Polarisation And Power

People in Politics

Pradeep Nair & Sandeep Sharma

In 1998, while being the head of an alliance of 26 political parties, the then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee once frustratingly said that India should look for the possibility of adopting presidential system, which, in his views would be more permanent and representative. However, amongst all political compulsions and political opportunism, some of the electoral arrangements at centre and in various states went on for another decade by making coalition politics a more permanent feature of Indian politics. But BJP's whooping majority in 2014 Lok Sabha elections brought this trend to a halt. Political pundits were left with no options but to redo their political calculations. Nationwide data of assembly elections substantiate this point by making a stronger case for one party rule. The first half of the second decade of 21st century has witnessed a political scene in which 23 states including Delhi, have one party in the position to form a majority government. While there are only six such states where governments are being formed by pre or post poll alliances.

Party polarisation in electoral studies is basically known as an effort by a political party to create increased feelings among partisans /believers that their party is right and the party contesting other side is wrong. More etymologically, it is a clustering of elements around two poles, such as the division of an electorate into two partisan clusters. It further describes widening of distance between two ideological elements. At Some issues, the political parties which were ideologically distinct come closer to make the people believe that they really care public interest issues related to national security, terrorism, corruption, good governance etc. Party polarisation among voters generates a more energized and engaged electorate. In the history of Indian politics, party polarisation is not a new phenomenon. In past general elections, voters polarised on the issues of war, emergency, national security or corruption especially when these issues went beyond tolerance level. A very loose pattern of alignments with ideological overtones emerged in late 1969 and early 1970 in Indian politics when the two wings of Congress and socialist ideologies formed coalitions with distinct ideological identities for electoral adjustments for parliamentary and state assembly elections. In 1977 general elections, a new coalition of political parties opposing the ruling party came into power as Bhartiya Lok Dal (BLD) and legitimised the concept of alternative government against Congress. In 1989, 1999, 2004 again political parties having different ideologies came together to form government at central level. Although, political scientists and analysts believe that at the time of alliance or forming a coalition government, the ideological and methodological differences of political parties were set aside for the most part until the coalition began to break down under new pressures. It happened with BLD government in 1979-80 at centre and with Bahujan Samaj Pary-Bhartiya Jantai Party (BSP-BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh in 1995, 1997 and 2002.

Negative feeling from public toward candidates and elected officials of the ruling party sometime helps political parties to polarise people in their favour as it happened in last 2014 Lok Shaba elections when Narendra Modi led BJP got mandate against Congress on the issues of corruption, scams and poor-governance.

Many times polarisation of voters brings a party with dubious credibility in power. In general elections held in 1980, voters were polarised on the line of providing a stable government as the alternative government to Congress collapsed within two years giving two Prime Ministers—Morarji Desai and Chaudhary Charan Singh. People again polarised in 1984 with a post-Indira assassination impact sympathising with Rajiv Gandhi and brought Congress again in power. The same happened in 1989 in the form of frail mandate to VP Singh and the National Front at Centre and a clear mandate to Kalyan Singh at Uttar Pradesh. A different polarisation was also noticed in last assembly elections in Delhi where people gave mandate to alternative government of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) against both Congress and BJP. The mandate given to Narendra Modi government in 2014 is also a similar process of coming into power where the credit goes to Congress as the corruption and scams happened during UPA-II tenure polarised the voters towards a more conservative choice in the form of NDA government. In this digital age where people wish to be connected 24x7, this political polarisation is linked more with people's information environments. The news sources, social media habits and interpersonal communication networks of the voters helps them to understand the polarisation from various socio-economic viewpoints and it further helps them in their voting decisions that is why a voter residing in Delhi prefers a BJP government at Centre but at the same time chooses an AAP government at the state level.

The dynamics of polarisation and power in democracy is not a new concept. It is primarily a product of long-term historical and structural forces that set into motion in l970's when non-Congress political leaders urged nationalist and democratic forces to come together to form a Grand Alliance to keep Congress out of power in 1971's general elections. Unfortunately these alliances in the long run proved as electoral alliances only and failed to offer real policy alternatives against the ruling party. In post-liberal era, the reforms in electoral system have made voting process more participative helping the political parties to manage polarisation's consequences to promote effective governance rather than inconsistent electoral arrangements.

Voting is the most basic way people participate in democracies, but not the only way. There are other multiple forms of political participation. The conventional way of participation can be noticed in the form of polling, interacting with the elected officials, attending political rallies, giving donations to political parties and endorsing candidates at personal level. The unconventional form of participation is also common in the form of taking part in boycotts, demonstration, strike, protest and the justification is that other Conventional means are closed.

The factors like motivation, national interest, political awareness, civic responsibilities are common which affect the voting turnout in any elections. Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections have higher turn-out as the elections are intense and decide the formation of government at central and state level. The elections of Municipal Corporations and Village Panchayats witness less voting. It was always a subject of interest for the political analysts that how and on what basis people make voting decisions? It was observed in last two assembly and parliamentary elections that the people generally vote to a candidate or a political party on the basis of what they think personally about the candidates; how they view the state of nation and the economy; how they view policy issues of domestic and national importance.

People vote for a candidate on the basis of the way the candidate is positioned on paper by the party itself and by the media, whereas, voting in view of the state of nation and economy is mostly based on the socio-political context in which the political campaign is designed and conveyed. Selection of a candidate in the context of the political party affiliated helps the voters to determine the campaign strategies and helps him/her to understand where the mobilisation efforts were put in. Voting according to the proposed reforms in current policies in party manifestos depends on the nature of policies and on their salient features which helps the voter to position the candidate in and around a public discussion/agenda.

Vol. 49, No.40, April 9 - 15, 2017