Assembly elections confirm
bipolar trend in India
By B.R.P. Bhaskar
to the fond hopes of Third Front promoters, the Indian polity
is moving towards a two-party system. Those who have their
eyes focused on the national stage may have missed it, but
the results of the just concluded assembly elections confirm
the bipolar trend.
the five states where elections were held were already well
on their way to a two-party system with the Congress and the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) figuring as the contenders for
power in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The Congress and the Mizo National Front clashed in Mizoram.
Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the ruling party held
on to power though with reduced majorities in the assembly.
In Rajasthan and Mizoram, the party in power and the main
opposition changed places. Nowhere did a third party come
within striking distance of power.
aspect of the election results which has received much media
attention is the impressive performance of the Bahujan Samaj
Party (BSP) in the four Hindi belt states. The party, which
contested almost all the seats in these states, earned a rich
dividend in the form of more votes as well as more seats.
figures indicate that the BSP's vote share registered significant
increases in all the states: from 4 percent to 8 percent in
Rajasthan, from 4 to 6 percent in Chhattisgarh, from 6 to
9 percent in Madhya Pradesh and from 6 percent to 14 percent
in Delhi. The gains are no doubt remarkable. However, they
do not represent an immediate threat to the BJP or Congress
as neither seems to have suffered significant erosion of support.
Congress' vote share dropped from about 48 percent in 2003
to about 41 percent in Delhi and the BJP's from 43 percent
to 39 percent in Madhya Pradesh and from 39 percent to 36
percent in Rajasthan. These swings are attributable to the
burden of incumbency they carried in these states. In Chhattisgarh,
the BJP bucked the anti-incumbency factor and increased its
vote from 39 percent to 41 percent.
Congress improved its position marginally in Madhya Pradesh
(from 32 to 33 percent), Rajasthan (from 36 to 37 percent)
and Chhattisgarh (from 37 to 38 percent). So did the BJP in
Delhi where its vote rose from 35 to 37 percent.
is the electoral arithmetic that while the two top players
together command more than 70 percent of the votes polled,
the polity will remain essentially bipolar. The BSP will have
to cut into the votes of the Congress and the BJP in a big
way before it can upset the two-party system that has come
into vogue in these states.
is not to suggest that the BSP's performance is a flash in
the pan. The Congress and the BJP will do well to see it as
a convincing demonstration of its capacity to grow beyond
the borders of Uttar Pradesh.
BSP has two distinct advantages. One is that it is now the
No. 1 party in the most populous state. The other is that
in Mayawati it has a charismatic leader, who is widely recognised
as prime ministerial material.
Pradesh's electoral history testifies to the tortuous course
of multiparty politics. In 1985, the Congress was still the
leading party in that state, with a 39 percent vote share,
as against its immediate challengers, Janata Dal's 21 percent
and the BJP's 10 percent. Thereafter, the Janata Dal, the
BJP and the Samajwadi Party rose to the top and fell, one
after another, before the BSP became the largest party.
took the BSP - which entered the election arena as an unrecognised
party in 1989 and bagged less than 10 percent of the votes
- six elections spread over 18 years to achieve primacy. While
the BSP (30.43 percent) and the Samajwadi Party (25.43 percent)
are way above the BJP (16.97 percent) and the Congress (8.61
percent), it is too early to conclude that Uttar Pradesh has
become a bipolar polity.
the Hindi belt too, the two-party system is gaining ground.
However, the parties in contention are not the same as in
these states. In Andhra Pradesh, a national party and a regional
party are the contenders for power. In Tamil Nadu, it is two
regional parties that vie for power.
has a bipolar polity, but it is not two parties, but two fronts
that seek power. The doggedness with which the Congress and
the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the leading players,
have pursued coalition politics appears to have blocked the
evolution of a two-party system in the state.
bewildering variety that has come up at the state level in
the wake of the Congress party's decline has made coalition
governments at the centre inevitable. Even as we accept this
fact realistically, it is necessary to take note of the dangers
inherent in the present situation, which allows small parties
with limited agendas to exercise authority on a scale beyond
their ken. The big parties, which had to yield to the blackmail
tactics of such parties, must order their priorities in such
a way that the bipolar trend gains strength in the long run.
B.R.P. Bhaskar is a commentator on political and media affairs
and can be contacted at email@example.com)