Sunday, November 11, 2007

Politics of vote bank is thumb rule in India

Politics of vote bank is thumb rule in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

As India votes, the question is being asked how far vote bank politics plays a role in Indian politics. Some political parties may openly denounce the politics vote bank but overtly or covertly they practice it nurturing their own constituencies for political survival. The existence of vote bank has come to become an Indian reality and democracy in India is a fine art of balancing different vote banks by every political party.

It has been said that the democratic process would put an end to India’s queer diversity, which was wilfully exploited by the colonial masters to perpetuate their foreign rule. It was also said that periodic elections would gradually diminish the divisions based on caste, creed and religion. However, it is seen that in the process of empowering the masses, democracy has sharpened the diversity making them vote banks and important variable in the political process. As democratic process gains periodicity, India has somewhat become akin to an “onion,” whose myriad layers keep peeling off as vote banks in Indian politics.

The prominent specificities in India revolve around castes categories within the majority Hindu community and to some extent in other religious categories as well. Different political parties exploit the aspiration of caste group which differs one with other. In fact, many political parties have become synonymous with certain caste categories. Bahujan Samaj party and Samajwadi party in Uttar Pradesh represents lower and intermediary caste. So do the DPI and PMK in Tamil Nadu

Religion is other broad category on which hinges the survival of several political parties. The BJP, is primarily a Hindu party which is trying to market Hinduism in the cloak of nationalism. Even its secular face is Hindutva. Akali Dal in Punjab and Muslim League in Kerala espouse the cause of the Sikhs and Muslims interests at the provincial level.

Language is another category of the diversity which distinguishes one Indian from the other. Various political parties have linguistic constituency. Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and Assam Gon Parishad in Assam are all language based parties.

Ethnicity is another denomination of political mobilisation. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in tribal dominated eastern state and some other political parties, in the northeast and in hills and tribal regions have certain ethnic groups as their vote bank.

Provincialism also forms the basis of political divisions in India. The Political parties like Shiv Sena, DMK, AIADMK, Biju Janta Dal, Assam Gon Prashid, Haryana Vikas Party all are province based political parties.

There are political parties which have farmers as their constituency. Ajit Singh’s Rstriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh and Chautala’s Harayana Vikas Party fall in this category. The CPI and CPI (M) are ideologically based political parties and have committed ideological cadre as their constituency. West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura are few states where left parties are strong.

The genesis of the creation of vote bank can be traced to British rule which bonded the country by creating an administrative structure and initiating the democratic process. Even during British days there existed, religious, landlord’s, left, pro Raj, pro-workers, pro farmer’s political parties which espoused the cause various groups creating their separate vote banks. The general elections in 1936 and 1946 brought to fore the choices of vote banks for different political parties in India.

Congress which had a pivotal role in freedom struggle and had been instrumental in holding the country together was the natural choice of many Indians for at least first three general elections after independence. Congress vote bank comprised of upper caste Hindus, Dalits and Muslims.

The party had a smooth run till 1967, as then for the first time it lost majority not in one but in nine states of the country. The year is considered to be a watershed year in Indian politics. Since then, two set of political forces emerged in India. One set challenged the all India supremacy of the Congress and second tried to break free from centralised structure of India.

In fact since 1967, there has been a tug of war going on in Indian politics whether political parties with over arching all India characteristics would govern the country or the regional satrap would forge linkages to run the affairs of the country. The trajectory that is emerging is all the parties ruling the centre have to accommodate parties representing different regional constituencies in a coalition arrangement.

The first non Congress government was formed in 1977, which was a coalition of several parties led by Janata Party an offshoot of Lohia’s Socialist Party of 1967. The Janata Government was a hotchpotch coalition which sprung to challenge supremacy of the Congress. It included the BJP that emerged out of Jana Sangh formed in 1967 to represent the Hindus aspirations.

Since 1967 there emerged parties left and right of the centre at the national level, and flurry of political parties at the regional and provincial level. Shiv Sena in Maharastra, Asam Gan Parishad in Assam, Telugu Desam party in Andhra Pradesh are some of them.

The other phase of political development began at the national level with the rise of BJP since 1984 in the country. BJP tried cultivating majority vote bank by espousing the cause of the Hindu majority in the country. It attacked the Congress of indulging in vote bank politics by pampering minorities and cultivated its own constituency on the anti-Muslim platform.

National Front government led by VP Singh came up 1989 which drew inspiration from Janata Party of 1977 and the Socialist Party of 1967 widened the net of the vote bank to other caste categories. The implementing Mandal commission report giving 27 per cent reservation to OBC in 1989 was another watershed event in Indian politics.

As a result of implementation of the Mandal commission report, intermediaries’ caste’s like Yadav’s and Kurmies came into the forefront in the Indo-gangetic plains. Parties like Samajwadi, Bahujan Samaj, Rastriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh and Rashtriya Janta Dal, Samata Party in Bihar and Biju Janata Dal in Orissa are all post Mandal political parties in India.

The United Front government by Deve Gowda in 1996 was another attempt by forces left of centre to govern the country. The United Front government had regional and provincial coalition partners like the TDP and DMK that played a major role to keep them in power at centre.

The formation of National Democratic Alliance in 1998 led by BJP reinforces the evolutionary trend in Indian politics. The parameters of Indian politics suggest that over the years regional and local political parties are increasing their influence at the national level and the national parties are forging alliances to form government at the centre by accommodating them as a matter of convince.

The political preference in the country is pegged whereby umbrella parties play a role at the national level and the provincial parties do so at the state level.

Even though it is difficult to predict whether the national parties would continue to remain functional in times to come or the combination of provincial parties would overtake them, the fact remains that all the political parties draw their substance among diverse categories of the Indian electorates.

There is no end in sight to the phenomena of vote bank politics in India. As new groups are increasingly coming forward to play a pivotal role in the politics the creation of new vote bank continues to grow in India. A new consciousness is emerging among various marginalised groups to get united in the course of political mobilisation to share power in the country.

As a result more and more political parties are emerging to espouse the cause of the new specificities in India. The fact of the matter is that fate of democracy is thus entwined with the vote bank politics. However, what is specific about India is in the process of creation of new vote banks, narrow and parochial specificities are gaining an upper hand and the broad all India vote banks are loosing grounds.

What is seen in the last 55 years is the mushrooming of political parties at the provincial level and not at the national level. This suggests that as Indians are discovering their political identity, local and regional considerations are gaining upper hand and it is hard to keep together oneself as Indians. This opens a big debate, whether India is a nation or a nation of nations, the political developments unfortunately points to the latter.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television journalist currently working in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at


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