President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam recently invited criticism from some political parties by commending the two-party system.
Kalam was voicing the sentiments of the English-educated middle class, which believes-- erroneously, of course -- that the British and American models are perfect. Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami says it will be very difficult to evolve a two-party system in India, where votes get scattered in multi-cornered contests. He provides statistical data to support this view.
According to him, in this year’s Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, only 3.47% of the winning candidates got more than 50% of the votes polled. The situation was a little better in Jharkhand: in the 2005 Assembly elections in that State, 6.10% of the successful candidates had polled more than 50% votes. In the last two years, only in Kerala and Puducherry, more than 50% of those elected received more than half of the votes polled.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, which secured an absolute majority in the 403-member UP Assembly, polled between 30% and 35% (actual figures are not available at the Election Commission’s website yet), as against 23.06% in the 2002 elections.
Kerala’s largest parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, have a smaller vote share than what the BSP now has in UP. Many candidates get elected with a clear majority in the State because they contest as nominees of a front, not of a single party. The CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front include a number of smaller parties, whose support enable the big brothers to boost their vote share and grab power in alternate elections.
Coalition politics, which originated in Kerala, has now travelled to most other States and to the Centre. Its success has tended to cloud the fact that a two-party system has emerged or is emerging in many States.
Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi are already two-party States. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are the only parties that matter in these States. Maharashtra is qualified to graduate to two-party status. What stands in the way is the division of the Congress camp into the Indian National Congress and the National Congress Party and of the Hindutva camp into Shiv Sena and the BJP.
Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are also, in effect, two-party States. While the Congress is one of the two parties in contention in these States, the other is a regional party -- Telugu Desam in AP and Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. Tamil Nadu, too, has developed a two-party system. It differs from the other States in that the two parties involved are both regional ones, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All-India Anna DMK.
But for recurrent splits and opportunistic alliances, Kerala may well have developed a two-party system by now with the Congress and the CPI (M) as the sole contenders for power. Karnataka, where three parties are holding the ground, is not able to move into the two-party system only because coalition politics is keeping alive one that is set to wither away. West Bengal is unique: it is a virtual one-party State now. The Congress or the breakaway Trinamool Congress has to gain strength before it can have a semblance of a two-party system.
The large, heartland States of UP and Bihar appear to stand farthest from the two-party system at present. However, the latest election results show that UP can emerge as a two-party State sooner than later. The BSP will be one of the two parties in the reckoning. Who will be the other – the BJP or the Samajwadi Party? The next elections will probably yield the answer to this question. If UP takes to two-party system, can Bihar be far behind?
Since the same two parties are not emerging on the top in all the States, a two-party system at the Centre is not on the cards for the time being.