You have read above that in the earlier years of independence the Indian National Congress dominated the party system. But the same has not continued and there had been periods of non-Congress governments both at the Centre and in the States.

In general, the party system in India has not been a fixed one like a single party system or a dominant one-party system or a two-party system or a multiparty system. The features found in any of the above party systems may be found in India’s party system.

For many years now, the party system has not been a single-party dominant system as it used to be the case until 1967. It is not now a one-party dominant system. The Indian party system is not a bi-party system, that existed for a short period between 1977 and 1980.

It is more a less a multiparty system because the national political parties depend largely on the support of regional political parties to stay in power at the Centre as well as in some States. Various political parties join hands to form coalition governments as single parties are finding it difficult to get majorities by themselves.

Dominant Features of India’s Party System 

In view of the above, the party system in India displays the following major characteristics: 

  • India has a multi-party system with a large number of political parties competing to attain power at the Centre as well as in the States. 
  • the contemporary party system in India has witnessed the emergence of a bi-nodal party system existing at both national and state/region levels. The bi-nodal tendencies operating at two poles are led by the Congress and the BJP both at the centre and in the states. 
  • political parties are not hegemonic but competitive, though many a time we see a particular party aligning with one national political party and then shifting to another on the eve of general elections. 
  • the regional political parties have come to play a vital role in the formation of governments at the Centre. At the Centre, these regional parties support one national political party or the other and seek substantive favours, ministerial berths at the Centre and other financial packages for their respective States.
  • the election is now fought not among parties but the coalition of parties. Nature of competition, alliance and players varies from state to state. 
  • coalitional politics has been a new feature of our party system. We have reached a situation where there is no single party government, except in some of the States. There are, as you can see around, neither permanent ruling parties nor permanent opposition parties.
  • as a result of coalitional politics, ideologies of the political parties have taken a back seat. The administration is run through the Common Minimum Programme, which reflects that pragmatism has become the ‘ruling mantra’. We have seen political situations where the Telugu Desam Party supported the BJP led NDA in 1999 and CPI(M) backed the Congress-led UPA in 2004 without formally joining the government. 
  • parties are keen on focusing on the single emotive issue/s to garner votes. The emotive issues in some of the earlier elections were: Garibi Hatao of the 1970s, ‘Indira is India’ of the 1980s, ‘Taking into the 21st Century’ under Rajiv in mid-1980s, BJP’ India Shining of 1999, Congress’ ‘Feel Good’ in 2004 and ‘Aam Aadmi’ in 2009. 
  • parties now look for short term electoral gains rather than build lasting social coalitions.

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Source NIOS