indiaFROM HEGEMONY TO CONVERGENCE: PARTY SYSTEM AND ELECTORAL POLITICS IN THE INDIAN STATES, 1952- 2002 Suhas Palshikar and Yogendra Yadav The challenge of theorizing the party system in India at the state level has never been felt as acutely as it has been in the last decade or so. One reason for this is too obvious to miss. The ’nineties have witnessed a sea change in the political arena in India. It may be a long time before professional students of Indian politics arrive at a shared ‘commonsense’ about what these changes signify. However, it is unlikely that anyone would doubt the extent and the depth of the impact of these changes. Even to a casual observer the map of Indian politics today appears strikingly different from what it was in the late ‘eighties. Professional students of politics have begun to see this change from the late ‘eighties to the ‘nineties as signifying ‘reconfiguration’ of Indian politics: it is not just that the game has started yielding different and surprising results ; in some ways the rules of the game have changed (Yadav: 1996). It is obvious that there is a need to understand better the changing nature of the party system in order to figure out these changing rules of the game.
More than the extent and depth of these changes, the nature of these changes constitutes a more compelling reason for a relook at the party system. For these changes, big or small, do not fit into the dominant narratives of Indian politics. Hence the knee-jerk response to some of these changes. Typically, what catches the eyes is the changing fortunes of individual political parties: the sudden decline of the Congress, the BJP’s dramatic rise to power, the BSP’s take off and so on. The underlying change in the structure of political
competition itself is less noticed and inadequately analysed. Similarly it is easy to note an increase in electoral volatility but its causes are not well understood. There is a lot of talk of politics being increasingly shaped on the basis of social cleavages like caste and community, but the change from the past is insufficiently mapped.
The ‘nineties have unleashed several independent yet simultaneous trajectories. The intensity of electoral competition has increased with the rise in electoral volatility. This has been accompanied by something of a participatory upsurge. The level of politics has shifted from the ‘all-India’ to the states. The ‘national’ electoral verdict appears no more than an aggregation of state level verdicts. All these changes have been accompanied by a change in the idiom of politics. All this adds up to quite a messy picture. Messy, not only because many of these dimensions are intertwined, but also because we do not understand many of these very well and lack a frame to see their inter-connections. No wonder, we are unclear about the durability of these changes. Are these changes here to stay? Or, are these only precursors to something else? A somewhat jumbled picture arising out of empirical complexity, future uncertainty and under-theorisation marks any attempt to map Indian politics of the nineties.
The present essay seeks to address this messy picture. We treat this apparent mess as an intellectual puzzle. We aim at defining this puzzle and situating it in a historical and comparative perspective. Historical, in that we need to trace the trajectory through which India’s party system evolved since democratic political competition was instituted after independence. And, comparative, in that we compare different patterns of political
competition obtaining in the different states of India. Both these exercises, especially the latter, are badly in need of academic attention in India. There is little in the existing scholarly literature that compares to, say, to the exercise undertaken by Lipset and Rokkan (1967) in their celebrated essay in which they situate the party competition in Europe in the comparative historical sociology of...
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