Democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people. A democratic government is considered a people’s government run by the people themselves. In practice in most of the countries the democratic governments are run by the representatives elected by the people. People elect their representatives through the process of elections.
In elections candidates generally are nominated by organisations known as political parties. Some of the candidates contest elections as independents also.
In the present day democratic countries, political parties are considered as essential components for the formation and working of the government. Political parties help the institutions and processes of a government democratic. They enable people to participate in elections and other processes of governance, educate them and facilitate them to make policy choices.
A political party is generally described as an organised body of people who share common principles and cherish certain common goals regarding the political system. A political party operates and seeks political power through constitutional means to translate its policies into practice. It is a body of like-minded people having similar views on matters of public concern.
Political parties are essential for the proper functioning of representative democracy. They perform vital functions in every political system.
In India, political parties have been performing the functions quite effectively since independence. They have made representative governments in India both possible and successful. They provide effective links between the citizens and the governments on the one hand, and the electorates and their representatives on the other. They try to cater to people’s demands on public matters, and mobilise political participation.
Elections without parties would have almost been impossible. Democracy needs strong and sustainable political parties with the capacity to represent citizens and provide policy choices that demonstrate their ability to govern for the public good.
In the earlier years of independence the Indian National Congress dominated the party system. But the same has not continued and there had been periods of non-Congress governments both at the Centre and in the States. In general, the party system in India has not been a fixed one like a single party system or a dominant one-party system or a two-party system or a multiparty system.
For many years now, the party system has not been a single-party dominant system as it used to be the case till 1967. It is not now a one-party dominant system. The Indian party system is not a bi-party system, that existed for a short period between 1977 and 1980. It is more a less a multiparty system because the national political parties depend largely on the support of regional political parties to stay in power at the Centre as well as in some States. Various political parties join hands to form coalition governments as single parties are finding difficult to get majorities by themselves.
Dominant Features of India’s Party System
Political parties in India are classified by the Election Commission for the allocation of symbols. The Commission classifies parties into three main heads: National Parties, State Parties, and Registered (unrecognised) Parties.
The Election Commission grants political parties the status of national parties on three grounds:
The National Political Parties have areas of influence extending over the entire country. The recognised national political parties in India are: the Indian National Congress (INC), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India, Marxists (CPI-M), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
The Regional Political Parties, as recognised by the Election Commission, are those political parties which receive a certain amount of votes or seats in a State. The Election Commission grants election symbols to the political parties and the candidates who contest elections. The number of regional political parties in the country is fairly large. Some of the leading regional political parties in India include Trinamool Congress (West Bengal), Assam Gana Parishad (Assam), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Tamil Nadu) Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry), National Conference (Jammu and Kashmir), Samajwadi Party (Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand), Shiromani Akali Dal (Punjab), Shiv Sena (Maharashtra), Telugu Desam (Andhra Pradesh).