Should India bar national parties from contesting in state elections and vice versa?

Madhuri Danthala
Madhuri DanthalaDec 14, 2018 | 11:40

Should India bar national parties from contesting in state elections and vice versa?

Rahul Gandhi spoke with humility and even had a word of appreciation for the outgoing chief ministers.

As the country watched the results of the five states that went to the polls, and the fortunes fluctuated in a closely contested election, there was a debate on whether the results are likely to have a bearing on the 2019 elections.

The supporters of the Congress said that this is a preview of the things to come in 2019, while archrival BJP's supporters claimed that the results are an indication of regional anger and/or anti-incumbency, and have nothing to do with the Modi administration.


Our political system is better suited for a unitary state. (Photo: Reuters)

By the evening of the result day, however, the supporters of the BJP became less vocal, and thankfully, there were no incidents of clashes, given the animosity between the two parties.

At the cost of sounding clichéd, most people conceded that it is good for democracy that no party becomes too powerful. It was good to see the Congress camp in a cheerful, upbeat mood. Rahul Gandhi spoke with humility and even had a word of appreciation for the outgoing chief ministers. Such grace in victory is welcome and let’s hope all parties continue this tradition.

Down south, K Chandrasekhar Rao also held a post-victory press conference in which he spoke about a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance. While every election season, there are talks of a third front, it seldom materialises, as consensus on who would lead it is almost never reached.

Yet, one cannot ignore the regional parties as they are increasingly playing a role at the national arena. They are, however, criticised for fracturing the mandate, thereby, resulting in hung parliaments, which hinder progress and development of the country.


KCR emphasised on a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance in his first press meet after his victory. (Photo: India Today)

However, given India’s diversity and size, one cannot ignore regional aspirations. Thus it would be unfair to criticise regional parties for “fracturing the mandate” as they only make an attempt to assert themselves at the national level.

Though India is a federal country, our political system is better suited for a unitary state.

In our nascent years, there was no real player at the regional level. These days, there are numerous regional parties that often play a cardinal role at the national level as part of a coalition. Often coalitions come together for reasons other than ideological affinity — and partners “flirt” with either side depending on who offers them a larger sop.

The manifestoes of the national parties often pertain to the subjects under the Union list, while those of the regional parties pertain to the subjects of the state list.

Yet, the national parties contest the state elections and the regional parties contest the parliamentary elections — though they can at best influence a coalition to honour some of their key promises.


The reason why Naidu left NDA was a regional one. (Photo: India Today)

For instance, over the contentious issue of the Special Category Status being accorded to Andhra Pradesh, the regional parties can at best influence the coalition they are part of to honour their promise.

The magnitude of their influence, of course, is directly proportional to the seats they contribute to the coalition. Regional parties can increase their bargaining power with one of the two major political parties.

Likewise, the national parties can hardly grasp the regional aspirations of the people. This is evident from the fact that both the Congress and the BJP tend to fare poorly in the states that have strong regional parties.

National ambitions of our regional parties are remarkable. (Photo: PTI) 

India could, therefore, consider adapting a political system like the one followed by Canada. Of course, we could fine-tune it to complement our political realities.

Under the Canadian federalism, there is a distinct set of national parties (they have about 11 national parties with diverse ideologies) and another set of regional parties at the provinces.

The federal parties are loosely connected with the provincial parties — which often have similar names and ideologies. It is possible for people to have membership of one party at the state and another at the federal level.

That way, the regional aspirations are distinct from the national ones and there is bound to be mutual respect between the national and regional parties — as many people often (unfairly) look down upon the ‘regional’ parties as being detrimental to the ‘national’ interest.

Such a system would promote more cooperative federalism, which is best suited for a country as diverse as India. At the time of our Independence, we were largely concerned about ‘unity’, but now that our national integration is more or less assured, it is safe to promote and celebrate our diversity. And that includes pronounced federalism.

Last updated: December 14, 2018 | 21:12
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