Sunday, June 23, 2024

Change in status: The Hindu Editorial on the national party tag and impact on some political parties  

In most electoral democracies, where the first-past-the-post system prevails, competition results mostly in a duopoly, but India has been an outlier. This is largely because its vast federal set-up and diversity have led to the flowering of several regional parties that have become salient in their respective States. For the Aam Aadmi Party to be recognised as a national party by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in this milieu — there are six such now — is a creditable achievement for a force that emerged out of a popular civil society movement during the United Progressive Alliance’s tenure. From notching up repeat victories in Delhi and capturing Punjab, to registering respectable vote shares in Gujarat and Goa, the party has grown into an electoral alternative in some States where the Congress is weak. This has allowed it to cross the threshold set by the ECI for “national party” recognition. That said, the AAP’s distinguishing factor as a political force remains its record in Delhi where its municipal work has won it some accolades as a party focused on governance. Yet, the lack of a coherent ideology — it could tack to the right of the Bharatiya Janata Party at opportune moments or to the left of the Congress at times, while its positions on national and international issues remain inchoate at best, and its commitment to secularism remains tokenist in practice — is a limitation which could hurt it in the long run.

Three other parties have lost their “national party” tag — the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Trinamool Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The CPI has been in decline for decades, and even its limited electoral successes in States such as Kerala are a consequence of its alliance with a larger Left ally in the CPI(Marxist). The conditions that necessitated the Left split in the early 1960s are no longer relevant in a much changed world and both Left parties will be better off with a merger, at least for reasons related to ideological cohesion. The Trinamool and NCP are limited to West Bengal and Maharashtra, even though they recently won a small number of seats in Meghalaya and Nagaland, respectively. Both parties originated in the 1990s due to the differences their leaders had with the Congress’s high command, but they have evolved differently since then. Unlike the NCP, the Trinamool has retained a relatively hostile posture towards the Congress. Its foray into Tripura was rendered fruitless as the Congress managed to make a relative comeback as an oppositional force while the NCP’s differences with the Congress are no longer as salient as they were in the 1990s to help it grow at the latter’s expense.

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