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India: The Party System from 1963 to 2000, by Chad E. Bell*

India arguably possesses the most complex political party system in the world. Combining a first-past-the-post, single-member district system (borrowed from its colonial possessor, Great Britain) with a stratified caste system, intense regional differences, and serious religious divides, India finds itself stuck with a plethora of political parties. In the 1996 Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament) elections, no fewer than 209 political parties participated; some parties competed nationally but most of the parties contested only on a regional or local basis. With this variety in political voices, intense poverty, and the world's second largest population, India's achievement of coalition government and continuous, sustainable democracy borders on the miraculous.

The 1962 elections to the Lok Sabha continued the post-independence pattern of Congress controlled rule. Congress continued its impressive 20-year run, winning 74% of the seats in the Lok Sabha with 45% of the popular vote. No other opposition party won more than 6% of the seats in the Lok Sabha that year.

However, the 1967 elections brought effectively to an end Congress's unquestioned rule of the government. The erosion of Congress's support in the 1967 elections can be partially attributed to monsoon damage in the north and east, a currency devaluation in 1966, and the growth of the electorate in sectors that don't traditionally support Congress. Congress lost 78 seats in the Lok Sabha, retaining a scant 23-seat majority. Additionally, Congress lost six state legislatures.

This weakening of electoral power for Congress opened the door for the rise of Indira Gandi. As Prime Minister in 1967, Indira Gandhi pushed the Congress Party into a more populist stance, nationalizing banks and attempting to reach out to poorer classes by attempting to eradicate poverty. These strategies alienated her from the party organization, which expelled her and formed a new party, Congress (Organization) to oppose her, hoping to take control of the Prime Minister's office. However, the plan backfired, when a majority of the Lok Sabha continued to support Indira.

Campaigning on a platform to eliminate poverty, Indira's Congress Party swept to victory in 1971, gaining 44% of the vote, and 68% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. But drought conditions, food price increases, and the escalation of oil prices in the early 1970s conspired against Gandhi and Congress. With civil disturbances increasing, and the announcement of the nullification of Gandhi's election by the Allahabad High Court, Gandhi took matters into her own hands, declaring an emergency state, and suspending civil society. Jailing her enemies and rewriting the constitution so as to nullify the court's decision and entrench herself further in office, Gandhi ruled alone for two years, from 1975-77, before calling surprise elections.

For the first time in Indian politics, however, the opposition was united and prepared to challenge Congress's hegemony. The Janata Party, a coalition party formed by a variety of anti-Congress forces, ran their campaign against the emergency government of Indira Gandhi, and won the support of the Indian people, winning 55% of the seats in the Lok Sabha (compared to Congress's 28%) with 41% of the popular vote.

Janata's coalition style proved to be its inevitable undoing, as infighting and inaction during its term turned off the public and worsened economic conditions. Gandhi's Congress Party (renamed Congress (I) for Indira) won 353 seats in the Lok Sabha, as Janata fell precipitously to 3% of the seats in 1980.

Indira Gandhi's next four years were filled with corruption, as representatives tried to ingratiate themselves upon Gandhi to gain higher positions in the government, while ignoring their constituencies. In 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards, setting off a wave of anti-Sikh violence in India that killed thousands of Sikhs before order was restored.

As the dust settled, Gandhi's oldest son Ranjiv Gandhi took office as prime minister, and attempted to clean out the corruption of his mother's regime. Congress solidified its control of the legislature in 1985, winning 76% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. With control of the legislature, Ranjiv Gandhi purged the party of some of its corrupt nature, denying nominations to one-third of the party's incumbents in the election and 40% of the state legislative assembly incumbents, all based on corruption.

However, Ranjiv Gandhi's own administration began experiencing its own corruption problems, including an espionage ring and allegations of kickbacks to governmental officials in exchange for contracts. By 1989, Congress had lost its direction and lacked any coherent program to advance. Despite various advantages in the campaign (including access to governmental television and radio advertisements) Congress was only able to win 197 seats in the Lok Sabha. Since it did not win a majority, a government was formed by a coalition of the Janata Dal, the BJP, and the two Communist parties.

Religious conflict and a lack of cohesion in the coalition government returned Congress to power in early elections in 1991. Congress won 46% of the seats in the Lok Sabha, with 37% of the vote, and was able to enter into a ruling coalition. With Rajiv Gandhi's assassination earlier in the year by a Tamil suicide bomber, the mantle of prime minister fell to P.V. Narasimha Rao, a former professor and reformer. Rao reformed the Congress Party, creating party democratic rule for governmental seats and democratizing the workings of the party.

The 1991 elections also saw the rise of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP gained 22% of the seats in the Lok Sabha elections in that year, placing it as the main opposition party to Congress. As Rao suffered corruption charges during his term, public support for the BJP grew.

In 1996, public support turned away from Congress and towards the BJP. BJP won 30% of the seats in the Lok Sabha, compared to Congress's 26%, despite receiving a smaller percentage of the popular vote. However, the BJP was unable to construct a coalition government, and the government was formed by the United Front (communist and leftist parties) and Congress, with H.D. Deve Gowda as prime minister.

In 1998, the collapse of the ruling coalition created a push for new elections. This time, BJP had learned its lesson from 1996, and entered into electoral alliances in advance of the elections. The result was a victory for the BJP, which won 180 seats (short of a majority) but was able to get 264 representatives to support a vote of confidence in their administration. Congress, meanwhile, gained 141 seats, and became the primary opposition party in the government.

In 1999, another set of elections occurred, due to the collapse of the ruling coalition. Voters once again supported the BJP, giving it 34% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and 24% of the popular vote. Congress, while amassing a greater share of the popular vote, was only able to secure 21% of the seats, and saw the BJP once again form the ruling coalition.

While much of the past 40 years in Indian politics has been the story of the Indian National Congress party, the current rise of Hindu nationalism has given power temporarily to the BJP. With the rise of the BJP, India has evoked on a more stable, democratic governmental system, in sharp contrast to the one party dominance of the Congress years.

Continuity and Change in Political Parties, 1963-2000

Original Parties from 1950-1962, still continuing to 2000

081 Congress Party, later Congress Party (Indira). The Indian National Congress remains a major force in Indian politics, but it is no longer the unchallenged hegemon of the early post-independence years. In 1969, a faction known as the Indian National Congress (Organization) broke off from the main Congress Party. Another split occurred in 1979, when forces loyal to Indira Gandhi broke off to form Congress (Indira). Despite being a faction, this party took control and continued the Congress policies and agenda. Since Congress (I) was fundamentally the same as the original Congress party, there was no termination of the party. Since 1996, Congress (I) has been unable to control the Lok Sabha, becoming the main opposition to the BJP. The Congress (I) Party currently controls 21% of the seats in the Lok Sabha.

New Parties formed after 1962 and continuing to 2000

084 Communist Party of India-Moscow. The CPI was created after a split over a Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1964 created two Communist parties in India. The CPI came out on the side of the USSR during the split, while the Communist Party of India ñ Marxist took the Chinese and Maoist position. Since the split, the CPI has seen its strength steadily weaken in comparison to the CPM, although it still polls regularly at 1-3% of the seats in the Lok Sabha, usually thanks to support in Kerala or Tamil Nadu.

085 Communist Party of India-Marxist. The CPM split from the CPI in 1964 to side with the Chinese in a border dispute, but by 1968 had declared its independence from China. Successfully contesting every Lok Sabha election since the split, the CPM is particularly well supported in Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura. The CPM has grown to be stronger than the CPI, and now regularly obtains around 4-7% of the seats in the Lok Sabha.

088 All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. A splinter party from the DMK formed in 1972, the AIADMK has seen a small amount of success within Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. AIADMK advocates many of the same causes as the DMK, but also calls for total prohibition throughout India, a ceiling on incomes, nationalization of banks, and giving voters a chance to recall elected representatives.

0825 Kerala Congress. Based in the state of Kerala, the Kerala Congress broke away from the State Congress Party in 1964, and began taking part in the Kerala state government. It held 3 seats in the Lok Sabha from 1971-77, and continues to contest elections to this day. Currently, it possesses 1 seat in the Lok Sabha.

0829 Telugu Desam. Telugu Desam is a regional party based in Andhra Pradesh, which was founded in 1982. Telugu Desam declared on its formation it would support whichever party was in control of the national government at any time, but would pursue its own agenda within its state. Since its formation, Telugu Desam has become a rather major minority party within the Lok Sabha, gaining as much as 6% of the seats in the Lok Sabha.

0831 Assam Gana Parishad. The AGP is based in the state of Assam, where it was founded and gained power in 1985. The AGP held 7 seats from 1985 through 1989 in the Lok Sabha, and returned in 1996 with 5 seats in the Lok Sabha. It has not been represented in the Lok Sabha since then, but it is still too early to deem the party terminated.

0832 Janata Dal. Janata Dal was formed in 1988 as the result of a merger between Jan Morcha, Lok Dal, and the Janata Party. In the 1989 elections, it won 141 seats in the Lok Sabha. Parts of this coalition have since broken off into other parties, but Janata Dal still has considerable strength in the Lok Sabha, currently controlling 4% of the seats. Janata Dal advocates the eradication of poverty, the elimination of income disparities, and fight for employment for the lower castes.

0833 Bahujan Samaj Party. The BSP has a program very similar to that of the Republican Party of India, but as far as our data shows, they are two separate parties (they both held seats in the 1998-99 Lok Sabha). The BSP is designed to promote the rights of the "untouchables" (Harijans), and has been reasonably successful in elections, gaining 1-3% of the Lok Sabha seats every year from 1989-2000.

0835 Jharkhand Mukti Morcha formerly Jharkhand Party. This party, formed initially in the 1950s, reformed in 1980 and represents the rights of the tribal citizens of Bihar (Jharkhand is roughly synonymous with "jungle-people"). Due to the similarities in the two parties programs and their support, the name change was ruled a continuance of the same party, not a new party formation. JMM was able to win a small number of Lok Sabha seats in 1989 and 1991, but has seen its electoral strength shrink since then. It last elected a single seat to the Lok Sabha in 1996, so it is still too soon to determine if this party has terminated or not.

0836 Shiva Sena. Based in Maharashtra, Shiva Sena began as a right wing terrorist organization, attempting to defend the economic interests of the native Maharashtrians against immigrants from south India states. An extremist Hindu party, Shiva Sena eventually began to participate in electoral contests around 1989, and has held between 1% and 3% of the seats in the Lok Sabha since then.

0837 Tamil Manila Congress. A breakaway from the Indian National Congress, the TMC was formed around 1996 for elections to the 11th National Lok Sabha. A regional party based in Tamil Nadu, the TMC won 20 seats in the region in 1996, and 3 in 1998. It did not win any seats in the 1999 elections, but it is still too early to determine whether or not the party has terminated.

0838 Samajwadi Party. The Sawajwadi Party (also known as the Samajwadi Janata Party) was formed as a result of a merger of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Janata Party in April 1991. It has seen its electoral strength increase since its introduction, and currently controls 5% of the seats in the Lok Sabha.

0839 Rashtriya Janata Dal. The RJD broke away from the main Janata Dal before the 1996 elections, forming a regional party in Bihar. The RJD won 16 seats in 1996, 17 seats in 1998, and 7 seats after the 1999 elections.

0840 Samata Party. A regional party based in Bihar, the Samata Party won 5 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1996, its first contested election. In 1998, the party won 13 seats, but currently holds no representation in the Lok Sabha. It is unknown if this party has terminated.

0842 Haryana Vikas Party. The Haryana Vikas Party was founded in 1968 but never has achieved a great deal of electoral strength, even in the state of Haryana. The HVP gained 1 seat in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, and gained 3 seats in the 1996-97 Lok Sabha. The party gained a single seat for the subsequent term, and thus has not shown enough evidence of termination to be ruled terminated.

0843 Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya). Headed by Chandra Shekar (former head of the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (Secular), this offshoot of the Samajwadi Party was able to hold seats from 1996-99 in the Lok Sabha. It is unknown what has happened to this party since its founding, or the platform for the party.

0844 Biju Janata Dal. A breakaway from the original Janata Dal, this Orissa state party won 9 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1998, and currently holds 10 seats in the Lok Sabha. Little is known about this purely regional party. Its purely regional opposition to major national parties places it in a situation historically similar to the other Orissa Party, the Swatantra Party (or Ganatantra Parishad).

0845 West Bengal Trinamool Congress later the All-India Trinamool Congress. The WBTC is a regional party, based in West Bengal. It seems to be an offshoot of the national Congress Party, though this has not been explicitly proven. The WBTC won 7 seats in the 1998 elections, and 9 seats in the 1999 elections, which it contested under the new banner of the AITC.

0846 Pattali Makkal Katchi. The PMK is a state party based in Tamil Nadu. It is unknown what this party stands for or whom supports it. In 1998, it won 4 seats, and currently holds 5 seats in the Lok Sabha.

0847 Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya). The HLD(R) is a state party based in Haryana. In 1998 it won 4 seats in the Lok Sabha. No other information was obtained concerning this party.

0848 Lok Shakti. The Lok Shakti is a minor state party of Karnataka. In the 1998 general elections, Lok Shakti secured 3 seats in the Lok Sabha. It was impossible to determine whether or not the Lok Shakti still exist.

0849 Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The MDMK is a relatively new political party, first obtaining representation in 1998, with 6 seats in the Lok Sabha. Little is known about this party, but from its name and the electoral results, it can be extrapolated that this party broke off from the DMK, and similarly is based in Tamil Nadu.

0850 Nationalist Congress Party. This party first contested the 1999 elections, winning 8 seats in the Lok Sabha. Little is known of their platform or support, but 6 of their representatives were from Maharashtra.

0851 Indian National Lok Dal. This party first contested the 1999 elections, and won 5 seats in the Lok Sabha. All of its representatives are from Haryana.

Parties formed from 1950-62, not included originally, terminating by 2000

089 Ganatantra Parishad, or Swatantra Party. A regional party based in Orissa, the Ganatantra Parishad (it changed its name to Swatantra around 1967) formed as a reaction to Congress's entrance onto the local political scene right after independence. Unwilling to allow a somewhat foreign, national party to retain control of its government, Ganatantra was created, and was highly successful. From 1967-70, Swatantra held 8% of the seats in the Lok Sabha, before merging into the Janata Party shortly after 1974.

0811 Socialist Party. The Socialist Party (SP) was founded in 1949 by a set of radical dissidents within the Congress Party known as the "Nasik group." Advocating a socialist society within India via government ownership of the means of production, the SP eventually merged into the Janata Party in 1977.

0812 Praja Socialist Party. The PSP was established in 1952 as a result of a merger of smaller socialist parties, including the Krisan Maxdoor Praja Party. Enjoying a great deal of electoral success throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the PSP advocated land reform, free education, and an end to corruption in government. The party no longer gained electoral support after 1977, and thus effectively terminated.

0813 Hindu Mahasabha. A minority right-wing party dedicated to the establishment of a democratic Hindu state, the Hindu Mahasabha (also know as the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha) reached its pinnacle of strength in 1952, when it sent 4 members to the Lok Sabha. It diminished election by election after that, and no longer had representation by 1967. Due to the complete lack of any electoral strength for this party since 1967, we judged that the party had terminated.

0814 People's Democratic Front. Based what was then known as Hyderabad, this party won 4 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1952. Little else is known about this party, which has since terminated.

0815 Tamil Nadu Toiler's Party. The TTP was founded in 1950 in what was then Madras. The TTP was supported by lesser landlords and better-off peasants in the region, and advocated greater admission of minorities into all professions. As the DMK rose to power, it drew support from the TTP, and the TTP terminated after 1957.

0816 Ram Rajya Parishad. The Ram Rajya Parishad was a rightist political party located regionally in the state of Rajasthan. The party contested elections up until 1967, holding as many as 3 seats from 1952-57. Ram Rajya Parishad eventually became one of many parties to merge together to form Jan Sangh, the predecessor to the modern day BJP.

0818 Mahagujarat Janata Parishad. A short lived, regional party located in Bombay, the Mahagujarat Janata Parishad held 4 seats in the Lok Sabha from 1957-61 and 1 seat from 1962-66. 

Parties formed from 1950-62, not included originally, continuing to 2000

086 Bharatiya Janata Party, or Jan Sangh, or Bharatiya Jan Sangh. The BJP is currently the dominant member of the leading government coalition in the Indian Lok Sabha, containing 34% of the total seats. A national party, BJP (or Jan Sangh as it was then known) existed and contested elections from 1952 until 1977, when it shortly joined the coalition Janata Party. Dissatisfied with the progress of Janata, Jan Sangh separated from Janata, but was unsuccessful in contesting the 1980 elections, gaining no seats. Renamed the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980 after the elections, the BJP has capitalized on the theme of Hindu nationalism, which has created strains with neighboring Pakistan over nuclear weapons and Kashmir.

087 Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The DMK was founded as a regional party in Tamil Nadu in 1949, and first gained representation in the Lok Sabha in 1957. Steadily gaining support within Tamil Nadu, the DMK reached its apex in 1967 when it won 25 seats in the Lok Sabha and was the strongest party in the Tamil Nadu State Legislature. In 1972, the DMK lost some of its support to the splinter group AIDMK, but continues to gain around 3% of the seats in the Lok Sabha to this day. The DMK supports full autonomy for Tamil Nadu and the establishment of regional languages, with English as the official national language.

0817 Republican Party of India, also known as the Scheduled Castes Federation. The RPI has existed since at least 1952, and has gained some minimal representation in the Lok Sabha since its founding up until the present. Supported by the Harijans (untouchables) or Scheduled Castes, it lacks much popular support, and was most successful in 1998, winning 4 seats in the Lok Sabha.

0819 Peasants' and Workers' Party. A regional party based in Maharashtra, the PWP has contested elections since 1952. In 1957, the PWP gained 4 seats, and in 1977 it won 5 seats. Advocating the nationalization of all basic industries and the establishment of a People's Democracy, the PWP continues to exist today, winning a single seat in the most recent Indian elections.

0822 Muslim League. The Muslim League originally existed as the voice of the Muslim people before the partition of India. With the establishment of the Muslim state of Pakistan, the Muslim League lost most of its support within India, with the exception of Kerala, and has only been able to obtain a small number of seats in various elections (3 seats from 1967-70 and again from 1980-84). It has continued to contest elections up through the present, but seems to have changed its name to the Muslim League Kerala State Committee around 1998.

0826 Revolutionary Socialist Party. The RSP has participated in all elections since 1952, succeeding in winning a small number of seats each year since 1952. The RSP advocates the establishment of socialist rule and the rights of the working class to power and fair treatment. Most of its support comes from the West Bengal and Kerala states

0828 Forward Bloc. A socialist party that is supported in West Bengal, the Forward Bloc held three seats in the Lok Sabha after the 1957, 1977, 1989, and 1991 elections. It held 2 seats after the most recent election, leaving it short of 1% representation in the parliament, but demonstrating that the party continues to exist.

0830 Shiromani Akali Dal. The SAD is a religious Sikh party formed in Punjab in the 1920s. The primary goal of the SAD is to advocate Punjabi statehood (which has been granted) and greater autonomy for Punjab, sometimes with violent methods. The Sikhs have experienced their share of persecution, with thousands of Sikhs being killed in violence following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two Sikh bodyguards in November 1984.

0834 Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. The JKNC is a socialist party opposed to Hindu communalism that operates in the states of Jammu and Kashmir. The party came close to termination in 1967 and 1972, but was then revitalized by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1975. In the most recent elections, the JKNC won 4 seats in the Lok Sabha.

New Parties formed after 1962 but terminating before 2000

083 Janata Party. Formed in 1977 as a coalition party to oppose the Congress Party, Janata enjoyed widespread support following Indira Gandhi's de facto two year dictatorship. The party won 55% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. However, from that point on, its support waned, as the variety of intra-party tensions ripped apart the weak coalition. The party effectively terminated in 1988 when a number of the groups within its coalition left to form the Janata Dal, but somehow the party managed to win a few seats in 1992. Due to the loss of most of its support, the Janata Party has terminated.

0820 Samyukta Socialist Party. The SSP was founded in 1964, as the result of a merger of factions from the Praja Socialist Party and the Socialist Party. Some of the programs the SSP advocated included the abolition of all rents on land, irrigation improvements to aid poorer farmers, the replacement of English with Indian languages in schools, and higher local education standards for schools. The SSP disintegrated after 1977.

0821 Bangla Congress. A regional breakaway from the Congress Party, the Bangla Congress, based in West Bengal, contested only one election seperately. In 1967, Bangla Congress was able to gained 4 seats in the Lok Sabha, all from West Bengal. This party rejoined the Congress in 1971, and thus terminated.

0823 Congress Party (Organizational). Congress (O), also known as Congress (Opposition), was formed around 1969, by members of the Congress Party dissatisfied with the rule of Indira Gandhi. In 1971, Congress (O) won 15 seats in the Lok Sabha, but saw its support slip after that. It changed its name around 1985 to Congress (Secular), and won 5 seats in 1985. It last won a single seat in the 1989 election, and due to lack of evidence proving otherwise, was ruled to have terminated shortly after.

0824 Telengana Praja Samiti. The Telengana Praja Samiti (or Telengana People's Conference) was established in the state of Andhra Pradesh in 1971, and successfully contested the elections that year, winning 2% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. The TPS was a protest party, angry at the neglect of the Telengana region by Andhra, and demanding separate statehood for Telengana. Eventually, the TPS merged with the Congress Party.

0827 Janata Party (Secular). Formed by Raj Narain, the Janata (S) was created by former members of the Janata Party who objected to the Janata's dominance by the Hindu nationalist Jan Sangh in 1979. In 1980, it ran and gained 41 seats in the Lok Sabha, all but signaling the end of the Janata Party (which eventually merged with other parties to form Janata Dal). However, Janata (S) was short lived; it received no more seats as a party, and was declared terminated. It is hypothesized that the remaining members of Janata (S) became members of Janata Dal and/or the Samajwadi Party.

0841 All-India Indira Congress (Tiwari). Named after its leader, Shri Narayan Datt Tiwari, the AIIC(T) only has contested one election, in 1996, winning 4 seats in the Lok Sabha. It is hypothesized that this party rejoined the larger Congress Party subsequently to these elections.



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*Participant in Northwestern University's Summer Camp for Political Party Research, June-August, 2000