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Political Parties of India

India has a multi-party system. Elections are fought on party lines with differing manifestoes. From a single party majority the Indian political scenario is now a game of coalitions. From the last few terms India has had a hung parliament and therefore no single party has had the numbers to form the government on their own and have been forced to make alliances with other parties to get to the single majority mark. By the look of things the coalition form of government is here to stay as more and more regional parties are sending elected members to the Lok Sabha. In fact parties these days form pre-poll alliances to enable their coalition to come up with the required numbers. The same scenario of coalition governments is being repeated in many states too.

Indian National Congress (INC)
It is the oldest Indian political party and may perhaps also be the largest and oldest democratic organization in the world. It was formed in 1885 and was the most powerful force behind the country's struggle for independence. A.O. Hume was its first president. It has been in power for the longest period starting from when India gained freedom. Even when out of power the party has been a strong opposition and has brought many a government down. Over its long span of existence, the party has undergone many splits and even now has parties like the Trinamool and the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party), which are breakaway groups. The party has had an almost dynastic characteristic. Starting with Jawahar Lal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, to his daughter, Indira Gandhi, on to Rajiv Gandhi, the congress has had a dynastic form of succession, which was broken due to the untimely death of young Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi before that. Having no grown up direct descendant from the clan the party had to opt for PV Narasimha Rao. But once Narsimha Rao was involved in corruption charges they were left once again in a dilemma and went for the nearest dynastic option, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, The wife of the late Rajiv Gandhi. She was made party president after a lot of wooing, and has been their prime ministerial candidate.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is the most prominent member of the "Sangh Parivar". The RSS, the first of the Parivar( family) was founded by Dr Hedgewar in 1925 and consolidated by Shri Guruji after 1940. Then was born the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS) under the leadership of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951, under the blessings of Shri Guruji. The BJS later reorganized itself as the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr. M. Venkaiah Naidu is the party president and since the party is in power Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the Prime Minister and Mr. Lal Krishna Advani is the Deputy Prime Minister.

In India, political fortunes change dramatically; from a 2 MP (members of Parliament) party the Bharatiya Janata Party is now heading the government, having emerged as the single largest party. It has spread its wings across India and is surely a party to reckon with. In 1998, the party fought the elections by forming alliances with a number of regional parties and was able to get a majority.

The main hurdle in the rise of the party has been its image of a "communal" party. The party firmly believes that almost all Indians are converts from Hinduism and should revert back to their roots in Hinduism and that India is a Hindu nation in spirit if not constitutionally. Many parties are unwilling to go along with the ideology of the party and try to form alliances to deter the party to get to power. Certain parties like the CPI (M) are willing to join hands with parties with conflicting ideologies because the fell it is the lesser evil. From being untouchable before 1998, the BJP has managed to form alliances and even the government, and would have completed its full term but for its decision to go for early elections.

The Communist party of India (Marxist) was formed in 1964 after a split in the Communist Party of India and has now emerged as the foremost Left force in the country. The CPM has established its stronghold in Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh and Assam, though its influence has been declining over the years. Over the years the party had toned down its Marxian ideology and had fought elections in alliance with other left parties including its parent party, the CPI. In West Bengal, the CPM-led Left Front government has been in power since 1977 and in Kerala the Front led by CPM has been on and off in power. The Left Front has also been contesting national elections on a single platform. In 1996 it helped form a United Front of like-minded parties to install a government with Janata Dal party's H.D.Deve Gowda as Prime Minister. In the 1991elections, it won only 6 seats. In 1996 and 1998, the party won 32 seats in all.

The party under the leadership of its general secretary, Mr. Harkishan Singh Surjeet, has travelled a great distance from its anti-revisionist stance adopted at the time of its formation in 1964, by trying to make attempts to foist an alternative force in New Delhi.

Jyoti Basu, the chief minister of West Bengal for five consecutive terms, has proved himself as the most popular leader of the CPM. He was close to becoming India's prime minister but for his hesitation to don the mantle.

The Samata Party
The Samata Party, an offshoot of the caste-based Janata Dal party was formed in 1994 after two senior leaders in the Janata Dal, George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar broke away from the Dal. It is largely based in Bihar. It tied up with the BJP in the 1996 elections and also has a presence Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. Samata Party leader George Fernandes was instrumental in packing off Coca Cola from India when he was a minister in the Janata Party government during 1977-1979. He was also an ardent campaigner against the BJP for its communal inclinations, but in 1996 his party aligned with the BJP and won 8 seats, six from Bihar and one seat each from Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. In the 1998 elections, the party in alliance with the BJP won 12 seats, 10 from Bihar and two from Uttar Pradesh. The party has two ministers in the Vajpayee government- Fernandes, the controversial Defence Minister and Railway Minister Nitish Kumar. The Samata Party with 12 members in the Lok Sabha has been a crucial ally in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Recently, after yet another split in the Janata Dal, Fernandes was instrumental in bringing around one of the Janata Dal factions to the fold of the BJP-led alliance. This also brings together Janata Dal, led by Sharad Yadav, Lok Shakti led by Ramakrishna Hegde and Samata Party on a single platform. Ironically all these groups in their erstwhile avatars were staunch opponents of communalism represented by BJP. The three splinter groups-Samata party, Lok Shakti and Janata Dal - have announced their intention to merge and fight the forthcoming polls under a single symbol.

The Bahujan Samaj Party
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is a relatively new entrant. It was formed with the avowed aim of espousing the rights of the oppressed sections of society - the Dalits. The BSP first entered the election fray in 1984 but fared badly, losing 207 seats. The 1991 elections saw it bidding for power on its own, after which began the era of alliances - with Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1993 and with the BJP in 1995. However, these did not suit its restive leaders Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, and in the 1996 elections it again went alone.

While in power in 1995, the BSP was embroiled in several controversies- in land deals including that of the Taj Corridor, formation of new districts, regularization of dalit houses etc. With its emergence as a frontline party dedicated solely to the betterment of the dalits, the Congress has been the main loser in its traditional vote bank.

Communist Party of India
The Communist Party of India was founded on December 26, 1925, but started functioning legally from July 1942 when the ban on the party was lifted. The party relies mainly on mass organizations for its activities, fronts and movements, guided by it along with other parties. The CPI traditionally has strongholds in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

The CPI has decided to go soft on its ideologies and has shifted from an anti-Congress stand to a pro-Congress stand. From winning its electoral battles on an anti-Congress plank, especially after the 1996 elections, this move seems to be a clear departure based on the changing political scenario. The party takes on the Congress at the state level, while seat sharing with the party on a national basis.

The CPI differs from the CPM in its policy matters. The party prefers to stick to its ideologies, which is evident from its anti-BJP stand despite shift in relations vis-à-vis other parties. An erstwhile ally of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the CPI snapped its ties following the latter's association with the BJP. It has now decided to ally with DMK's archrival AIADMK and Sharad Pawar's NCP and others. In the 11th Lok Sabha elections, it won 12 seats while in the 12th Lok Sabha it occupied inly nine seats. In West Bengal, it won 3 seats, Tamil Nadu- 2, Kerala- 2, Bihar- 3 and Andhra Pradesh -3.

The Shivsena was formed on 19th June 1966 as an organization mainly for the youth, to teach them self-reliance and the power to fight social evils. Its members were called Shivsainiks. It was not intended to be a political party, even though it participated in the election process and politics. Over the years however it evolved into a political party. It is also one of the Saffron Brigades and firmly believes that whatever may be the religion, the culture is Hindu and so everyone is a Hindu. The party is lead by Mr. Balasaheb Thackeray.

Telegu Desam
The party has a very interesting beginning. During the recess of a film shooting, in Ooty in October 1981, a journalist asked N.T.Ramarao (NTR) about what he planned to do since he would soon be 60. NTR thought for a while and replied that since the Telugu-speaking people had given him so much, it was his duty to pay off the debt. He promised that after his next birthday he would spend fifteen days of a month in the service of the people. That was it. Since NTR was known to stick to his decisions, the media got excited and broke the news to the world. A political newspaper even announced that NTR was starting a new political party. On the 28th of March 1982 a steering committee consisting of 13 members was formed and NTR was the founder President of the new Party.

Chandrababu Naidu, the present party chief broke away under controversial circumstances due to differences of opinion with his father-in-law regarding his new wife, Laxmi Parvati; but after NTR's death the party merged and Chandrababu Naidu took over as party chief.

The DMK was formed to liberate the Dravidian race from the shackles of superstition and religious dogmas, to revive and restore the ancient heritage of Tamil and Tamilnadu, and to protect the Tamil language from Hindi imperialism as they saw it. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was founded by Dr. C.N. Annadurai, better known as Anna (Elder brother) on 17th September 1949.

The launch of the South Indian Welfare Association popularly known as Justice Party in November 1916 by Sir P. Thiagarayar and others to promote social, economic and political interests of the Non-Brahmins, was the nucleus of the Dravidian movement. Fed up with the domination of Brahmins and their religious fundamentalism, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy left the Congress in 1925 and formed the Self Respect Movement which was later transformed into a liberation movement named Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) in 1944. Anna and the other front line leaders took active role in spreading the ideals of D.K. Due to differences with Periyar over certain policies and programs, they left DK and formed DMK on 17th September, 1949.

Anna became the General Secretary and M. Karunanidhi-popularly called Kalaignar (Connoisseur of letters) - destined to carry and hold aloft the torch lit by Anna, was made member of the propaganda wing. Magazines like "Dravida Nadu" and "Murasoli" edited by Anna and Kalaignar respectively, educated, enlightened and enthused the cadres. To carryout its objectives, Anna felt that the entry into legislature was essential.

The AIADMK emerged from the DMK. M.G.Ramachandran (MGR) who was a friend and colleague of Karunanidhi from the film industry and a co-worker in the Dravidar Kazhagam was upset with the functioning of Karunanidhi and differences crept up leading to the dismissal of MGR from the post of party treasurer. On October 17, 1972, with Anna's profile on the flag, the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) was launched, founded by MGR. On May 16,1976, the name was changed to All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). On January 31, 1976, the Central Government, dismissed the Karunanidhi government and instituted a Commission of inquiry headed by Justice Sarkaria. In the Assembly elections that followed the AIADMK emerged victorious. The party remained in power for the next 10 years.

The present leader of the party Ms. J. Jayalalitha, entered the party in 1982 and soon became the propaganda secretary of the party in 1983 and she was elevated as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1984. After the illness of MGR and his death, the party was divided and MGR's wife Janaki Ammal was sworn in chief minister but the government could not last and the DMK came to power. Subsequently the party reunited under Jayalalitha and this is her second term in Office, though with a break of a term's rule by the DMK.

The Trinamool Congress was born out of differences between Mamata Banerjee and her party the Congress over an alliance with the Communist Party, against whom the Bengal cadre had always been fighting. Twenty-two years of Communists rule, and the state wing's fight against it could not be done away with, thought many of the party cadres and chose to move away with Mamata.

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