The clear victory for the Congress-led alliance in recent general
elections has sidelined an array of regional and left leaning parties,
which came to the center stage of Indian politics over the last two
decades as national parties lost influence. The elections have also
paved the way for the Congress Party to recover its position as India's
dominant political force.
Days after the Congress Party-led
alliance won comfortably in the general elections, Mayawati, the head
of a caste-based regional group known as the Bahujan Samaj Party,
pledged her party's support to the coalition.
Mayawati says she is making the offer to extend a friendly hand to the Congress Party "without any conditions."
is among several regional and caste based parties which have
volunteered to support the Congress-led alliance, which is returning
for its second term in office.
This is not what any of these
parties had expected to do. Rather they had nurtured ambitions of being
wooed by the Congress Party, and driving a hard bargain such as prized
seats in the Cabinet in return for their support.
stemmed from forecasts that the results in this year's election would
be even more fractured than it has been in past elections. Since 1991,
India has been governed by unwieldy coalition governments, dependent on
an array of small parties for their survival.
But the 2009
elections reversed the trend. The Congress Party-led alliance
confounded all forecasts, and has emerged slightly short of a majority
- but strong enough to survive without the support of regional
A professor at Delhi University and political analyst, Mahesh Rangarajan, says regional parties have been effectively sidelined.
the last two governments, regional parties will not be not be in a
strong bargaining position. Yes, the pendulum has swung away from the
regional parties. It has not got back all the way, but it is a
significant shift from their power-broking position in the past," said
Communist parties, which played a prominent role by
propping up the last Congress-led government, also suffered a huge
setback. They have been trounced in their strongholds of Kerala and
West Bengal, with their numbers in parliament slipping from 61
lawmakers to 24 - their worst showing in three decades.
analysts say popular resistance to the leftist government's efforts to
acquire farmland for industry triggered a backlash against the
Communists in West Bengal.
The decline of the regional and
left parties has benefited the Congress Party, which has won 206 seats
on it own in the 543-member house - up from 145 in the last election.
Congress Party - once known s India's "grand old party" - saw its
fortunes plummet in the last two decades as its presence shrank through
large parts of the country.
Political analysts say the party has
reaped the benefits of implementing policies during its last term such
as a massive $5 billion work scheme which promises 100 days of work to
poor people every year. At the same time, its commitment to modernizing
the economy won the support of the middle class, which has benefited
hugely from the high economic growth witnessed until last year.
analyst Rangarajan says these elections revived the appeal of the
Congress Party among a cross section of voters, but warns that though
regional parties are down, they are not out.
the voters seem to think that a cohesive government where one party is
more or less in control is preferable to one which is pushed around by
regional pressures. But we should be careful. There are very important
regional players who are still there, and they may always bounce back,"
The Congress party admits that strengthening
the party remains a major priority. It is focusing on large, populous
states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the heartland of India -
which send many lawmakers to parliament. The party has already made a
significant comeback in Uttar Pradesh, from where it had been virtually
wiped out by caste based parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party led by
Mayawati. In this election, it won 21 seats out of 80 after it decided
to strike out on its own instead of aligning with regional parties as
in the past.
Rahul Gandhi, the son of the powerful Congress
Party president, Sonia Gandhi, who crafted the winning strategy, says
more needs to be done.
"We need an organization of young
people and that is what we are going to build over the next two, three,
five years," he said.
Analysts say that rebuilding the party
base is critical. But they say this will only happen if the new
government provides the governance and policy measures which people
expect it to deliver now that's its hands are no longer tied by an
array of small partners.