Views & Reviews
The Rising Influence of State-Regional Political Parties in Indian Electoral Processes
With the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in for its second term, it looks like the writing is on the wall for Indian National Congress (INC) and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for the coming years. An immense performance put up by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which managed to secure 303 seats in the Lok Sabha, seems to be gaining momentum as members of various political parties, such as INC, Telegu Desam Party (TDP), All India Trinamool Congress, and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), are jumping ships seeking greener pastures by joining the BJP. These are further augmented by the brewing crisis within the Indian National Congress, as they are battling to fight off party defections, dip in their vote share, coupled with the leadership crisis in Rajasthan. From all these happenings, it seems the overriding position of the BJP in the Indian political arena seems all but certain for the coming years. Yet, a cursory glance of previous Lok Sabha election results gives the impression that something else of much greater magnitude and subtly is fermenting, something which will probably redefine the nature of Indian electoral processes in the future: the rise of state/regional political parties.
At the present juncture, the influence of most of these state-regional political parties, with some exceptions, do not project beyond their respective states. They are at the nascent stages of development in terms of political capacity to determine the configuration of government at the highest level. Nevertheless, examining the previous three Lok Sabha election results (i.e. 2009, 2014, and 2019), we see a trend about the impending rise of state/regional political parties in the Indian political landscape. In the 2009 general election, these state/regional political parties constituted 146 seats; and in 2014 elections, this number increased to 176. In this year’s election, however, the number decreased to 167. The decrease in this election cycle is only 9 seats when compared to the previous election cycle. Statistically speaking, the total numbers of seat won by state parties, on average, seem to be somewhere around 163. The significance of the numbers of seats won by the state/regional parties indicates the intensifying importance of such parties in representing local interests at the hub of lawmaking branch of the country. Furthermore, their role in the formation of coalition government, at the centre, in the future will continue gain in importance. India being a diverse country, culturally and linguistically, with a population of around 1.3 billion, it is highly infeasible that views and interests of such diverse populations can be prudently represented by the two major political parties (i.e. BJP and INC).
This is evident especially when we look at the Southern and Northeastern regions of the country. Culturally and linguistically speaking, these regions are highly diverse. That is why, with the exception of Kerala, it is in these parts of the country that we see a substantial sway and rise of state-regional parties, such as Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), National People’s Party (NPP), Naga People’s Front (NPF), Mizo National Front (MNF), Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSR Congress), Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), Telegu Desam Party (TDP), etc. And the probabilities that these state-regional parties will continue in this present trajectory and further gain momentum within their own states and regions are quite high. This trajectory becomes apparent when we examine the 2014 Lokniti-CSDS National Election Studies.
As per the 2014 post-poll Lokniti-CSDS survey, the social and political attitudes of Indian citizens during election years suggest that people, in general, are primarily concerned, among other things, with unemployment, lack of development, corruptions, price rise, LPG hike, and government scams. Thus, when the post-poll survey asks “which party in this election has raised issues and problems you consider most important?” Only 12.8% indicated INC and 22.6% indicated BJP. This noticeable shortfall of any major national political parties to receive even plurality (40-45%) of response from the respondents implicitly display voters lack of trust with major national political parties to address issues of primary importance. And if respondents suppose that the national political parties, relatively remaining impersonal to the immediate concerns of average citizens somewhere in the backwaters of this huge country, cannot address primary voters’ concerns, then they will be more inclined to favor and support state-regional parties. As the same post-poll survey shows that 68.3% responded “No” when asked “Is there any political party you particularly feel close to”; while only 31.7% responded “Yes.” Out of 31.7 % who responded “yes,” only 6% indicated they feel close to INC and 8% for BJP. The response to the same question, from the 2009 Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey, indicates that 62.9% responded “No” and 27.7% responded “Yes.” From the 27.7% who responded “Yes,” 32.4% marked INC and 20.9% marked BJP. The survey data suggests that a majority of the voters are losing their confidence in political parties, in general. As we can see from the above-mentioned data, the percentage of “No” increased from 62.9% in 2009 to 68.3% in 2014; while even those for “Yes” decreased from 32.4% in 2009 to 6% 2014 for INC, and 20.9% in 2009 to 8% 2014 for BJP. Adding these figures to 12.8% indicated for INC and 22.6% indicated for BJP to a question asking which party raised issues and problems you consider most important, we can hypothesize that the data from 2019 Lokniti-CSDS National Election Survey post-poll will yield similar results, when it is released or uploaded in Lokniti-CSDS web portal (since the post-poll data have not yet been released nor uploaded at the time of this writing).
The survey findings indicate that voters are not only losing their confidence with the political parties, in general, but they also see major national political parties being unable to raise and address issues which they consider important, such as unemployment, lack of development, corruptions, price rise, LPG hike, and so on. Given such a scenario, voters generally tend to follow those who they, correctly or erroneously, consider can properly address issues of prime concerns. Furthermore, because political support requires mobilization at the grassroots along with some sense of subjective familiarity at the local level between the party, its workers, and voters, state-regional parties tend to become attractive especially when major national political parties are not only seen to be unable to address issues deemed to be of importance (12.8% for INC and 22.6% for BJP), but also lack political affinities (6% for INC and 8% for BJP) with the general public at large. Hence, from the data, we can conjecture the emerging role of state-regional political parties in Indian electoral processes in the coming days. Of course, this is not to say that their rise will be smooth and guaranteed; rather their trajectory, from data, seems to indicate a high probability of their rising influence in Indian electoral politics, indeed some already are, for example, DMK, AIADMK, TRS, and YSR Congress.
Lastly, we can postulate, as a corollary to the rise of state-regional political parties, a decline in national political parties’ influence and their ability to dominate the Indian electoral processes. This is quite evident if we look at INC, from winning 206 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 to 44 seats in 2014, with another poor showing of 52 seats in this year’s general election, the INC is in predicament. They find themselves in an unfamiliar situation (for example, defections, loss of vote share, looming party factionalism, and making sure that they are not outwitted by the Saffron party) that puts a big question mark on their ability to direct electoral politics in the future. While Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) winning only 5 seats this Lok Sabha election is now struggling for its survival. On the other hand, BJP fresh from its recent electoral victory seems to be going from strength to strength, with members from different political parties joining the saffron party. Yet, who is to guarantee that BJP can avoid the fate of INC. In examining the Lokniti-CSDS National Election Survey post-poll data as well as the previous general elections statistical data from Election Commission of India (ECI), it is not too far-fetched to hypothesize the diminishing influence of national political parties in Indian electoral processes. India is indeed too diverse to be reduced to a few political parties to represent the multifarious interests of an equally multifarious population.
St. Joseph University