Congress Decline and Party Pluralism in India

By Candland, Christopher | Journal of International Affairs, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Congress Decline and Party Pluralism in India


Candland, Christopher, Journal of International Affairs


The Indian National Congress party was founded in 1885 to petition the British government in India for administrative and political reform. Under British rule, the Congress gained experience in contesting elections and in governing at provincial and municipal levels. In the 1920s, Mohandas Gandhi reorganized the party, which helped it to evolve into one of the world's largest membership-based, mass organizations. Principled and well-organized resistance to British rule confirmed the Congress as the party of Indian national independence. As the Second World War weakened Britain's colonial grip, the Congress was invited to take charge of the central government, almost a year before independence in August 1947.(2) The Congress has been the party in government at the national level, or the center, for all but six years since India's independence, 50 years ago.(3)

Today, however, the Congress is out of power and, for the first time since independence, it is not the party with the greatest number of seats in the Lok Sabha (People's Council), the popularly elected house of Parliament.(4) The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) occupies the largest block of seats. Twenty-eight parties are represented in Parliament, the largest number in independent India's history. A coalition of 13 regional and left parties, the United Front, presently governs at the center.(5)

The Indian National Congress has been the most important institution in India's modern political development. The Congress, a favorite example of a dominant party in a competitive party system, was thought to be the backbone of the developing world's best institutionalized democracy.(6) Today, the Congress is seemingly in advanced stages of decline. Each of the non-Congress parties, including those presently in government at the center and in most states, represent more focused interests than the Congress can seemingly retain. Moreover, many suggest that the Indian political system is being destabilized by rising social unrest and institutional decay.(7) That sentiment is buttressed by the increased electoral support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in past parliamentary elections and in a number of significant state assembly elections.(8) Some have cautioned that the new social forces and popular demands that have lead to religious revivalist and to caste-oriented parties cannot be accommodated in a parliamentary democracy.

The leadership, constituencies, issues and electoral strategies of political parties have undergone significant change in the 50 years since independence in India. Do these changes, most notably the decline of the Congress, signal the arrival of more pluralist politics in India? To advance upon this question, this essay comments on the evolution of the Congress within the Indian political party system.(9) A brief assessment of the reasons for and the depth of the Congress's decline suggests that the Indian party system is neither in the midst of systemic crisis of governance nor endangered by religious revivalism. Emergent forms of electoral appeals and political contest may not quite conform to the theoretical postulates of pluralism, but as the Indian electorate has broadened, the Indian Parliament and India's more than two dozen state assemblies are becoming more representative of Indian society as a whole, including its caste, class, religious and other social cleavages.

Congress Dominance

The Congress ruled continuously at the center and in most Indian states, from the first general election in 1952 until the 6th general election in March 1977. The party has retained power at the center more often than not since. However, the Congress has been dominant not by virtue of its command of an undemocratic electoral system but rather by virtue of its depth of leadership and its organizational capacity. Although the Congress had been the dominant party, it has not attempted to make itself into an organization with an exclusive claim to governance, as have Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and Indonesia's GOLKAR. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Congress Decline and Party Pluralism in India
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.