A political party is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government. They agree on some policies and programmes for the society with a view to promote the collective good.
A political party tries to convince people that its policies are better than others’ policies. They try to win elections so that they can implement their policies.
Thus, parties reflect fundamental political divisions in a society. Parties are about a part of the society and thus involve PARTISANSHIP. Thus a party is known by which part it stands for, which policies it supports and whose interests it upholds. A political party has three components:
- The Leaders
- The Active Members and
- The Followers
Functions of Political Party
The main function of a political party is to occupy political offices and exercise political power. For achieving this, a political party performs following functions:
Political parties contest elections. A political party nominates its candidate for the electoral contest in various constituencies.
Political parties put forward different policies and programmes so that the voters can choose from them. A political party brings a large number of similar opinions under one umbrella. These opinions are channelized to form policies and programmes. The policies and prgrammes of the RULING PARTY are expected to be followed by the government.
Political parties play a decisive role in making laws for the country. You may be aware that it is the legislature which passes a law after proper debate. As most of the members belong to political parties, so a political party has direct say in law making for the country.
Formation of Government
Political parties form and run governments. The executive body is formed by people from the ruling party. Various political leaders are assigned different ministries to carry out the task of governance.
A party which does not get majority or come under the majority coalition, needs to play the role of opposition.
Shaping Public Opinion
Political parties shape public opinion. They do so by raising and highlighting issues in the legislature and in the media. The activists of a political party are spread all over the country. These activists raise public awareness for their party’s perspective.
Providing Access to Government Machinery
Political parties provide people access to government machinery and welfare schemes implemented by governments. Parties need to be responsive to people’s needs and demands. This helps them in winning the election.
Necessity of Political Party:
If there were no political party, then each and every candidate would be independent. Current strength of the Lok Sabha is 543. Imagine a situation when none of the 543 members can be brought to think alike on a particular issue. This would lead to a total chaos. An independent candidate would always be more interested in the specific needs of his constituency and would seldom think about the larger interest of the nation. A political party is necessary to bring diverse people on a common platform, so that bigger issues can be taken care of.
The democracy which is being practiced all over the world is called representative democracy. In this system, governance is done through people’s representative because it is impossible for each citizen to directly participate in governance. The need for representative democracy has given rise to political parties.
Multi-party System Vs Two-party System
In some countries only one party is allowed to control and run the government, e.g China. These are called one-party systems. This cannot be a good option because this is not a democratic option. Any democratic system must allow at least two parties to compete in elections and provide a fair chance for the competing parties to come to power.
In some countries, power usually changes between two main parties. Such a party system is called two-party system. The United States of America and the United Kingdom are examples of two-party system.
If several parties compete for power, and more than two parties have a reasonable chance of coming to power either on their own strength or in alliance with others, we call it a multi-party system. Thus in India, we have a multi-party system. During the heydays of the Congress in India, it used to be single party government at the centre. But after the 1996 general elections, no single party has been able to secure even a simple majority. Subsequent central governments have thus been formed by coalition of like-minded political parties.
The multi-party system is apparently very messy and it often leads to political instability. But we should acknowledge the fact that it allows various interests and opinions to enjoy political representation.
Evolution of Party System in a Country
A particular party system takes time to evolve in a country. It depends on the nature of society, social and regional diversities. It also depends on its history of politics and its system of elections. India is a country of huge geographical and social diversity. Such diversity may not be easily accommodated by two or even three parties. It is quite natural that a multi-party system has evolved in India. We should keep in mind that each system has its pros and cons.
Popular Participation in Political Parties:
In India the common perception is, political parties are facing a crisis because they are very unpopular and the citizens are indifferent to political parties.
The available evidence shows that this belief is only partly true for India. The evidence, based on a series of large sample surveys conducted over several decades, shows that:
- Political parties do not enjoy much trust among the people in South Asia. The proportion of those who say their trust in political parties is ‘not much’ or ‘not at all’ is more than those who have ‘some’ or ‘great’ trust.
- The same is true of most other democracies as well. Political parties are one of the least trusted institutions all over the world.
- Yet the level of participation in the activities of political parties was fairly high. The proportion of those who said they were members of some political party was higher in India than many advanced countries like Canada, Japan, Spain and South Korea.
- Over the last three decades the proportion of those who report to be members of political parties in India has gone up steadily.
- The proportion of those who say they feel ‘close to a political party’ has also gone up in India in this period.
(Source: SDSA Team, State of Democracy in South Asia, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007)