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Subtleties Of Indian Elections

Ajay K. Mehra

Edited by Suhas Palshikar , K.C. Suri and Yogendra Yadav 
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 592, Rs. 1445.00

By Rajdeep Sardesai
Viking/Penguin, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 352, Rs. 355.00


The two books under discussion here analyse the fifteenth (2009) and sixteenth (2014) general elections in India, and provide an insight that beyond the shifts in voting preferences, how preferences of the Indian citizens as well as the policy allurements given by parties and leaders transform both the power structure and institutions as well as political processes in the country. Indian politics since the last decade of the twentieth century have been rapidly transcending from being an extension of the post-Independence Nehruvian polity and one-party-dominant political system that became synonymous with the epochal Indian National Congress to one that has been integrating with a rapidly globalizing world as well as with a growing urban middle class with a different worldview of society and polity. Yet, a large population of rural and urban poor would anticipate policy framework that would take care of them. Obviously, these and the decline of the Congress from its predominant position make the political arena more competitive, which the books under review unravel. The decline of the Indian National Congress since the eighth general election (1989), its return to power in 1991 for a full five year term and forming coalition government twice in 2004 and 2009 notwithstanding, has signalled discourse and analyses of the emerging post-Congress polity. Its loss in 1996 in the tenth general election made it clear that the return of India’s grand old party to power on its own was only a remote possibility, if at all. The Congress realized it and returned to power heading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004 and retained power in 2009. Party politics since 1996 underlined the significance of States and regions in Indian politics. The United Democratic Front (1996), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) (1998, 1999) and the UPA (2004, 2009) were made possible by the weight or weaknesses of State parties. Of course, 2014 was no less a surprise as the Congress was unable to reach even 50 seats to claim the leader of opposition status in the Lok Sabha. The title of the volume edited by Palshikar et al suggests that the locus of party competition in India has shifted to the States, which implies that State based issues and social calculus matter more than national issues, hence State/regional parties compete with national parties in many of the States. The larger implication of this trend is that national electoral results have increasingly begun to reflect a sum of State results. However this trend, which this collection of 25 ...

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