Three phases in Indian politics
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Three phases in Indian politics 1947-1964: the so called Nehruvian phase of Indian history, in which the Congress acts as the dominant party

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Three phases in Indian politics

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Three phases in indian politics

  • Three phases in Indian politics

  • 1947-1964: the so called Nehruvian phase of Indian history, in which the Congress acts as the dominant party

  • 1964-1989: a transition period in whichthe Congress loses control of the political scene in the states while retaining control of the political system at the centre

  • 1989 to date: the establishment of the “imperfect bipartisan system” composed of Congress/BJP


Three phases in indian politics

  • The political situation in India in 1947 is radically different from the one in Pakistan

  • While the Muslim League in the Pak provinces is weak, the Congress party in India is very strong: it is deeply embedded in the localities; it is legitimated by the nationalist struggle; it also has already an experience of administration (the 1937 provincial govts.)

  • It has the advantage of the historical and political continuity between the British Govt. and the independent govt.

  • Unlike Pakistan, in India the ideological dissent is minimal at the time: there are in fact some opposition forces outside the Congress, but they are still marginal (examples: the Communists in Bengal and Kerala, the right wing “Hindu nationalist” Jan Sangh; the Dravidian party in the South, DMK): the Congress is virtually unchallenged

  • The Congress also has a continuity of leadership in the figure of J. Nehru (while the Muslim League will lose soon its main figures, Jinnah in 1948 and Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951)


Three phases in indian politics

  • The political choices made by the leaders also made a difference:

  • Nehru’s early choices emphasise the primacy of politics towards the executive branch of the state: his choice of becoming prime minister instead of governor general (like Jinnah)

  • The quick work of the constituent assembly and the choice of calling for regular elections emphasised the political process

  • The clever policy of the state towards the army (symbolical devaluation of the army top generals)


Three phases in indian politics

  • This favourable conditions enable the Congress to dominate the first three elections of 1952-57 and 1962

  • The Congress had also the advantage of the electoral system (first past the post): the opposition was mainly located in one or two states therefore it could not challenge the Congress

  • This said, under the surface, even in India there were obstacles

  • The first was the rivalry between the two strong men of the party, Nehru and Patel

  • The second was the contradiction between the two main objectives of the party: the social transformation of India and the building of a unified nation

  • There was a contradiction between the two: the former would bring with it inevitably conflict and social tension, while the latter would require to minimize social tensions


Three phases in indian politics

  • The result was a compromise that made virtually ineffective the agenda of “socialist” reforms advanced by Nehru

  • Already the 1950 constitution speaks of “social, economic and political justice” to be “inscribed in every institution of the life of the country”

  • At the Avadi session of the Party in 1955 Nehru leads the party to approve a programme of “socialistic” reforms based on the state intervention in the economy and a socialization of agriculture

  • In fact both reforms at the end of the day worked largely in favour of the economic interests of the elite social strata


Three phases in indian politics

  • The state intervention meant the establishment of the so-called “licence Raj”: the obligation to the industries to register at the Ministry administration (1951)

  • The state could request the companies to change their production or the prices

  • The system created two problems: it opened space to corruption; secondly only big industries could have the resources to go through the long process of getting the licences, so the system damaged the small companies

  • The Congress was already close to these interests because of their often common caste origin


Three phases in indian politics

  • The agrarian reform was ineffective because for its implementation it needed the collaboration of the local notables who often had land interests; it could not be implemented solely by the centre

  • In order to win the 1952 and 1957 election the Congress distributed largely tickets to these local men of influence

  • These notables were naturally opposed to the agenda of rural reform and to the attempt to break the big properties and distributing the land to the cultivators

  • Through corruption and political influence many of the big landlords managed to maintain or even increase their estates and to avoid the effects of the reform


Three phases in indian politics

  • Both examples show the contradiction of the Congress system: it creates the conditions for democracy, at the same time it bases its power on a coalition of big entrepreneurs, landlords, and the state apparatus

  • This coalition was not necessarily incompatible with democracy (according to Bardhan, when the diversity and variety of dominant groups create the condition for negotiation and bargaining and therefore political democracy is more likely to be established; see also Dahl’s theory of “polyarchy”)

  • However the problem with India is that in the 1950s and 1960s the dominant elite is too small moreover there is not an equal representation of all the social sectors, because some sectors are not well represented (for example the cultivators) and are therefore weaker

  • For this reason many authors have termed the Indian democracy as a “conservative democracy” (Ayesha Jalal) or have written of a “structural authoritarianism” (Jaffrelot)


Three phases in indian politics

  • Let us see how the “Congress system” actually worked (RajniKothari)

  • The horizontal level: two elements: a party of consensus and various parties of pressure

  • The pressure parties do not contest the position of the dominant parties rather they try to influence ideologically close factions inside the dominant party

  • At the same time, the dominant party must be flexible enough to accept selected ideas from the pressure parties (“margin of pressure”)


Three phases in indian politics

  • The advantageof the system:

  • It reinforces democracy because it gives stability to the political system, it prevents a conflict on fundamental aspects of the political system (because all the actors accept the basic orientation of the system), it enables continuity of political leadership

  • It emphasises negotiation and accommodation over conflict


Three phases in indian politics

  • The disadvantages:

  • The system prevents the formation of a viable opposition

  • The continuity of the power of the dominant party creates the bases for corruption and for hidden authoritarianism

  • The system prevents the establishment of the Parliament as the real locus of consensus and negotiation, because the assembly of the Congress replaces in fact the Parliament

  • The system relies only on the capacity of the dominant party to represent the society; but the party is rarely able to represent all sectors of society

  • Therefore some social strata will be probably underrepresented


Three phases in indian politics

  • This last point is more evident if we look at the vertical dimension of the system

  • The system is composed of a sort of a double pyramid: the upper connects the national leader of the party to the influential members of the Congress Committee; the second one connects these leaders to their vote banks in the states (made of castes, professional groups, ethnic and linguistic groups, etc.)


Three phases in indian politics

  • The system is flexible in its nature because it forces all the actors to a continuous bargaining

  • So it prevents a single faction from keeping power without adapting its position to the inputs coming from below

  • It therefore has favoured the establishment of democracy in India

  • At the same time the system is inherently elitist because it gives voice only to the better organized interest groups: some other groups are inevitably excluded

  • Moreover in the long run, it may give too much weight to the local notables of the party at the expense of the national leaders


Three phases in indian politics

  • This is exactly what happens in India in the late 1950s and 1960S; it is for this reason that the Nehru’s reform fail, and it will be for this reason that Nehru himself (and after him Indira Gandhi) will try to free the party from the control of the local notables

  • Nehru in 1963 launches the “Kamaraj plan” in order to undermine the power of the notables

  • Indira Gandhi between 1967 and 1984 will transform the Congress in a centralist party

  • Still the consequence will be that, after the death of Nehru, the Congress will lose the ability to reflect and control the political situation in the states, and therefore the “Congress system” will end.


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