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Patterns of Political Alliance

Pralay Kanungo

Edited by Ajay K. Mehra , D.D. Khanna, Gert W. Kueck
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2003, pp. 420, Rs. 850.00


A highly heterogeneous Indian polity today confronts numerous political parties at the national, regional, and local levels which compete not through a single but multiple systems of interactions. And this edited volume explores this complex subject with insight and clarity. Leading political analysts like Myron Weiner, Rajni Kothatri, James Manor and others broadly agree that the decline of the dominant ‘Congress System,’ which  encouraged the tendency towards centralization and homogenization, ultimately paved the way for the ‘fragmentation’ and ‘federalization’ of national politics and resulted in the emergence of a complex pattern of ‘party systems’ in India. Expanding on this argument further, this volume seeks to analyse the developments of Indian party systems from multiple vantage points: the strategies, interaction pattern and processes of political parties, the texture and pattern of political alliances—from the national, regional and local perspectives.   Pran Chopra does not find the proliferation of political parties alarming in the context of India’s size and diversity. On the contrary, he observes, it is creditworthy that India really has only about half-a-dozen ‘national’ parties of consequence. The rest are either regional parties, of great relevance to their respective regions, of which many are as large as most countries are, or are inconsequential fragments. Balveer Arora makes a perceptive analysis of the federalization of India’s party system while scrutinizing the linkages between political parties and institutions. Arora, through useful statistics and tables, demonstrates how the party system at the national level has moved away from a ‘dominance’ pattern to a competitive multi-party ‘bi-nodal’ system. Partha Ghosh analyses the tussle between the Congress and the BJP to control ‘the heartland’ of India which not only comprises the nine Hindi-speaking states, but is also identified as the Cow Belt, thereby being a potential site for Hindutva politics. The BJP, over the years, slowly and systematically carved a space for itself in this region, both ideologically as well as organizationally, primarily at the expense of the Congress. Wherever it failed earlier to penetrate due to its narrow social base, it is now trying to compensate by strategically wooing Muslims, Dalits and the OBCs with the help of its NDA partners. As Ghosh argues, the ‘NDA system’ has been emerging as an alternative to the ‘Congress system’ and the Indian polity has become essentially bi-polar. This understanding, however, ignores the real dynamics of coalition politics which at times compels the larger parties ...

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