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.

Why Do We Need Political Parties

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.

Meaning of Political Party

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.

Characteristics

  • A political party is an organised group of people.
  • The organised group of people believe in common principles and common goals.
  • Its objectives revolve around seeking political power through collective efforts.
  • It employs constitutional and peaceful methods in seeking control over the government through elections.
  • While in power, it translates its declared objectives into governmental policies.

Functions and Role of Political Parties

Political parties are essential for the proper functioning of representative democracy. They perform vital functions in every political system.

  • They nominate candidates during elections.
  • They campaign to obtain support for their candidates in the elections.
  • They place objectives and programmes before the voters through their manifestos.
  • Those securing the majority in elections form the government and enact and implement the policies.
  • Those not in power form opposition and keep a constant check on the government.
  • They form opposition when they are in minority in the legislature and constantly put pressure on the government for proper governance.
  • They educate people and help in formulating and shaping public opinion.
  • They articulate peoples’ demands and convey them to the government.
  • They provide a linkage between people and governmental institutions.

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.

Party Systems in India

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

  • India has a multi-party system with a large number of political parties competing to attain power at the Centre as well as in the States.
  • The contemporary party system in India has witnessed the emergence of a bi-nodal party system existing at both national and state levels. The bi-nodal tendencies operating at two poles are led by the Congress and the BJP both at the center and in the states.
  • Political parties are not hegemonic but competitive, though many a time a particular party aligns with one national political party and then shifting to another on the eve of general elections.
  • The regional political parties have come to play a vital role in the formation of governments at the Centre. At the Centre, these regional parties support one national political party or the other and seek substantive favours, ministerial berths at the Centre and other financial package for their respective States.
  • Election is now fought not among parties but coalition of parties. Nature of competition, alliance and players is varied from state to state.
  • Coalition politics has been a new feature of party system. There comes a situation where there is no single party government, except in some of the States. There are neither permanent ruling parties nor permanent opposition parties.
  • As a result of coalition politics, ideologies of the political parties have taken a back seat. Administration is run through Common Minimum Programme, which reflects that pragmatism has become the ‘ruling mantra’.
  • Parties are keen on focusing on the single emotive issue to garner votes. The emotive issues in some of the earlier elections were: Garibi Hatao of the 1970s, ‘Indira is India’ of the 1980s, ‘Taking into the 21st Century’ under Rajiv in mid-1980s, BJP’ India Shining of 1999, Congress’ ‘Feel Good’ in 2004 and ‘Aam Aadmi’ in 2009.
  • Parties now look for short term electoral gains rather than build lasting social coalitions.

Types of Political Parties

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:

  1. It should be a recognised political party in four or more states.
  2. It should have won at least 4 percent of the seats in the last Lok Sabha elections or 3.33 per cent of the seats in the assembly elections from the state.
  3. All the candidates put by the party should have polled at least 6 percent of the total valid votes in the elections.

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).