Original content provided by Duaa Amina Noor
Indian National Congress: Discussions of contemporary politics in India would be incomplete without a mention of the Congress Party. Having controlled the central government for 49 years, it has had a leading role in shaping the political sphere and electoral politics in India. Rao and Venkateswarlu, in their book, “Parliamentary Democracy in India”, note that “The Congress Party is the only political group in the nation with all India organization”. Formed in 1885, the party is known for playing the leading role in helping the country gain independence from British colonial rule. Its post independence importance can be seen in light of actions taken by charismatic members, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Manmohan Singh and countless others. Added to this, the philosophy of the Congress based on ideals such as nationalism, secularism and social justice has garnered it devoted followers over the years.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): Formed in 1980, the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) is another major political party, force in India, and the main competitor of the Congress Party. It rests on an ideology known as Hinduvta, which seeks to link the Indian culture with Hindu, religious values, and in this way works towards promoting the unity, integrity and cultural uniqueness of the nation. The party gets the majority of its support from higher castes of society in accordance with the Hindu caste or ‘Varna’ system.
In the democratic system of India, with elections held every five years, one way to examine the political power dynamics is to look at parties’ electoral success. The 2004 and 2009 elections spelt victory for the Congress party and defeat for the BJP. However in the 2014 elections, the Congress failed to impress with the BJP gaining the advantage, and consequently taking control of the government till the next elections are held in 2019.
It is important to realize that there are two sides to electoral success- correct steps taken by the winning party, and mistakes committed by the defeated party. For example, the Congress won votes due to its strategies to align itself closely with smaller local parties and the implementation of the ‘NEGRA’ (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), whereas the BJP lost out in two consecutive years due to a clash between its traditional values and the modern political system, and focusing its campaign solely on the higher caste voters of society whilst neglecting others. Hence from 2004-20014 a blend of the above factors; i.e. the Congresses strengths and the BJP’s weaknesses lead to the Congress party staying in power.
Power shifted, when in 2014, in the 16thLokSabha elections the Bharatiya Janata Party made an exceptional comeback and won the majority of votes in the lower house of the Parliament. The BJP changed itself in terms of “internal transformation”. Although traditionally the party was known for support from upper and middle class voters, in the 2014 elections, it worked towards gaining the approval of backward castes. Not only did it become the party to gain the highest number of votes from “Other Backward Classes” but it also promoted the involvement of backward classes and Dalits or the untouchable caste in leadership positions. This was totally opposite to the Hinduvta ideology and frame of mind that the party had adopted in the previous elections. This change of policy was furthered by Modi who openly led the BJP in the 2014 elections. He made use of his simple background and his rise to power to help the backward classes associate with the BJP and explicitly said that “The next decade will belong to the dalits and the backwards”.
In addition to this “The 2014 elections saw a bold articulation of liberalization policy in the name of development by the BJP”. The BJP aimed to make India a force to be reckoned with in the global sphere, increase competitiveness and capital inflow for industrialization.
Ultimately, it is important to consider that in the years to come, we may see the political nature of India changing, as new parties come to the forefront, such as the recent popularity of the “Aamaadmi party”, which has come to the spotlight in the 2015 Delhi Legislative Assembly election, outplaying both the Congress and the BJP. Hence, in due time, the two leading parties might get a run for their money as now, new parties are increasingly mobilizing, participating and gaining the support of the general public.