Evolution of the complex Indian political system

The world’s largest democracy is busy electing it’s representatives to the parliament as Elections 2009 in India is on its way. The Indian political system has evolved from few to many parties with each of them having some controlling stake in the democratic system. In last 20 years (8 general elections) the country has seen state-level political parties grow from 27 to 265 – a 10 fold growth. The number of national parties have however stayed around 7 throughout this period.

Contesting political parties - trend in last 20 years

Contesting political parties - trend in last 20 years

Interestingly, the number of parties that had at least 10% of the votes polled in seats they contested has grown from 25 to 44 – a 76% growth in 20 years. The number of parties which one at least one seat has grown from 17 to 37 – a growth of 117.6%. Therefore, while the number of contesting state parties has grown abnormally, the actual competition (reflected by a minimum of 10% vote-share) may not have grown in same proportions. The growth however is high enough to change the power equations of government formation.

Vote share and wins in Indian General Elections

Vote share and wins in Indian General Elections

There are a few things to observe about this trend:

1. The growth of politically competent state parties have been consistent and gradual over last two and a half decades. This has been driven by disintegrating national parties, skewed national growth (see image below) and increasing disparity in inter-state level of living (leading to unemployment and migration of population between states), and communalization/regionalization of the electorate (The Sikh movement in 1980s, The Babri Masjid demolition and Hindu-Muslim riots in 1992, rise of the armed struggle in north-east India in late 1980s, and steep growth in the Naxal movement since late 1990s).

India - Sectoral Growth

India - Sectoral Growth (source: India Development Report 2008)

2. A government at the center will be a coalition of several political parties with a national party as its focal point. This will be extremely demanding and require greater political leadership. For a prime minister it will be distracting to manage this political horde and it is probably a good idea to have a dedicated manager of the coalition. I personally appreciate the division of responsibilities between the Prime Minister and the Coalition chair-person of the existing UPA Government.

3. National parties need to consolidate strategies for inclusive growth and get the macroeconomic development agenda back on track. Sectors like infrastructure and agriculture need a focus for improving the economy as well as the political equations.

4. Grass-root politics is there to stay. National political parties need to focus on local policies to survive and grow better.

The political pundits have already predicted an even more fractured verdict in the 2009 General Elections. I hope this changes over time and the country gets good solid governance free from bickering political partners.

Useful Resources:
– Archive of General Election Results – http://eci.nic.in/StatisticalReports/ElectionStatistics.asp
– India Development Report 2008 – http://www.oup.co.in/search_detail.php?id=144597

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