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OPDS TO MPS

OPDS (One Party Dominance System) is a system


where multiple political parties exist and contest
elections, but only one party forms the government and
thus dominates the political and party system.
The OPDS existed in India in the years following
independence. At that time (First General Election 1951-
52) Indian National Congress won the elections even
though other political parties contested the elections.

The turning point in India's party system came in the


1977 General election, when for the first time, a non-
Congress government assumed power at the Center.
The Emergency resulted in electoral loss for the
Congress party and for the first time in its electoral
history, the Indian National Congress was forced to
contest as part of a coalition. The Janata Party's win
had ended the thirty year OPDS by the Congress.

The history of OPDS in India is effectively the history of


Indian National Congress's gains and losses in
successive elections. It also traces the evolution of the
Indian Party system from OPDS to a Multiparty System
(MPS).

OPDS in India effectively existed only from 1947 till


1977.
Emergence of a Multi-Party System

The electoral developments of 1977 raised the hope that perhaps


parliamentary democracy in India had matured and taken the next step to
a point were there would not be one-party dominance anymore. Indeed it
was felt that India was close to achieving a two-party system like in the
advanced matured democracies of Britain and North America. The events
that unfolded proved these hopes to have been premature. The Janata
experiment as many people now call it was a reaction to the semi-
dictatorship situation that Indira Gandhi had inflicted on the people of
India. Also many smaller parties had come together for the sake of their
survival and to merely end the Congress dominance rather than any
ideological consensus. Naturally therefore once in power these fault lines
opened up and there was a series of debilitating bitter squabbles and
faction fights. There were many interest groups that were part of the
coalition and all of them wanted protection and prominence for their
interests. Further there were many leaders with personal individual
ambitions and they naturally clashed with each other. Also the factions
that dominated the Janata Party in the national parliament were
antagonistic to those which had an upper hand in several key Janata
controlled state legislatures. One of the most divisive issues that
contributed to the fall of the government in 1979 ultimately was the issue
of dual membership of the members of the Jan Sangh, the earlier
political form of the present day BJP, with the Rashtriya Swyamsevak
Sangh (RSS) and affiliated organisations. The RSS was regarded my most
as a communal organisation for their militant mobilisation against on
Hindu minorities and their suspected role in communal riots. The Jan
Sangh members had refused to shed their dual membership resisting all
pressure.
Indira Gandhi and the Congress party came back to power in the
1980 elections and the Congress party under her continued to operate
like before with Indira herself ruling from the top with a small coterie
often referred to as the High Command. Indira Gandhi was killed in
1984 and in the elections that followed the Congress came back to power
with Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister. Rajiv Gandhi tried may
innovations but the general problems of a deepening economic crisis with
growing disparities between the rich and the poor continued and also the
process of a certain institutionalisation of corruption. Later he was
himself embroiled in what became one of independent India’s biggest
corruption scandals – the Bofors Scandal. His image of being a person free
from corruption and greed took a huge battering and got destroyed as his
Defence Minister V.P. Singh quit the government and confirmed the
allegations and suspicions and joined the opposition that had started
rallying around him. Rajiv Gandhi also played into the hands of Hindu
communalists who alleged a policy of appeasement of Muslims when he
passed a legislation nullifying the Shah Bano judgement of the Supreme
Court that had opened the possibility of divorced muslim women enjoying
some basic much needed rights. Further he then tried to play a
neutralising Hindu card by permitting shilanyas near the disputed site in
Ayodhya which only encouraged further militant communalism. Also there
was no move back from the authoritarian ownership style of Indira Gandhi
in Congress functioning and all decisions on top positions in the party
were reserved to be decided by the Gandhi family.
The elections of 1989 were held in these circumstances and proved
to be in many ways the most significant ever as it may have truly set in
motion a Multi-Party system in India and an era of coalitions that has
lasted for almost twenty years now and there are no signs that it can end.
The states had started becoming a multi-party system even before 1989
as by 1987 nearly half of the states had come to be ruled by non-Congress
parties of one kind or the other. The coalition that took shape in 1989
was truly a coalition for the first time ever as even the 1970s coalitions
had one or two parties that were powerful. But in this coalition that saw
the coming together of the right wing BJP and the left wing CPI(M) and
CPI on the one hand and regional parties from the south like DMK and
northern parties like the National conference from the J&K on the other
there was formed a breathtaking pan-Indian national coalition across
ideological and regional divides and no one party or two parties were too
powerful. Everybody’s support more or less was needed for the coalition
to survive.
The National Front as it was called had a short existence of only
eleven months and fell apart for partly the same reasons that the
government of 1977 had fallen apart for. There was a clash about V.P.
Singh and his Reservations agenda which he tried to follow by accepting
the recommendations of the Mandal Commission Report. There was a
nationwide and bloody strike by students opposing the Mandal
Commission recommendations that made the government very unpopular.
Further, the BJP led by leaders like Lal Krishna Advani decided to carry
out a RathYatra from Somnath to Ayodhya which the government failed
to dissuade him from doing even though the BJP was part of the coalition.
Finally a scheming Chandrashekhar who had probably felt sidelined when
V.P. Singh became the Prime Minister managed to break the Janata Dal
and walked out with a large section and formed a separate party called
the SJP (Samajwadi Janata Party) that with the support of the Congress
formed a minority government. The Congress wanted to act before a new
coalition could settle down and the nation got used to a non-Congress
regime at the centre and so was happy to play along with
Chandrashekhar’s manoeuvres. But soon Congress withdrew its support
and the government fell.
Coalition Politics in India
To have a majority in parliament any government needs to cross the
half way mark in the Lok Sabha which has a total strength of 540
members. When the numbers are not available with a single party, two or
more parties can combine to vote for a government and allow it to come
into existence. When two or more parties add up their numbers in
parliament by voting together in a motion of confidence helping a
government prove its majority, the arrangement is called a coalition.
Usually all the parties join the government but if any party votes for the
government but stays out of government that party is regarded as part of
the coalition but supporting the government from outside. The need for a
coalition becomes urgent when no single party has the majority to form a
government on its own. If a coalition is not formed in such situations it
leads to the calling for fresh elections.
The modern era of coalition politics has come into being as a
consequence of the development of the multi-party system. Many parties
as opposed to one or a few have substantial strength today and can win
enough seats in parliament. Naturally therefore it has become harder and
harder if not impossible for single party majorities in parliament. The
major contest today is between coalitions led by the major national
parties as opposed to between the parties themselves.
The elections of 1991 were held in two phases in May and June
1991 because of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination
naturally created a sympathy wave but still the Congress could not get a
majority and there was a hung parliament. The Congress formed a
minority government with support from an assortment of parties. The
very fact that the Congress itself formed a government with support from
other parties and not on its own and had to look for a coalition showed
that the era of coalitions had truly arrived. In fact the Congress indulged
in a sordid game of bribing members of parliament to win a vote of
confidence in what came to be known as the JMM bribery case. But
interestingly the Congress managed to complete its five year term and
indeed totally turned the direction of the economic policy of the country
away from a state led welfare economy model to a private sector growth
led model. The term was marked by the usual levels of faction fights and
the Babri Masjid demolition and the communal riots that followed. This
angered the Muslim community particularly in north India who drifted
away from the Congress. Indeed the politics of north India turned
gradually into one of competition for vote banks based on caste and
community etc. Also there was a marked communal polarisation in most
north Indian and western Indian states like Gujrat between Hindus and
Muslims following the Babri Masjid demolition and the communal riots
that happened over the following years post that event. The BJP also
relatively gained in strength and emerged as the single largest party in
the 1996 elections. But the basic new trend of a multi-party system with
no single party being strong enough alone to come to power without a
coalition did not change. That trend has not changed till now and is
unlikely to in the future.
In this new era of coalitions there is a constant making and
unmaking of coalitions and wheeling and dealing between parties for
relative positional advantage and a certain dilution of ideological
commitments. There is a willingness to compromise ideological moorings
for power political considerations that would have been quite
unbelievable even a few years back. Who could have thought that atheist
parties like the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) or parties like the TDP
(Telgu Desam Party) who have a commitment to secularism can be part of
the same coalition government with the avowedly Hindu nationalist BJP
that they were part of in the NDA (National Democratic Alliance)
government till 2004.
The regional parties from the states now hold the balance of power
in most situations and bargain hard for offering support to the major
coalitions in terms of grants etc for the states that they represent and
indeed births in ministries. This has interestingly made regionalism and
parochialism in politics somewhat mainstream. Coalition politics is the
way of life now.
The blurring of ideological commitments of parties has left many
citizens confused and with a feeling of helplessness. There is a feeling
that politics is increasingly a game of power play in search of the illicit
fruits of office and not any more a place for effective redress of social
and economic problems of the people. One has been left surprised for
example at the way parties that demonstrate hostility for each other turn
into friends for the sake of power and vice versa. For instance the BSP
(Bahujan Samaj Party) that has historically always claimed to represent
the interests of dalits and backward castes and have been hostile to
upper castes and Brahmins have in recent times successfully attempted to
forge a social coalition with those very same privileged castes. Similarly
many of the left parties that have always vowed for socialism and
people’s rights have in recent times diluted their rigid stances on
economic policy and approved of policy measures that are at least on the
face of them quite right wing like for instance the economic prescriptions
of free markets led global trade and investments. Most importantly the
dilution of Congress Party’s agenda of Nehruvian Socialism and its
replacement by a market led and private business led growth policy has
reduced the distance between it and the extreme right wing parties like
the BJP to a substantial extent and there is little to tell the difference
increasingly between parties. All parties have their share of corruption
scandals also and so even choosing the best party for supporting a
particular ideology leaves the voter confused.
But it can be said coalition politics particularly with the way it has
led to empowerment for regional parties from the states has added to
India’s search for true federalism in real sense that has been termed by
some scholars like Balveer Arora as a kind of ‘electoral federalism’.
Another feature of the new era of coalition politics is that most
parties are controlled by a few strong individual leaders or families like
private fiefdoms and as a consequence there are constant splits and
break ups when ambitions clash.
Thus it can be said in conclusion the era of coalition politics while
empowering many sections that did not count previously has also in a way
lowered the standards of our democracy and has not led to the maturity
that we have been searching for since independence in ideological terms
and in terms of policy slants.
Thankfully our Constitution is silent on the party system except in
the Tenth Schedule (introduced in 1985) relating to the Anti-Defection
Law thus leaving the possibility open that we will continue to evolve for
better or worse as we have done over the decades.
Questions:
1. Explain the journey that he Indian party system has had
since independence.

NOTE {rfrnc}:- Contemporary India INDIAN


POLITICS SINCE INDEPENDENCE: AN
OVERVIEW
The list is based on information from:
http://www.itihaas.com/independent/pm-pres.html
Jawaharlal Nehru August 15, 1947 - May 27, 1964
(Indian National Congress (INC), which led the struggle
for independence)

Lal Bahadur Shastri June 9, 1964 - January 11, 1966


(INC. Succeeds Nehru after the latter dies of a heart
attack)
Indira Gandhi January 24, 1966 - March 24, 1977
( INC. Installed as PM by the "Syndicate"
after Shastri's death, in the hope that she would be a
malleable leader, and the Syndicate the "power behind
the throne)

Morarji Desai March 24, 1977 - July 28, 1979


(As leader of the JANATA PARTY, a coalition formed
to oppose Indira Gandhi during her imposition of the
STATE OF EMERGENCY)
Charan Singh July 28, 1979 - January 14, 1980
(Differences within the JANATA party lead to the
resignation of MORARJI)
Indira Gandhi January 14, 1980 - October 31, 1984
(Wins elections in 1979-80 after factional conflicts
make the Janata Party unable to stay together)
Rajiv Gandhi October 31, 1984 - December 1, 1989
(Comes to power after the assassination of his mother in
1984)

Vishwanath Pratap (VP) Singh Dec. 2, 1989 -


November 10, 1990
(Wins General Elections in which CORRUPTION,
particularly the BOFORS deal, is a major issue. Heads a
coalition government led by his party the JANATA
DAL)

Chandra Shekhar November 10, 1990 - June 21, 1991


(Inability of the Janata Dal-led coalition to stay together
makes him PM. He had temporary support from the
INC led by Rajiv Gandhi during his short tenure. Rajiv
withdraws support in 1991, and fresh elections are
called.)

P.V. Narasimha Rao June 21, 1991 - May 16, 1996


(Rajiv Gandhi's assassination during the election
campaign results in a victory for the INC, and RAO
now becomes leader of the party and the PM.
Completes his term in office, but loses popularity. The
Hindu nationalists, the BHARTIYA JANATA PARTY
(BJP) gain support, especially after they make the issue
of the mosque in AYODHYA a major campaign issue.)
Atal Behari Vajpayee May 16, 1996 - 1 June 1996
(Elections in 1996 result in a HUNG Parliament, no
party or group of parties has an absolute majority. The
BJP is the single largest party, and its leader
VAJPAYEE is invited to form a government, but
cannot muster support in Parliament, is compelled to
resign.)

H. D. Deve Gowda 1 June 1996 - 12 April 1997


(A post-election coalition of parties, known as the
UNITED FRONT (UF), comes together to try and
cobble a majority in Parliament. The UF is composed of
parties that want to maintain a distance from the BJP
and the INC, and many strong regional parties were an
important component. However, the UF government
still depends on "outside" support from the INC)

Inder Kumar Gujral 21 April 1997 - 19 Mar 1998


(The INC objects to some of GOWDA's policies, and
threatens to withdraw support if he is not removed.
GUJRAL, a former INC member and member of Mrs.
Gandhi's Cabinet, but now a leading figure in the UF,
takes over as PM.)

Atal Behari Vajpayee 19 March 1998 - April 2004


(INC withdraws support to GUJRAL as well, and a
General Election called in 1998, which is won by
another coalition, this time led by the BJP, also with the
support of important regional parties. VAJPAYEE
becomes PM. Break-up of the coalition [with a little
help from the INC and other parties!] leads to
yet anotherGeneral Election in 1999, which the BJP-
led coalition (known as the National Democratic
Alliance [NDA]) manages to win. Regional allies rather
than the BJP increase their strength in Parliament, while
the INC records its worst-ever electoral performance. )
Manmohan Singh May 2004-2014
(General Elections were called in April 2004 by the
ruling NDA coalition, who fully expected another term
in office. Despite a massive campaigning effort based
on touting the achievements of the NDA government
("India Shining" had been the slogan in the months
leading up to the election) they lost
decisively. Another coalition (called the United
Progressive Alliance [UPA]), with the INC as the single
largest party, and supported by many regional parties as
well as the Indian Communist parties, came to
power. An interesting feature of 2004 was the decision
by the leader of the INC, Sonia Gandhi (Rajiv Gandhi's
widow) to forego the Prime Minister's position because
of fierce opposition of many in the BJP on the grounds
that Sonia was not born in India but was an Italian by
birth who had much later become a naturalized Indian
citizen. 2009 elections were fought and won on the
basis of an improving economy and social justice.
Narendra Modi May 2014 to Current
Modi rose steadily through the ranks of the RSS and the
BJP through his political career to become Chief
Minister of the state of Gujarat. A controversial figure,
accused of having had a hand in a pogrom of Muslims
in his state in 2000, Modi’s 2014 victory was based on
increasing disillusionment with the policies of the INC
(widely perceived to be corrupt and ineffective). At the
same time, Modi’s own personality (a forceful speaker,
and decisive, if domineering, leader) was a contrast to
Singh and other leaders of the INC. He posed a
challenge based on both his personality and his
promises/ideology to the leaders of the INC in the
elections in spring 2014, promising economic growth
and development while ensuring that the Hindu
Nationalist core supporters of the BJP were not
alienated.
Note: Gulzarilal Nanda was caretaker Prime Minister twice in the 1960s, between Nehru and Shastri,
and Shastri and Indira.