Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> India
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 300-301
INDIA: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

British control of the Indian subcontinent ended in August 1947 with the territory divided into two independent states based primarily on religious majorities. The western and eastern portions, with predominantly Muslim populations, formed Pakistan, while the great center, populated mainly by Hindus, was designated India. Even after partition, India had a heterogeneous population of some 400 million, speaking over a dozen major languages and many varieties. Most of these diverse peoples were united in their struggle for independence within the All India National Congress, led by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Congress Party, the successor to the National Congress, became the dominant political force in independent India. Congress held about 70 percent of the seats in the Constituent Assembly at the time of independence. Following the elections of 1951 1952 for the first parliament, under the Constitution of 1950, Congress won an even larger majority in the House of the People (Lok Sabha). A dozen or more parties shared the rest of the seats, with the Communist Party's 5 percent being the largest segment, although a coalition of other parties formed the opposition.

Another election in 1957 marks the beginning of the second half of our period. The Congress Party continued its domination of Indian politics. Although the number of minor parties was somewhat reduced, the largest single share of the remaining seats went once more to the Communist Party, which again led with only 5 percent. Virtually the same situation obtained following the elections of 1962, which closes our study of Indian politics. Thus throughout our period, the Congress Party kept firm control of the national government with substantial majorities in Parliament, despite the fact that the party never obtained a majority of the popular vote. The minor parties kept alive by demonstrating substantial support in elections and by victor in the state assemblies, and they mounted a serious challenge to the Congress Party after our combining to win about 45 percent of Lok Sabha at the 1967 elections.

Continuity and Change since 1962

In comparison with other countries, India featured more than the average amount of party stability from 1950 through 1978, but the system was considerably less stable after 1962 than before. Only one of our two original parties lasted to 1978, and one new party qualified for study.

Original Parties, Terminated

082 Communist Party. Long divided into "right" and "left" factions, the party split formally in 1964, with the leftist faction emerging as the Communist Party-Marxist. Informally, the new divisions were called "Moscow" Communist Party (CPI) and Peking" Communist Party (CPI-M). Although the CPI inherited the label as the "regular" Communist Party, we regard the pre-1964 party as terminating with the split, for it divided into successors of roughly equal size. While most observers judged the CPI-M as the stronger, the Marxists themselves suffered a split in 1969, when some of the more extreme revolutionary pro-Chinese members formed India's third communist party, CPI-Marxist-Leninist, an offshoot eschewing electoral politics for more forceful political action. Contesting separately in elections, the CPI and CPI-M divided the communist vote between them, winning on the average just less than 5 percent of the Lok Sabha seats in the 1967, 1971, and 1977 elections and thus failing to qualify as major parties under the terms of our study.

Original Parties, Continuing

081 Congress Party. The Congress Party suffered a major split in 1969 with the creation of the Opposition Congress Party, but we do not regard this as terminating the Congress Party. In 1969, opposition developed within the party both to the socialist program being pushed by Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and to her leadership style. An Opposition Congress Party was formed with its own president, national committee, and parliamentary party. Although less than one quarter of the Congress MPs rallied to the Opposition Congress, the Gandhi group was reduced to 39 percent of the seats in the Lok Sabha in 1970. Kept in power with support from other parties, including the CPI, Indira Gandhi's party (regarded as a continuation of the Congress Party but now known as Congress-Ruling) lost seats only temporarily. Her Congress (R) actually gained votes and seats its in the 1971 elections. In firmer control of Parliament than before, Mrs. Gandhi pushed ahead rams, even declaring a national emergency in 1975 to control opposition. Her authoritarian rule served to coalesce her political critics into a united opposition, and the result was a stunning defeat for her personality and her party. Left with less than 30 percent of the parliamentary seats, her Congress-Ruling divided over Mrs. Gandhi's leadership once again. A minority of members followed her out of the party in 1978 to form the Indian National Congress (I)--for Indira.

New Parties, Continuing

087 Janata (People's) Party. Mrs. Gandhi's surprise call for elections in 1977 gave rise to the Janata (People's) Front, a coalition of her political opponents. The Janata Front parties, which won 50 percent of the Lok Sabha seats, joined with the newly formed Congress for Democracy (5 percent of the seats) to form the Janata Party, which controlled Parliament and toppled the Congress Party from leadership of the national government for the first time since independence.


The Indian party landscape in 1979 was significantly different from that at the close of our original time period, but prominent features remained the same. The National Congress Party had split not once but twice and was unexpectedly ousted from power by a coalition of parties conglomerated into the Janata Party, whose unifying theme was opposition to Indira Gandhi. Nevertheless, the Congress Party, with nearly 25 percent of the seats, remained the only other party with more than 5 percent and continued as a potent force in Indian politics. Despite fragmentation, the communists in the form of the Communist Party-Marxist persisted at the national level as a small but politically significant force, occupying a position not too dissimilar from that in 1950-1962. The entirely new feature in the landscape is the People's Party. It is problematic how long this coalition of former rivals can maintain the solidarity in government that they found in opposition and whether the coalition can develop into an institutionalized political party that can survive over time like the Indian National Congress.

[For party politics in India since 1962, go to the essay by Chad E. Bell]

1. Our study of party politics in India is based on a file of 4,582 pages from 112 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). Much of the literature in the file discussed other parties excluded from the study for not meeting our strength criterion, including the Swatantra, Praja Socialist, and Jan Sangh. The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done primarily by Daniel A. Floras, who was assisted in the development of the file by David Keebler, Jeffrey Millstone, Jean Jacobsohn, and Jarol Manheim. Madeline Smith used the file to code the Congress Party on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Frances Honecker and Kenneth Janda coded the Communist Party. Richard Park was our consultant, and Ronald Herring helped to update our account through 1978.
2. Indeed, the Janata coalition deteriorated in the summer of 1979, and in January 1980 Indira Gandhi's Congress-I Party won a stunning victory, capturing about 70 percent of the parliamentary seats and returning Mrs. Gandhi to power as prime minister.