Meaning and Role of Political Parties
Political parties have emerged as one of these human organisations.
A political party is an organised body of people who share certain common principles and goals regarding the political system of a country.
The main purpose of political parties is to acquire and retain political power.
Political parties which run the government are called the ruling party.
In a coalition government, there may be more than one ruling party.
Those who sit in the opposition and criticise and analyse the performance of the ruling party/ parties generally or on specific issues are called opposition parties.
A political party as such should have the following essential features:
It must be an organised body of people with a formal membership.
It must have clearly spelt out policies and programmes.
Its members should agree with its ideology, policies and programmes.
It must aim at getting power through the democratic process.
It must have a clear and acceptable leadership.
It must focus on broad issues and major areas of government policies.
Types of Party System–
India has a multi-party system.
Indian politics is dominated by several national and regional parties.
There are countries where there is one-party system or two-party system.
Erstwhile Soviet Union and Yugoslavia had single party systems.
Similarly, China has one-party system.
Earlier in Germany there existed only one-party – the Nazi Party; so was the case in Italy where the only party was known as the Fascist Party.
In a two party or bi-party system there are two main political parties.
The United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA), Australia and New Zealand have bi-party systems.
There may exist other parties but their role is generally insignificant.
For example in UK, there are two main parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.
In the USA the two main parties are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
Japan, France, Germany and Switzerland have multi-party systems.
Evolution of Party System in India–
The evolution of Indian party system can be traced to the formation of the Congress, as a political platform in 1885.
Other parties and groups originated later.
The Indian National Congress was formed as a response to the colonial rule and to achieve independence from the British rule.
After independence and with the adoption of a democratic Constitution, a new party system emerged in the wake of the first general elections based on universal adult franchise in 1952.
During the post-independence period, the party system passed through various phases.
The first phase is known as the phase of one-party dominance because with the exception of Kerala during 1956–59, the ruling party both at the Centre and in the states was the Congress.
The second phase (1967–1975) saw the emergence of a multi-party system in India.
In the Assembly elections in 1967, Congress was defeated in eight States.
For the first time, non-Congress parties formed governments in these states.
These parties formed coalition governments.
Then came the split in Congress into Congress (O) and Congress (N).
However, the Congress again became a dominant force at the Centre after winning 1971 mid-term poll.
Then came the emergency period (1975–77) which is known as the authoritarian period of Indian democracy.
With the lifting of emergency, the dominance of Congress ended.
In the general elections of 1977 Congress was defeated by the Janata Party.
Janata Party came into existence as a result of the merger of many opposition parties.
But again in 1980 general elections Congress came back to power and remained in power till 1989.
Janata Party emerged out of the merger of Congress (O) led by Morarji Desai, Bharatiya Lok Dal led by Ch. Charan Singh, Congress for Democracy (CFD) led by Jagjivan Ram and H.N. Bahuguna, the socialists led by George Fernandes and Jana Sangh led by L.K. Advani.
In 1989 elections, the National Front joined government with the support of BJP and the Left Front.
But this formation could not last its tenure and elections for the tenth Lok Sabha were held in May-June, 1991.
Congress again formed government at the Centre.
In 1996 general elections BJP emerged as the single largest party and was asked to form government at the Centre.
Since it could not prove its majority within the given time it had to resign.
The United Front which was a combination of thirteen parties, formed the government at the Centre with the external support of the Congress and the CPI (M).
But this government also could not last its full term.
Although the coalition government formed under the leadership of BJP after 1998 elections was defeated in Lok Sabha, the 1999 elections again provided them the opportunity to form government which lasted its full term under a multi-party coalition, known as National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
In the 14th general elections held in 2004, Congress emerged as the single largest party.
It formed alliance with likeminded parties and formed government at the Centre.
The phase of Indian party system which began in 1989 and is still continuing has been aptly called a phase of coalition politics.
National Parties and Regional Parties–
India has two types of political parties – national parties and regional parties.
National parties are those which generally have influence all over the country.
It is not necessary that a national party will have equal strength in all the states; it varies from State to State.
A party is recognised as a national party by the Election Commission on the basis of a formula.
The political party which has secured not less than four percent of the total valid votes in the previous general elections at least in four states, is given the status of a national party.
The number of national parties has been changing.
In the year 2006, Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], Communist Party of India (CPI), Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Nationalist Congress Party were national parties.
However, there are other parties in India, which do not enjoy national influence.
Their activities and influence are restricted to particular states or regions.
Sometimes these parties are formed to voice demands of a specific region.
These parties are neither weak nor short-lived.
Sometimes they prove to be very powerful in their respective regions.
These are known as regional parties.
Major regional parties are—
[a] AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu,
[b] Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh,
[c] Akali Dal in Punjab,
[d] National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir,
[e] Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand,
[f] Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and
[g] Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra