Causes of the growth of regional parties
Local and regional parties played an important role in the political scenario of the 1950s. In many cases, the national parties could not afford to ignore them and even joined hands with them to register political victories.
In the 1960s, the local and regional parties had started functioning in a major sense. Many parties gradually entered the political contests.
It was mainly an ethnic uprurge that created parties such as the DMK, AIDMK, the Akali Dal, Assam Gana Sangram Parishad, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, etc. which based themselves on religious identity, linguistic traditions or other criteria.
Actually, two main reasons can be identified for the large-scale growth of such parties. One, socioeconomic problems such as economic backwardness owing to loss of employment opportunities, etc. and the imposing of an unacceptable link-language—an example being the threat of Hindi perceived by the south—have created regional imbalances that are sought to be rectified by encouraging the people to rise and fight for their rights.
Major economic imbalances have, in the past, created regional feelings in the economically-backward regions of Telengana and Marathwada. Following independence, considerable hardships were witnessed by sections of the people in different regions such as the Tamilians and the Keralites in Maharashtra and the Bengalis in Assam.
The regional parties that arose thus aimed at highlighting the grievances of one set of people or the other. Another reason for the growth of these parties was the selfish aim of political leaders and persons aiming to become political leaders to fulfil vested interests.
Hence often, regional ire has been awakened and fuelled by raising regional issues to win the support of the people of a particular region. This has been successful owing to the fact that, almost always, people are extremely sensitive to and they easily become emotional over regional issues.
Nowdays, many parties successfully steer into power by adopting such means. They inspire regional feelings in a variety of ways, viz. adopting regional symbols, glamourising local heroes or historical persons and leaders who belonged to the region, etc.
Regional parties have thus grown to be a strong force in modern India. In many states, they are the ruling power and where they are not the ruling power, they form a significant force in the opposition.
Crucial and positive role
The greatest advantage is in that these parties being restricted to a particular region, are more in touch with ground realities. They are well aware of the local interests, needs and expectations and more sensitive to them with the result that they can react in an effective manner to fulfil them.
These parties have succeeded in altering the indifferent, apathetic attitude of the common people towards the political process as a result of a long spell of one-party rule. Regional parties, by bringing regional issues especially those of immediate concern to the foreground, have inspired the people to take an active interest in politics.
In electoral politics, Congress continued in power without any stiff and sustained opposition from other national parties. If such a scenario had continued, it would have proved very unhealthy for our democratic set-up. The regional parties, thankfully, succeeded in providing a genuine challenge to the dominant party. The Akali Dal in Pubjab, the National Conference (in Jammu and Kashmir), the DMK and AIADMK (in Tamil Nadu), the Mizo National Front, Asom Gana Sangram Parishad (in Assam), the Sikkim Parishad (in Assam), the Manipur Hill Unionand the Manipur Peoples Party (in Manipur) are some examples of regional parties that have been dominant in states. These parties have thus ensured a competitive electoral process.
The one-party rule has threatened to affect the federal process. The autonomy of the states was in much danger owing to the dominant party's misuse of powers against states ruled by other parties through practices such as arbitrary dismissal of governors and state governments. But the emergence of the regional parties has meant parties that fight for states' rights. Steps to review and improve centrestate relations through the appointment of the Sarkaria Commission and other acts was a direct result. Strong regional parties have thus saved the federal process from disintegrating.
Regional parties have, time and again, strongly opposed the dominant national party/parties on many issues, forcing the latter to adopt a reasonable approach for conflict resolution. They have exposed a number of failures in our present-day political functioning, such as the misuse of power of issuing ordinances.
Negative impact of regional parties
Regional parties, by their very definition, are an encouragement to a trend of sub-nationalism that, when exercised without a balance, is bound to affect the unity and integrity of a nation.
The ‘regional’ causes are narrow-based. They aim at the betterment of a specific region only often, as is evident nowadays, opposing the same goal for other regions. The larger cause of the nation is ignored, sometimes intentionally, to win the interests of a region. In the long term, it is the country's oneness that is threatened as regional causes come in conflict and incite passions.
Many of the parties do not hesitate to encourage violence or pursue violent means and methods themselves to win their goals. Many parties are openly terrorist or secessionist in nature. Such parties have been operating in the north-east, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and other states.
The fact that regional parties, illegitimate in their demands and the means to achieve them in many cases, and often formed by selfish politicians simply to win power, do succeed in winning power has prompted even national parties to embrace socalled ‘regional’ causes depending upon the region concerned.
This is not a healthy trend as, now, even the national parties are therefore proving themselves less committed to pursue national objectives.
It is our historical experience that makes many of us despair of the recent growth and successes of regional parties. We put our faith in national parties, aware that it was only a lack of strong power at the centre and disunity among the various regions that resulted in repeated invasions of the country in the past.
It is for this reason that our constitution-makers opted for the creation of a strong central government. The need for this is paramount in a diverse entity like India. The view prevalent in some minds that it is time the regional parties are allowed to take the upper hand in politics cannot be encouraged.
According to this view, the country has undertaken economic liberalisation and it is time for a totally decentralised polity now. Centralised polities is not viable and effective any longer.
It is also stated that regional parties have been made to realise that violence cannot pay any longer and the country would not tolerate secessionist designs. But this is to be much doubted.
The only possible answer lies in ensuring a strong centre and the success of national parties while encouraging regional parties to an extent that does not hinder the unity, integrity and overall development of the nation. For this, regional parties, which to a large degree excite regional passions, ought to be kept in check.
First of all, regional parties that have no genuine and clear agenda for the betterment of a region should not be allowed to proliferate.
Many factors have contributed to discourage regionalism and thus large-scale growth of local or regional parties. Increasing political consciousness, the patterns of urbanisation and industrialisation that have been emerging such as the growth of cities, development of transport and communications impact of western culture have resulted in some checks on regionalism.
Some measures can be enforced for this purpose. There may include a thorough review of Centre-State relations, reform of our administrative and economic set-up, promoting an educational system that would expose the evils and deteriorative influence of communalism, casterism, linguistic divisions, regional conflicts, etc.