President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam'scall for evolving a two-party system has raised many heckles. Understandably, the first to denounce the idea was the Left. There is no doubt a two-party system is ideal and that is how mature democracies in the West have evolved.
The President was addressing the commemorative function of the 1857 war of Independence. Multi-party coalitions in government need to evolve as a stable two-party system. Coalition politics has resulted in disproportionate power with parties having a handful of seats. This has seriously affected policy implementation and distorted public expenditure priorities, the President said.
At another level, the Chief Election Commissioner made an important suggestion saying that we need to have a system where the winner of an election must have more than 50 per cent of the votes polled. The idea is to ensure that the winner represents a wider section of the population. In a system where multiplicity of candidates is the rule rather than exception, a candidate who manages a quarter of the votes polled gets elected.
The evolution of a two-party system is not a chimera. India has two distinct ideological poles, represented by the BJP and the Congress. The parties attached to these poles have a broad agreement on ideological format. It is difficult to visualize poaching into each other'scamps because these alliances have grown out of regional compulsions. But there are unattached regional formations who can tilt the balance either way. In about 200 Lok Sabha seats neither the Congress nor the BJP has a presence.
The BJP partners are not allergic to Hindutva while those in the Congress camp are minority centric and united on keeping BJP out. Regional parties have come to stay and the national parties have stopped growing.
Till 1999, the BJP was growing, entering new areas. The NDA experiment slowed down this growth. Coalition is a short cut and compromise, a strategy for immediate gains. Globalisation has diluted the ideological purity of all political parties. This is an era of political churning. The Communists have shrunk and have not grown since 1977. The party is not able to even retain its old support base in the Hindi belt.
The Congress decline started in the eighties and BJP and regional parties continue to eat into its base. Decline of the Congress will continue till it allows natural growth of leadership in the party. More likely the party might again split on democratic choice of leadership versus family domination.
Balancing regional aspirations with national agenda is a hard task. Rampant regionalism could pose a danger to the resurgent hopes of the 21st century India. But the NDA and the UPA experiments have provided a relative level of stability, cementing two power blocs. However, the UPA failed to achieve the economic and political savvy that was the hallmark of NDA under Atal Behari Vajpayee. The reason for NDA success was the strong ideological moorings represented by the BJP.
The hopes of the third front have receded following UP election. The multi-party system is not a deterrent to growth or stability as long as there is a consensus on defence and foreign policy issues. The UPA because of its over dependence on the Left has disturbed this consensus.
Indian polity in the last sixty years has progressed from single-party domination to multi-party system to a bipolar one. In the long run this could shape into a two-party system. A national party to succeed must promote leaders with a pan-India vision and strong regional base. This can happen to BJP but not to Congress mired in single family loyalty.