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Is voting for a political party better than voting for the candidate?

December 31, 2008

It has been said that in the political systems of Canada, New Zealand and the United States, only about 20 percent of the voters vote for a candidate who is not from a preferred party…but these figures are ballpark figures and not the result of exhaustive research. In fact there is a general belief that in the USA the “personal identity and philosophy” of a candidate is far more important to the average voter than his or her party affiliation, unlike in Canada. In Canada, the voting is said to be more or less party-based.

There are no reliable statistics on what percentage of voters go for party centred voting or candidate centred voting, but I think it is reasonable to assume that it changes from time to time, depending on the candidates standing for election. Some believe that in America there has been a shift from party-centred voting to candidate-centred voting, particularly in the recent presidential election. For example it is believed that 28% of the voters rooting for Clinton in the recent presidential election switched their loyalties to McCain, who comes from a rival party.

It seems to depends heavily on the candidates doesn’t it. The stronger the negativity one feels towards a candidate from a favourite party, the higher the chances of switching party loyalty.

Voting for a candidate one doesn’t really like
One wonders why a good percentage of voters vote for a candidate whom they don’t like too much. While some who do so are die-hard fans of a particular party and would never switch, some voters stick to their party candidate if he/she is seem to be about the same as the candidate from the other major party. And they do not like to vote for a strong candidate from a third party as they believe that it is “wasting” their vote as that candidate has no chance of winning anyway. That all it does is result in a splintering of votes. However to vote for someone for this reason doesn’t seem right to me.

In India an overwhelming number of people vote for candidates based on party affiliation. The party becomes the powerful organ which they look to solve their problems. Indeed, “conventional wisdom” does say that voting for the party rather than an individual works better as an individual without a strong party could well be powerless. This must be true, particularly in India, but what is also true is that strong individual candidates do stir up the pot…and the more of them we have, the more churning there is of the system! And just think what harm a weak, corrupt or useless candidate from a powerful party can do. So even if voting for candidates from small parties will not exactly help stabilize our government (splintering of votes), it’s better than voting for corrupt people. In any case this splintering of votes amongst smaller state parties is happening on a large scale in India already…but even here one suspects that the party is taking precedence over the candidate.

The wiki has a fairly comprehensive list of Indian political parties.  Here is a list of the national parties.

  • Indian National Congress- (INC, led by Sonia Gandhi)
  • Bharatiya Janata Party- (“Indian People’s Party”, BJP, led by Rajnath Singh)
  • Bahujan Samaj Party- (“Majoritarian Society Party”, BSP, led by Mayawati)
  • Nationalist Congress Party- (NCP, led by Sharad Pawar)
  • Communist Party of India (Marxist) – (CPI(M), led by Prakash Karat)
  • Communist Party of India- (CPI, led by Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan)
  • Rashtriya Janata Dal – (RJD, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav)
  • Samajwadi Party – (SP, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav)

There are a whole host of state parties as well as registered but unrecognized parties and I won’t list all of them here. I am just giving a tentative list of new parties which have come up with the intention of shaking up the Indian political system…wanting to bring in honesty and transparency into politics.

Revolt India is a party started by some IITians  (Talvinder Singh and Praveen Tyagi) and then last year another group of IITians had started a political party called Bharat Punarnirman Dal (BPD), a state political party (Uttar Pradesh).  Then there is Lok Paritran, again formed by IIT graduates, but it has run into some trouble (a split in the party). There is a Pune-based People’s Guardian Party (Lok Rakshak) with Arun Bhatia in the lead (that’s his pamphlet on the left) and a recent one is the Professional party of India (PPI) where a group of professionals believe that the only way to rid the country of its problems is by taking “the political plunge”.  There is also the All India Muslim Forum.

(Update) Vivek mentioned in his comment that a party called Lok Satta led by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (an Andhra Pradesh based party) is doing some good work and is led largely by professionals and social workers. The party has been around for two years now and has an agenda that “transcends religion, caste, region, and language”. Over 70% of their members are under the age of 25.

Relatively new parties like these have been contesting elections but haven’t been making much of a dent, often none of their candidates win a seat. But then this is expected, as floating a political party is easy, but actually winning the confidence of the people another matter. Social scientist Ramchandra Guha has put it well in an interview to The Telegraph (India):

Running a political party requires patience, organisation, capital inflow and the commitment of thousands of people. Fly-by-night parties that come riding a media wave don’t last for long

I am certainly not implying that any of the parties listed above are fly-by-night parties, just that it’s going to take quite a while for the public to repose faith in them and they need to stick around for that long. A voter, used as he is to voting for parties, not individuals, is going to take a long time to start to have faith in these smaller unknown parties which have no track record. And indeed he should, as voting blindly for any party, just on the basis of their promises, doesn’t seem to be the best course of action.

It’s best to vote for individuals. It is easier to choose between two experienced individuals as one tends to know his/her strength and weaknesses. Untried candidates, however noble their agenda, are always a risk. I am not saying that one should vote only for experienced candidates, just that one has to be careful about voting for an untested politician/party.  However honest and straightforward a politician, qualities like administrative ability, a strong will and the ability to get along with people are critical to his success. Politics as we all know is a different ball-game.

All said and done, the mushrooming of these parties is the best thing that has happened in Indian politics in a long time. It shows that people with fire in their bellies are spoiling for change. From the voter’s point of view he just has to be careful of those people who might jump on the bandwagon just for the ride.

Finally we will all have to wait and watch, and take each politician on his merit as well as with a pinch of salt, and not get taken in with big talk and tall promises.

(Photo is by me)

Update: After reading Shefaly’s comment I remembered reading about an organisation which is helping Mumbai voters to find out more about their leaders. It didn’t take long to find out that this organisation is called Praja. They have just started with this exercise and intend to cover all of Mumbai’s wards soon. It is also possible to write to one’s councillor directly via Praja. I do not know of any other initiative like this in any other parts of the country and if anyone knows of them do let us all know.

Related Reading: Antulay’s vote bank politics
Sheila Dixit’s win in Delhi- could this herald a new voting era in India?
Playing politics over Malegaon

All posts on Politics.

48 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2008 10:26 am

    Nita, my experience with those around me has been quite different – at the end of the day, people do vote for the *party* and not so much for the candidate (a candidate can get them excited though), but they do rationalize their choice so that it comes across as if they decided on the candidate based on his merits and merits alone. As a supporter of a third party and living in liberal/progressive Boston, I got a ring-side seat this time to observe people’s behavior regarding politics and candidates, and their numerous rationalizations. On both sides (Democrats and Republicans), people vote for the party even if they don’t like the candidate or disagree with his stance on issues, using the framework of “voting for the lesser evil.” The purpose is to keep the “other” party from winning, even if the candidate of one’s party is less than ideal. Unfortunately, the way US politics is structured (it’s not representational democracy), there’s not much of a choice for voters and it’s quite difficult for a third party to gain traction, resulting in disenfranchisement of certain groups and their voices. Needless to say, I’m no fan and quite critical of US-style democracy with a two-party system.

  2. December 31, 2008 11:03 am

    With the Anti Defection Law prevailing for India, we are in practice voting for a party and not an individual, since the elected candidate has to vote as per their party instructions.
    End of the day, we cast a vote to elect a government. But, as we have seen in J&K, despite the strong voter turnout, the verdict was still hung. Having too many options is also not good for a democracy. There is a tendency for parliamentary democracies to fall into a coalition muddle and reach a stage where nobody wants to take a decision over concerns of antagonizing voters (French Fourth Republic is the obvious example).
    Another issue is the difficulty in forming all-comprehensive party which can get voters from all communities has meant that most parties in India have chosen to concentrate on niche voting segments and play to their whims which has ,in a sense, led to divisive politics. Once in a while we need to streamline the psyche of the people when it comes to voting.

  3. December 31, 2008 11:13 am

    Keeping track of individual’s meritorious service in the public arena is not so easy. One settles for evaluating party performance, manifesto and teams that they can put up to govern the country rather than the local candidate’s evaluation.
    But these parties are competing and trying to be one-up on each other in every field of the political arena – be it divisive politics, lethargic inaction, vested interests, firing missives at oppositions, blocking developments, pseudo-activisms ….
    //”All said and done, the mushrooming of these parties is the best thing that has happened in Indian politics in a long time”/// Maybe like competition helps consumers? But see what they are competing in! In a democracy, we have a wider choice – we can now choose our own butcher!

  4. December 31, 2008 2:21 pm


    Reflecting partly what Amit said, I think that the US system forces people to choose the candidate because they like the party’s agenda. Agreeing further with him, you will find people rationalise, and not just in the US, their choice after the fact.

    Ideally, a voter understands the issues at stake and is aware of each party’s stance on these issues. This is a crucial point where illiteracy or linguistic apartheid may stand in the way of the voter with the best intentions. Even several so-called well-educated people often do not comprehend complex issues or are unwilling to look beyond the pall of their own prejudices.

    Then the question of where the voter should seek the relevant information arises. Manifestos aside – it is like relying on a product’s PR material to decide to buy it or not – developed democracies have public domain info like the prior voting records of an incumbent candidate, his/ her abstinence record, his/ her financial dealings etc all of which are proxies to understand the candidate’s stances and his/ her party’s. There is also the issue that the voter must understand whether a particular issue in the Parliament had required, even forced, an incumbent to vote with the party or if it had been a free vote. All this may be too much investment of time for a voter who believes – and he/ she may be statistically right – that his/ her vote makes very little difference to the outcome of an election. So most people will just do a finger-in-the-air exercise and vote based on shallower criteria such as youth, height, looks and legs (the US press famously thought Hillary’s legs and cleavage were worth discussing, during the primaries!).

    I am not cynical but I do get sceptical when I see the resurgence of new, two-bit parties. Idealism is one thing but politics is about getting things done. Ergo, whom you know is way more important than what you know. So proof and pudding come to mind. If you remember the case of Adolf D’Souza, you will know that it was his lack of political capital and affiliations that made him an ironic combination of ‘truly representative’ and ‘truly politically ineffectual’.

    My view is that if a person intends to vote, he/ she has a duty to do the homework required and make an informed call, as well as help others do the same where possible. Otherwise we can all sit and hand-wring all we like, and plus ça change will still apply.

    Shefaly, great comment! In fact this is the stuff of a separate post! Looks like we should all be glad that you are down with a cold so you are using your intellect here instead of in some productive areas! 🙂 Anyway, I have made an update to my post, a small one. And as for your comment, I am just drinking it in! Starting early you see, being new years eve! 😉 – Nita.

  5. December 31, 2008 2:44 pm

    I don’t think the new parties would be able to be free of corruption or the other vices of the older ones, Nita. As long as there are people who would vote for a particular party in exchange of some freebies, no party or individual can make a difference with a top-down approach in a democracy. But this is a nice article which explores the available options.

    Destination Infinity

    Destination Infinity

  6. December 31, 2008 4:14 pm

    Here’s Wishing you a very happy and prosperous ’09!!!!!

  7. December 31, 2008 4:31 pm

    Nita, this is really a million dollar question to all of us Indians !!

    I dont agree to most of the ideologies of Congress nor I’m a fan of Sonia family but if Manmohan Singh is contesting election from my Constituency and as I admire him a lot, I would not be thinking anything than voting for him only .. At that time, the loathe which I have for Congress or Sonia will not reflect in my ballet ..

    But I guess I would not pass through tht dilemma in this election at least.. Advani will be the contestant from my area and I will be more than happy to cast my vote for him !!

  8. Padmini permalink
    December 31, 2008 7:19 pm

    It could be vice versa too. Those who don’t vote for a political party go in for independent candidates or don’t vote at all. Here’s wishing you and your family a very happy and productive 2009! And lots of great blogging.

  9. Sudhir Jatar permalink
    December 31, 2008 7:27 pm

    My observation over a period of the last more than 40 years of municipal, parliamentary and assembly elections is that caste factor is a major factor. Religion comes next. Caste factor exists even in religion. Next comes the party and lastly the individual.
    All political leaders, especially the vicious ones, Sharad Pawar, both Yadavs, Mayawati, et all are all existing on caste.
    The other day, a worker of NCP wanted me to fill up a form. The excuse is that NCP wants to serve the people and would like to know all their particulars. To my horror I found that there was a column in the form asking for caste and sub-caste. Suffice it to say that I wrote ‘Mang’ against my name and gave the form back without completing it! I contacted one of the local top bosses of NCP & told her that asking for caste is not allowed after 1950.
    She confessed that the elections are fought on caste basis and that is why the political parties resort to this.

  10. Dr N N Dhruv permalink
    December 31, 2008 7:27 pm

    //Keeping track of individual’s meritorious service in the public arena is not so easy. One settles for evaluating party performance, manifesto and teams that they can put up to govern the country rather than the local candidate’s evaluation.//
    That’s a very realistic statement, Gopinath. With the media management and publicity, candidates build up their image and the voter’s judgment may be grossly affected by that. But loyalty to the party may compel a candidate to keep silent even if he or she feels that a particular step taken by the party is not proper. These are therefore issues on which a final decision has to be taken by the individual voter according to his or her judgment. Perhaps a merits of the individual and the merits of the party must both be considered together. But that of course may turn out to be mutually irreconcilable!

  11. December 31, 2008 8:27 pm

    Awwww not a serious political post at year end!! I thought we would get some sort of summary post..I m not in mood for serious commenting 🙂
    Wish u and ur family a very happy new year!

  12. December 31, 2008 9:38 pm

    Happy new Year Nita …The wish on sidebar is cool 🙂

  13. December 31, 2008 9:38 pm

    Shefaly, I think you are not taking into consideration the impact media has on a person’s choice. Else we would not have allegations of certain media outlets being biased in favour of certain parties/candidates.

    I dont know how big the media factor is in %age terms when it comes to a voting decision, but I am positive it is forming a larger and larger chunk as time goes on.

    My personal understanding of the priorities of a voter in urban India:
    Reputation, Party Affiliation, Track Record, Media-savvy

    Rural India:
    CASTE, Party Affiliation (which may not be distinguishable from caste), Track Record, Media

  14. December 31, 2008 9:54 pm


    I think you are not taking into consideration the impact one vital word in my comment has on comprehending it: “ideally”. 🙂

  15. December 31, 2008 10:56 pm

    Hmm….might be i should become a politician:P

    Jokes apart,removing corruption is something which is not going to happen,unless we find a powerful weed killer…so let us fund more innovations..

    And Happy new year 🙂 looking forward to more great posts from you 🙂

    Weed killer huh! Yeah that’s the right spirit! 🙂 And a very happy new year to you too!! – Nita.

  16. vasudev permalink
    December 31, 2008 11:51 pm

    i got an email a few months ago stating that some guys in bangalore walked out of a booth after registering their name but w/o voting. i forget the article number. if more and more people opt for such means then the corrupt govt and the corrupt opposition will have to sit up and think about fielding only right candidates.

    otherwise even if the ec wishes to give the rights to the citizens the political ruling and opposition would show solid comraderee to reject it.

    like they have these voting buttons they shud have the rejection buttons as well in their voting machines.

  17. vasudev permalink
    December 31, 2008 11:57 pm

    i won’t wish you all a happy new year. i would rather wish you all a BETTER NEW YEAR 2009.

    I got this sms just now and liked its honest helplessness:

    “In the new year I wish you that God be with you in all your Karmas, as happiness is HIS blessing.”


  18. January 1, 2009 7:30 am

    Wishing you a wonderful 2009, Nita!!

    • January 1, 2009 9:02 am

      Amit, voting for the lesser evil doesn’t sound right to me but it does seem as if the average American voter is truly making a conscious choice, whether wrong or right.

      Arby, India’s poliotiicans fully exploit regional, religious and casteist sentiments which has resulted in so many smaller parties, particularly at the state level. I guess as long as our populace continues to be vulnerable to these machinations, we are doomed to these coalitions.

      Gopinath, true, it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible specially as now it is mandatory for candidates to declare their assets and the RTI is also available. However it is going to take a long time and as I mentioned in my response to Shefaly, there are people who are trying to do this work. About more choice, yeah I guess!! 🙂

      Destination Infinity, I too would not fall for the self proclaimed honesty of candidates. And you have made an excellent point about the top down approach. As you said, that is no way for a political movement to really take root. We need a graassroots connection. Let’s see how many of these parties survive.

      Rahul, wish you a happy new year too!

      Soham, you are politically aware and would probably make a conscious choice. That is very important I think, making a choice and not voting blindly for a party.

      Padmini, true there is a section of the people who are very particular about the candidate and vote for independents. And a very happy new year to you and your family too!

      Sudhir, caste is being used by politicians because it works. Unless our populace itself stops thinking of caste as a factor, this is going to continue. As for the blatant disregard for the law, I am not at all surprised.

      Dr. Dhruv, perhaps one should go by the facts, like a person’s declared assets, achievements etc but true, somethings may be hidden from public view. The danger for falling for rhetoric is very great when it comes to new parties and new candidates.

      Reema, I have been thinking of writing this post for some time now and had jotted down most of it about a week ago and now at the end of the year didn’t want to make the effort of writing another post! Writing a summary post also takes too much time! Probably I will do one at the end of the week and there are tags to do too!

      Nimmy, Vishesh, Reema, Vasudev, Vishesh, Amit – thanks for your wishes and a very Happy New Year to you and your family too!

  19. January 1, 2009 12:50 pm

    To run a political party one must have lot of money. So starting a new party and bringing it to the people is a himalayan task. Lots of money has to be spent just for advertising. First thing people must know a party with that name exists there. And the canditates they are going to give tickets must be a familiar face in that constituency.
    And giving preference to a canditate or a party depends on the canditate who is contesting in a constituency.

    A very nice post Nita 🙂
    A very happy new year wishes to you and your family 🙂

    I do tend to agree that the candidate matters a lot. And thanks for your wishes Kanagu and a happy new year to you too! – Nita.

  20. January 1, 2009 3:49 pm

    @ Nita : Personally speaking I always vote for a party because I vote in a parliamentary system. In case the PM is disposed the party can elect another leader. It is very important for me to know what the tendencies of the party I am going to vote for are. The leader for me is a secondary thought. I guess in most commonwealth countries it matters strongly which party is in power. America follows a very different system under which you vote for a person.

    What India needs I believe is for parties to form a more clear agenda instead of shape shifting based on what is convenient. Most parties in any case have failed to take in to consideration the opinion of the people. I have never met my MP for example even during the election time. I never get any mail from these leaders asking me about my opinion on anything. Most politicians know that the people who vote have no choice but to vote from among their lot so i guess the emergence of new parties is a good thing but in order to win votes they must first win people’s trust.

    Odzer, I guess that’s true, the party’s agenda is very important, or rather, critical, and if one doesn’t agree with it there is no point even considering the candidate. However for me at least the opposite also holds true. If I do not like the candidate, then I won’t consider the party. Would prefer to vote for an independent. – Nita.

  21. January 1, 2009 6:23 pm

    Went through the post and then all the comments – I find I am kind of confused. But whoever I meet seems to think they would like to know 1.) Who exactly is going to be the PM [etc] if they vote for any party, and 2.) What to do when sometimes you hate the party but their local candidate is doing a great job!

    I think I agree with Odzer above that our Parties should give us a clearer agenda. As of now they don’t need to – we are happy to vote for caste and religion, can’t blame the voter either, because these issues can easily become a matter of life and death.

    What we need most urgently is a total ban on using, asking or propagating any religion or caste by any candidate or Party, and then maybe clearer agenda, not just tall promises.

    Since the voter has not much choice maybe the Election Commission should step in here again.

    Nice post Nita!
    And looking forward to reading many, many more such posts all year, wish you and your family a very Happy New Year 🙂

    Thanks IHM. Me too would certainly like to know who the PM is going to be but I do not trust the parties who are ambiguous. Right now the Congress party is being ambiguous but I am quite sure they want to make Rahul Gandhi the PM and that is not what I would like. So I will never vote for the Congress, precisely because I fear that Rahul G will become the PM. Anyway lets see if they actually say who is going to be it if they win. And I really wish that religion, caste etc is not used for votes, but knowing our country even though there are laws, one has to depend on the party’s own conscience and self regulation. But here the parties fail miserably. For example, the Shiv Sena, which talks about local development and security is believed to have encouraged a whole slum of bangladeshis in an area in Mumbai and in return they get votes! Now our law doesn’t allow bangladeshis, but who cares? – Nita.

  22. January 1, 2009 6:32 pm

    Nita, the party is more important than a particular candidate because the candidate has to follow the party policies. If you remember, on the OBC reservation issue Navjot Singh Sidhu and Arun Shourie had opposed the BJP’s official policy but they were helpless and couldn’t do anything . However if the candidate is a criminal then a candidate has to be rejected whatever party he belongs too.
    As far as the independents are concerned they are useful to the main political parties in case there is a hung parliament. Anti defection law is not applied to them and they are free to demand their pound of flesh. Individually they are not able to make any difference. The emergence of new parties is a welcome sign but it takes a long time for a political party to makes its presence felt.

    Prerna I do agree what you have said. And we have a long way to go! – Nita.

  23. January 1, 2009 10:23 pm

    @ Nita : It is about this coalition muddle that I am concerned. In a sense in line with my comment on ur earlier post, having coalitions at a national level for a long run is not healthy for the country. The example I gave of the French Fourth Republic, lasted from 1945-1958 saw 20 PMs in its life, before it collapsed in face of the Algerian crisis.
    The small parties, since they have a small votebank, can focus on them and not be concerned abt others. They will also have a choke hold in the government, because neither Congress nor BJP have been able to garner majority on their own. The national parties cannot make a strong decision (like dismissing Antulay) for the fear of antagonizing the voters and the smaller parties.

    Arby, true coalitions can hold the whole country to ransom even if they do not hold the mandate of the people and we saw that when the communist parties who only represented a small section of the people were blockign the nuclear deal. But as it was a very important issue of national importance the Congress got around it, as they wanted to get the deal done by hook or by crook! 🙂 About Antulay the reason he is not being dismissed is deeper than that. He has been a chamcha of Indira Gandhi and the Gandhi family for a long time and I have no doubt that he was helping Indira Gandhi fill her Swiss bank account. There is no way they will dismiss Antulay. Also I think coalitions are here to stay and we have to make the best of them and I prefer to be optimistic and say that maybe we could somehow make them work. – Nita.

  24. January 2, 2009 12:54 am

    Arby K:

    As a counter-example to your point, consider Switzerland. It has had a coalition of the four major political parties since 1959. They have in place a system of rotating Presidency each lasting 1 year.

    Surprise! They actually get things done. It is a very well-run country with an enviable direct democracy made possible partly by the small population.

    A ‘power sharing structure’ can neither be fully credited with successes nor fully responsible for failures to achieve policy objectives. Several other factors go into the process – political will being amongst the most important.

    But above all, a national interest has to override any interests. And _that_ alas is where most Indian politicians fail miserably. It is tragic that such a problem of incumbency exists in a country the size of India! Unless fresh candidates emerge every few years, the system may continue in its present ways.

  25. January 2, 2009 5:53 am

    @ Shefaly : In Switzerland everything moves like ‘clockwork’.

  26. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    January 2, 2009 7:19 am


    You omitted in your post (and I am surprised no one among your commentators has as yet pointed this out) Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan’s Lok Satta Party, which was formally registered only in early 2008, but has been active as a movement for something like a decade. It comprises impeccable individuals (social workers and professionals) driven by ideals of “surajya”, most of them relatively young, who have dedicated themselves to respectable careers and are well-educated (though unlike most of your commentators on this post and elsewhere, I do not believe formal educational qualifications are important in electoral politics).

    For details details about the Lok Satta movement (and now Party), you may wish to visit “Jayaprakash Narayan’s Blog.”

    Please note that this Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan is not to be confused with the late Jai Prakash (two words) Narain (spelt “-ain” instead of “-ayan”).

    Vivek, thanks for mentioning Lok Satta. Yes it is certainly a party worth mentioning. I will add it to my main post. – Nita.

  27. January 2, 2009 9:32 am

    @ Nita & Shefaly : I am not against coalitions per se( It has worked to a good degree in UK as well). But, each country have their characteristics. In India, we are dominated by region based political parties that thrive on focusing on a particular state or few castes. These parties stand to gain by wedging a region or caste divide deeper and this has been going on for the last two decades. Congress and BJP lose out in the long run to these parties because the region based parties can cater better to their smaller votebank, many times at the cost of national focus.
    I brought up the decision on Antulay because it was the most recent. Before that we had the Tamil parties up in arms over LTTE vs SL issue. From a national perspective, it may have made sense to side with SL, especially if China was looking in. There was also the MNS ruckus, propping up Maharashtra vs Bihar. The national parties have a limit to how they act against their allies, when they look after their own interests, at the cost of the nation.
    In my blog, I’ve been trying to put forward the option of a Presidential democracy for India, because it can solve many of the current system’s problems, including bringing up populist new leaders in place of fragmented new ones. National focus will be restored and there will be government stability.

  28. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    January 2, 2009 10:05 am


    Thanks, but in adding it to your main post I think you have done it an injustice by calling it “Andhra-based”. Just look at the roster of names associated with it. They are from all over India, and people of proven mettle, not sleazy opportunists.

    You wouldn’t call any of the so-called “mainstream” parties as “Delhi-based”, would you? Not even the Communists whose power-bases are mainly in West Bengal and Kerala (OK, also Tripura). Nor would you call SP and RJD “cow-belt” parties. So why does Lok Satta become “Andhra-based”? Just because its founder-leader is a “Madrasi”?

    Also, whether you like them or not, AIADMK, Telugu Desam, Shiv Sena and a number of others have to be considered “national”. Not only have their members been elected to the Lok Sabha, they have also been ministers in the coalition governments that seem to have become a norm now.

    Vivek, I am not an expert on these issues, and certainly am not sure on what basis parties are considered national or regional. I simply picked up the “Andhra” from their own site, their about page. – Nita.

  29. January 2, 2009 10:13 am

    Congress party never discloses its PM or CM candidate nor it projects anyone .. They always say that the PM/CM will be chosen by elected cadre .. So you are always in for surprise package .. But I dont like this policy ..

    In turn, BJP always projects one of its leaders as a CM/PM candidate if they get the majority .. SO at least I know who will run my state/country if I am voting for them ..

    I guess, known devil is better than unknown stranger in this case !!

  30. January 2, 2009 2:24 pm


    Coalition in the UK? Really? When? Although three main and several smaller parties (BNP, Respect as well as regionally dominant SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, DUP etc) exist, the UK’s political system is mainly predicated on two players – the Labour Party and the Conservatives.

    The diversity of – or the ‘planks’ used by – Indian regional parties are not very different from smaller parties in the UK. The Indian scene looks complicated but think scale? India’s population is 20 times that of the UK. The sheer numbers can increase the complexity of the play.

    A Presidential democracy such as the US may look attractive but it will concentrate power in one person’s hand. Concentrating corruptibility in one person does not reduce corruption. For how it can go wrong is plenty evident in the recent years of Dubya’s reign when issues such as stem cell research (abortion came close) were decided by Presidential diktat and not by evidence of any sort.

    Neat solutions are attractive because they look like panaceas but as HL Mencken, a great American journalist and social commentator once said: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.”

    Complex problems have complex solutions, requiring multipartite buy-in which is what politics is all about.


  31. January 2, 2009 2:37 pm


    Yes 😉

  32. January 2, 2009 5:11 pm

    @ Shefaly : The onus of electing the right executive lies completely on the people in a Presidential democracy. US may have made a mistake with Dubya, but they have elected capable leaders like Lincoln & FDR earlier (and may continue to do so, if Obama proves capable).

    Presidential democracy is by no means a simple solution, because it also has its negative effects. Normally, the legislature has to act as a counter to the executive in a Presidential democracy (In a Parliamentary one, the executive is a part of the legislature and will necessarily have majority in it).

    But, it can deal with couple of problems that we are dealing with effectively – divisive politics and weak governments. Allowing the current situation to go on will lead to more unhealthy rivalry among the states.

    The current Indian citizenry is tuned to the idea of voting for coalitions and region based parties, even though it may not be in national interest. It is this mindset that needs to be changed.

    Another way of getting out will be if few of the region parties merge into a single one like maybe a BSP with ShivSena or RJD, but I do not know how likely it is.

    Regarding my example of UK, I may have misinterpreted what I came across in wiki about “Politics in UK”. I do apologize for that. I was looking for examples where parliamentary democracy has been successful in the long run in large countries. I had not considered Switzerland since it is not exactly a large country, despite being a long lasting republic.

  33. vasudev permalink
    January 2, 2009 9:42 pm

    nita…with interest i read about the split in lok paritran…a party started by iitians. hmmm! aren’t they even worse than those illiterates who start parties? now why should any successful iitian get into a profession as dirty as politics? (next only to the profession of the smuggler dawood). only to make money. now one must check whether these iitians were iit 3rd classes or iit unfits? why does someone join an iit? to make money of course. so there you are…

  34. vasudev permalink
    January 2, 2009 9:46 pm

    nita… hmmm! about arby and your italics. i love people who are as open as i am.

  35. January 2, 2009 10:17 pm

    Arby K:

    I think that is a rather idealistic view of a Presidential democracy. The US system is a victim of multiple capture and if checks and balances worked as they should have, their last 8 years and probably many before that would have looked different.

    “The current Indian citizenry is tuned to the idea of voting for coalitions”.

    Citizens cast their votes based on their own criteria (or in many cases, external enticements). They do not vote a coalition in, as you seem to suggest. A coalition is what is allowed by the President when he/ she calls a government to be formed in case no clear victor emerges. Unless citizens share information to steer an election outcome a certain way – I believe it is called rigging! – non-emergence of a clear majority is but to be expected. Rational voting requires too much effort on the part of the electorate.

    Parties of different ideological hues coming together is only feasible if they can find common ground or attain a greater goal than they would if they kept separate. Politics after all is a game of negotiation and one can negotiate precious little within one’s own party especially since issues of greater significance follow a 3-line or 2-line whip or its equivalent system.

    On the rest, I would just say that in a complex discussion, it is better not to rely on Wikipedia 🙂 Switzerland runs a stable parliamentary democracy with a highly functional and productive federated system. If you were to consider the supranational system of the EU, you would find interesting examples of how federated interests negotiate to arrive at common outcomes (very slowly and not always very sensible either).

    Parliamentary democracies are imperfect but they are more perfect than the alternative(s).



    Sorry to have taken so much space on this discussion. Thanks for indulging me 🙂

  36. January 2, 2009 10:23 pm

    Arby K:

    One last technical point:

    Voters do not elect the ‘executive’, they elect the ‘legislature’ which may then appoint the executive. Even in the US, it is not the public that votes the President in, but the electoral college that elects him (so far, only him!).


  37. January 3, 2009 12:10 am

    @ Arby: divisive politics and weak governments

    Arby, the divisive politics is a more a result of the fundamental nature of Indian society and the lack of internal democracy in the national parties. No doubt the current parliamentary system contributes to it, but it isnt the fundamental reason.

    As an example, take UP, for 35 years we did have stable Congress governments there. But the lack of democracy within the Congress and the upper caste dominance (not a single low caste CM till Mayawati) shifted the population towards the low caste parties. You might want to read this.

    An era of ‘divisive’ politics can thus encompass a socio-political revolution and lead to long term gains in stability and governance. The stability has been shown by the fact that the BSP has gained more seats with each election and now has a very comfortable majority in UP (no coalition in the most caste-ridden state of India!). Lets see if Mayawati can deliver the governance.

    ‘Divisive politics’ may lead to more stable and representative governments in the long run.

    This was not needed in a state like TN, because a social revolution there (initiated by Periyar) had already ensured low caste representation in politics and government. It has also led to better governance.

  38. January 3, 2009 5:49 am

    Great post Nita. Nothing to add as most of the points are already highlighted by every one here 😀 Happy 2009 to you and your loved ones!

  39. January 3, 2009 7:53 am

    Arby, if you look at the fundamental idea of a democracy, it is to give voice and more choice to its citizens, not less. So if there are regional parties winning and having a say in India, then that implies that other national parties are not speaking (enough) for those regional citizens, or at present, regional issues are too important. Maybe the national parties need to work on their agenda and platform to invite those who prefer to vote for a regional party.

    I think you hinted at the issue when you mentioned people voting along caste lines, so then it’s not the parliamentary system per se which is to blame, but people’s priorities re: voting (putting caste identity above other issues) that need to change. If people still have the same priority as they do now which makes them vote for regional parties, they’re going to apply the same caste-based priority to the candidates available to them in a presidential system too. Not sure how that will make the situation better.

    The other issue is corrupt and criminal leaders. According to you, if the presidential system is the Lamborghini, and parliamentary system is an old Ambassador, simply changing the car to Lamborghini but keeping the same corrupt and criminal leaders as drivers is not going to change the situation. Whereas, an apt driver at the wheels of an Ambassador can go places.

    In my opinion, even though it’s not perfect, a parliamentary system is more representative of people’s voices and interests than a presidential system, even more so in India which has so much more diversity as compared to the US. If you want to consider the example of US, all those who supported Ron Paul and his agenda were either forced to vote for McCain, not because they agreed with McCain’s views but to keep Obama out since Obama is ideologically farther away from them than McCain is; or if they voted for Bob Barr, their voice went unheard. And even in the US, people for the most part do vote for whoever wins the nomination of their party, that is, party platform matters as the candidates do reflect their party ideology and cannot implement an agenda independent of their party’s agenda/platform. Even though they are (directly) voting for a president, their choice is not divorced from the party and the agenda they support. What’s lost is the voice of 10-20% of citizens who are most aligned with Ron Paul/Bob Barr than any other candidate, but are forced to vote for McCain. One could argue that these parties need to build from the bottom up, but the same game of “voting for the lesser evil” with varying degree applies at the state and local levels too. So the US system is indeed great if you are in the mainstream and an Obama or McCain supporter (two major parties), but tough luck if any other candidate/party reflects your interests more than those two. I hope that kind of disenfranchisement does not happen in India.

  40. January 3, 2009 8:41 am

    @ Nita : Was not expecting such a backlash for my comments. I hope u don’t mind me replying to them.

    @ Shefaly : When I said Indian citizenry is tuned to the idea of voting in coalitions, it is because that is exactly what we have done for the last two decades and will continue to do so.

    “Parties of different ideological hues coming together” – How many Janata parties are there in India? They are fragmented regionally and work primarily to satisfy the ego of their leaders.

    @ Vikram : When we are looking at a nation that has been fragmented for centuries before British and Mahatma Gandhi, divisive politics is an obvious outcome. I am not blaming a system for that. Divisive politics may lead to stable government at a regional level for a while, but at a national level unlikely. The national parties need the regional parties to gain a majority to form a government at the center and have no way to control them. On the other hand, the regional parties can do a better job for their votebank, at the cost of other regions, and will be able to get away with it if the other region is not part of the government (Something a national party can ill-afford to do).
    I do agree BSP is making an effort to become more accepted outside their original votebank, but only time will tell if they can succeed outside UP.

    @ Amit : I have not commented on corruption. Neither system will remove it. If Indians are voting for regional parties because regional issues are important, who will take care of the national issues?

    Arby, you should definitely reply to the comments and I am sure everyone expected you to! – Nita.

  41. January 3, 2009 10:49 am

    Arby, I think the stability at the national level will come only after there is stability at regional level. The other way around has not worked. Only when people feel that they have a political organization in which they can be heard will they be heavily involved in the democratic setup. Please note these words of Dr. Ambedkar,

    “A democratic executive must satisfy two conditions:

    1. It must be a stable executive, and
    2. It must be a responsible executive.
    Unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to devise a system which can ensure both conditions in equal degree. ”

    In modern India, currently it is the representative and stable aspects that seem to be in conflict. But in the long term it is better to have stability be a result of representation than the other way around. UP had some messy coalitions in the 90s, but now it seems to be heading towards a more representative stable mode. I think the same might happen in India too, I will have to think a bit more.

  42. January 3, 2009 11:15 am

    Arby, I hope you don’t consider my comment(s) as a “backlash” – I’m quite happy to have a discussion on the pros and cons of the two systems as I understand them. 🙂

  43. January 3, 2009 3:14 pm

    Arby K:

    As far as I know, a ‘backlash’ is an antagonistic reaction to something someone does or says.

    Pointing out factual errors in your argument and poor/ wrong/ inaccurate depictions of the electoral/ political processes, on which you have based your argument or which you have used to illustrate your points, is technically not a ‘backlash’.

    You are welcome, of course, to your own assessment. Thanks.

  44. January 3, 2009 8:45 pm

    @ Nita, Amit, Shefaly & Vikram : Got a bit freaked out to see ppl coming back on my comment, that’s all 🙂 . I do have the tendency to go overboard in an argument.

    @ Vikram : Looking back in history, we will not find a single nation which will meet the current geographical extend of India prior to 1947. Each and every state (to be more accurate, language) have been a distinct independent entity in the past. Now, we have parties from each of these states that have virtually no presence outside their home state. The tendency to identify urself by ur ethnicity rather that by our national identity is rather strong. So long as there are regional parties (not as defined by the law, but defined by the area they get their votes), these ethnic identities will remain of political relevance. The last year with MNS coming up, the question of ethnicity has risen again.

    As I was trying to explain earlier, political parties look for niches in the votebank to wade through the legislature, instead of looking for a national mandate. It is in their best interests to keep these regional sentiments strong. And because the national parties (Congress & BJP) need the support of these parties, they are at their disposal. When we look back in history, whenever the center has been dependent on provinces for its power, it has led to a failed state.

    With regards to UP, I do not know the specifics about how the politics in the state has evolved in the last two decades. But, from what I understand, the parties that are currently active have relied on caste and not on region. If that is the case, the parties will need support from across the state, rather than different parts (like in center).

    @ Shefaly : I do not believe I made an incorrect assessment apart from bringing up the UK example as a support to ur earlier comment. But as u said, it is for us to make our own assessment. As for the two points I chose to ignore earlier :

    Switzerland is considerably smaller to be considered as a point of reference for a country like India. If I am correct, it was formed when few cantons severed ties with Germany early 12th cent, though it was formally recognized by Maximillian in 15th cent. Despite its long tenure, it has had very little influence in the rest of history apart from sending mercenaries on and off (which were later stopped, except in Vatican). It has generally had an neutral or of an isolationist nature, in that aspect.

    Democracy is a nascent concept as far as practise is concerned. Among the current ones, the oldest are US (which has a Presidential one) and France (which has had Presidential and Parliamentary ones, while the current one is Semi-Presidential). Other European democracies are mostly products of early 20th cent, while the ones in Asia and Africa are from post WWII. There may be the odd exception like Iceland, which had a Parliament early tenth century, though they opted for a personal union with the Norwegian crown few centuries later till 20th cent when Norway broke off frm Sweden.

    Regarding voters electing executive, that is exactly what I want to happen. It is only fair for the people to have a say and, if possible, clarity on who will rule them. With respect to electoral colleges in US, their votes are based on people’s decision (though it may be not legally required in some states). So, for all practical purposes, it is the people who directly elects them. From what I understand it is to give each person a fair say in election, like we have constituencies in India.

  45. vasudev permalink
    January 3, 2009 11:13 pm

    the system existing in india depends entirely on emotions or coercions to stimulate a voter into choosing a local candidate (whatever be the reasons of the inspiration to vote for that candidate).

    the voter has no power therafter, to decide who will ultimately call the shots at the top…either at the state level or at the centre. therefore he/she will forever mourn the decision.

    Thats true Vasudev, but choosing a strong candidate with ethical values will help. – Nita.

  46. January 4, 2009 4:42 pm

    The topic is a little confusing to me because we generally vote for the political party. No matter who the candidate is, he/she represent a party. Althought I believe that the voter is supposed to know about the candidate he is about to vote for no matter to which party he belongs.
    The problem is how?

    Yeah, we tend to do that, but we needn’t. I mean even if we like a party, we needn’t vote for the candidate. And as you said once we find out about all candidates, our choice is easier. There are ways to find out about candidates and ofcourse I doubt that this information is available in one place. One has to do it by talking to people, researching online, or simply approaching rival political parties and collecting information. There is also the RTI act if one wants to find out something in particular. Financial records etc of all candidates are easily available. – Nita.

  47. January 5, 2009 6:05 pm

    Nita, Great Post. Having read the post and the comments – I have little to add, other than the fact that I agree that even in our system, where predomninatly people seem to vote for the party, we, as the electorate should be aware of who will be our leader if a particular party is elected. It makes no sense to me if I vote Congress in the basis of Manmohan Singh’s profile , but get Rahul Gandhi as PM instead! Loved your post and the comments!

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