Polls apart

Our political parties have been facing ‘continuous assessment’ for the past two decades.

The disjunction between parliamentary elections and state elections calls for considering its effect on political parties. The parties that have all-India ambitions find themselves in a continuous election mode. State parties that are partners in a national-level coalition are also drawn into this continuous election mode. Thus, our political parties have been facing ‘continuous assessment’ for the past two decades.

The parliamentary elections of 1989 occupy a special place in India’s electoral history. They firmly ushered in the post-Congress polity. When the Lok Sabha polls take place in 2014, we shall have lived for a quarter of a century in the post-Congress era. In this phase, our politics has taken a new turn. There is now continuous popular assessment of parties, coupled with an emphasis on performance. Both are welcome features at first glance, but they might end up as shackles for our electoral democracy.

The post-Congress polity brought about a “multiparty” system. It also disrupted, almost permanently, the rhythm of parliamentary and assembly elections. The multiparty system has received some attention, but the second phenomenon is rarely discussed.

Starting from 1952, parliamentary and assembly elections had coincided for a decade and a half. This allowed for the gigantic exercise called the general elections. This cycle was disrupted after 1967, when the multiparty competition first made its appearance on the political scene. As Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments failed to complete their terms, state after state went for mid-term assembly elections. The electoral cycle was somewhat restored in 1972 and later in 1977-78, but soon, most states evolved their independent electoral cycles. First in 1979-80 and then since 1989, the Lok Sabha’s failure to complete its term also meant that the electoral cycle almost ceased to exist.

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