahul Verma, Nishant Ranjan, Satyam Shukla, Vaibhav Parik, Shamik Vatsa
Melvin Kunjumon

Centre for Policy Research

December 27, 2022

A study of democracy is incomplete without a study of one of its most fundamental components—political parties. In India, works on the country’s political parties so far have explored, among other things, the direct and indirect relationship between the nature and type of political parties and the different facets of the state and governance. One such recurring theme is the exploration of the overall structure of federalism i.e relationship between the centre and state governments(Gardner 2013; Jenkins and Roscoe 2014; Borges 2011).

The influence of political parties on the level of centralization and decentralization has not only impacted the federal structure of the country but has also influenced voters in choosing national parties over regional players(Chhibber and Kollman 1998). This ability of the national political parties to overall influence state-level politics has majorly impacted the regional autonomy of states(Gardner 2013).

The transition of the Indian political system into a dominant party system centred around the BJP in the past decade provokes us to see how the changes in the party system are translated across states in India. Initially, we will consider broad and empirical evidence to study the formation, survival and dissolution or exit of parties in India. Here, we show how and when parties in India are formed, what factors impact their survival and what causes their eventual decline and exit. This section is the product of research conducted on a dataset developed over the course of the year. This dataset profiles all parties in all Indian states for legislative assembly elections conducted between 1962 and 2021inclusive.

We first start by looking at periods of high formation and dissolution of political parties and find how many of India’s parties fail to last, ending up exiting the competition after a single election. We subsequently differentiate between the types of parties being formed: are they new and organically arising, or are they the product of splintering and shifting within existing parties? Our research does show that many successful parties are not entirely new and there are a significant number of key parties in states that have links to older national parties. This is especially true for the several parties that split from the INC, or ones that emerged from the breakup of the Janata Parivar of parties.

Later in this section, we also look at state-wise trends of entry and exit of parties in any given election, and how new entrants perform in comparison to more established players. The results suggest that except in certain regions, the hold of older parties has increased, specifically post-1989,whilstsignificantchange happened before it. It also goes on to suggest that the polity of India’s states may be far more stable than frequently suggested.

In the second part of the report, we see how national and regional parties are changing across states in three broad fields—ideologically, in their support bases and in their mobilization strategies and organizational capabilities. We have approached state-level experts in political parties and elections through an online survey to evaluate the parties in the above-mentioned parameters. Insights available from elite surveys(or expert surveys)conducted in the past decades present a national picture of major players in Indian politics in terms of their presence and organizational strength, but we have little to no insights into regional parties and how national parties organize themselves at the state level.

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