Mahendra Prasad Singh

(Review of Political Parties, Party Manifestos and Elections in India, 1909–2014 edited by R K Tiwari, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2019; pp xxi + 309, ?1,495).

The book under review is a product of an Indian Council of Social Sciences Research (ICSSR) senior fellowship availed by (Retd) R K Tiwari of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. It deals with the topic of political parties and their manifestos.

Since elections developed later than the formal structures of the government, even democratic government, with gradual extension of franchise earlier limited only to the nobility and clergy to wider sections of the society like the bourgeoisie and middle classes and working classes, their study took time in gaining currency in political science. Political parties grew even later than the first onset of elections, and early political elites and founding fathers—George Washington, Lord Bolingbroke, M K Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, M N Roy, etc—expressed strong anti-faction/anti-party sentiments as divisive instruments of social and national unity. Even when parties appeared on the scene, first in parliamentary chambers and then in civil society, interest groups, pressure groups, and parties came to be regarded as infrastructures rather than structures of government and governance. Nevertheless, in liberal democratic political theory, both elections and political parties finally came to acquire primary and crucial importance.

In the Indian political system, parties and party systems have not yet developed adequately. If anything, their state of health has suffered serious decline since the end of the Nehru era as democratic organisations and programmatic/ideological entities.

Lacking in social service orientation, multiparty democracies have degenerated as personalised, dynastic, familial, semi-feudal, casteist and communal instruments that weaken the democratic texture and functioning of the polity. Parties ritualistically publish and release election manifestos with great fanfare, which are never seriously taken and acted upon by leaders or by voters. The state of political studies is also pathetic, where vicarious interest in voting trends of castes and communities for the undemocratic forces masquerading as “political parties” has elbowed out healthy social science concerns in elections, and party and party system building and reforms.

Long Time Frame, Ambitious Title

R K Tiwari’s book is welcome as an effort to underline the importance of political parties and manifestos. But it is mostly disappointing, partly because it has unrealistically taken a very long timeframe and partly for its failure to go beyond a superficial descriptive level and attain analytical and explanatory worth. It comprises four chapters, besides the introduction and conclusion. The title of the book is too misleading and too ambitious. As per the title, it does not belong here; it spills out of its scope and drives out more in-depth treatment of political parties, manifestos, and elections. All the three substantive themes and over a century of time frame for a proper treatment would require at least half-a-dozen volumes. A bird’s eye view could also be attempted in a slim volume of 100 pages, but it would demand dispensing with a lot of paraphernalia and adopting a more insightful and analytical approach to cover over a century of modern and contemporary Indian politics and history of democratic and constitutional developments.

An interesting and useful part in the book is the foreword by T N Chaturvedi, presently the chairman of the Indian Institute of Public Administration. He observes:

The constitutional reforms brought by the British in the statutes of 1909, 1919 and 1935 introduced albeit slowly and gradually reform in the system of representation … However, the electoral politics since the first election of 1909–10 contained all the trappings of a parliamentary system. The process of parliamentary system became more refined with each successive, constitutional reform. (p x)

He goes on to successively underline the changing texture and temper of elections, political parties, manifestos of the nationalist phase and the post-independence phase of politics in India. He goes on to remark:

So far, in the study of Indian politics, party manifestos have remained a neglected area. I hope this monograph will generate interest in the study of party manifestos from multiple perspectives. In this context, I am of the view that there is a need for a volume devoted to the compilation (on selective basis) of the party manifestos of all elections conducted before and after independence. (p Xii)

He underlines the need to relate manifestos with other parameters of governance, and the “need to systematically examine how far different political parties which formed the government at the Centre (1952–2014) were able to implement their manifestos” (p Xii).

In Chapter 1 of the book, the author deals with the evolution of ideas on nation-building and economic modernisation in India, especially apropos Dadabhai Naoroji, Mahadev Govind Ramade, Romesh Chandra Dutt, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Gandhi, Subash Chandra Bose, the National Planning Committee, Bombay Plan, People’s Plan, Gandhian Plan, Gandhi’s Constructive Programme and Jawaharlal Nehru. He stops short with Nehru, though the title of the chapter professes to cover the period up to 2014.

Analytical Discussions

Chapter 2 deals with constitutional reforms, electoral systems, political parties, and elections during the British Raj. This chapter does justice to the triple themes of the book—parties, manifestos, and elections of the period mentioned, plus a good analytical discussion of the intents, purposes and machinations of the relevant constitutional reforms as well as acts meted out to the Indian subjects by the imperial and colonial states.

Chapter 3 discusses the electoral system, political parties, and Lok Sabha elections. The crystallisation of the electoral systems in India is discussed well, so is the preparation for and conduct of the first general elections. An overview of the elections from 1952 to 2014 is also informative. I wish the author had gone beyond the descriptive account and also addressed some analytical and explanatory issues like the relationship between the electoral system and the party system. There is the celebrated Maurice Duverger’s and William Riker’s theory in comparative politics that plurality/simple majority/first-past-the-post electoral law (all coterminous in meaning) inevitably causes a two-party system, whereas the proportional electoral law invariably produces a multiparty system.

They call these propositions the “iron laws” of relationship between electoral systems and party systems. It may be possible to at least partially agree with Duverger and Riker inasmuch as the plurality electoral law has generally produced a broad two-party system in the Anglo-Saxon and British Commonwealth countries, with only occasional departures from the pattern in Canada in the early 1990s and in the recent decades in the United Kingdom. And, proportional representation law has universally produced a multiparty-system pattern in European countries and Israel. Among the Commonwealth countries, New Zealand presents a quasi-experimental case in this context. From 1907 to 1993, the country operated with the plurality voting system and developed a two-party system. Since 1993, it shifted to the mixed member proportional representation system and has evolved a multiparty system. The Indian case is similarly interesting in a quasi-experimental way. India has consistently used the plurality electoral system of voting since its first universal adult franchise-based elections in 1952 to date.

Yet, it has never developed a two-party system. Its national party system was, generally, a one-party dominant system under the aegis of the Indian National Congress for the first four decades, and turned into a multiparty system with federal coalition governments since 1989. From 1989 to 2014, it did not even have a majority party; such a party emerged in 2014 in the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and got re-elected in 2019. The Indian experience has clarified that more than the plurality electoral system, it is the social and regional diversity of India that makes India such a strong “deviant case” repudiating the Duverger–Riker hypothesis. If European countries and Israel adopt the same system as we did, they too would remain to be under the multiparty system, though with a somewhat reduced party system fragmentation. For the proportional system produces and magnifies the mirror image of social diversity in Parliament, whereas the plurality voting system moderates it by punishing too small parties and somewhat helping the larger parties in the arithmetic of conversion of electoral votes into seats, that is, the vote–seat ratio.

Cross-sectional Format

Chapter 4 presents a comparative analysis of party manifestos of the national political parties in India. Next to Chapter 2, Chapter 4 is also fairly extensive in size and covers a wide thematic sweep, including all major national parties, and all conceivable issues important in Indian elections and politics, public policies and governance. However, the exclusion of the regional parties in this chapter is rather surprising and arbitrary in a country where regional parties are of crucial importance in the national as well as state party systems. Another limitation in the analysis of manifestos is that it is couched in a cross-sectional format, ignoring their longitudinal or evolutionary dimension. Though, the author makes an amend by addressing this aspect to some extent in the conclusion of the book.

All in all, the book at least tries to fill the big gap in Indian political studies pertaining to the system of representation and political parties and their manifestos. A long-range overview of the phenomena covering more than a century— 1909–2014—prevents the writer from rising over mere description to explanation and theorisation relating to the interrelationships between society and politics, colonialism and nationalism, and impacts of both on parties and party systems, first-past-the-post system of electoral law versus proportional representation, and the growth of two-party system or multiparty system, party governments or coalition/minority governments, etc. These have been a fecund field of theory-building in the political science literature in North America, Western Europe, and Australia. These issues are either superficially dealt with or are conspicuous by their absence in this book. I do not mean to blame the present author alone for the poverty of explanation and theory. Even the general crop of current psephological and journalistic studies on elections and parties in the existing Indian literature are disappointing, being these are overly focused on caste and communities and their political preferences.


Mahendra Prasad Singh (profmpsingh@gmail.com) is the national fellow in political science at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla.

Top - Home