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Taking Stock:
Two-party system
By Rizwan Ullah

In simple terms, two- party system means a political system where a party is in power and the other is in constant wait for its turn to take over. At times it appeared that Indian politics was moving towards such a system which is in practice in fundamental democracies of the West. The basic features of the system are: national priorities and policies remain constant. They do not undergo any substantial changes with changing governments, albeit with tilts and trims. The built-in bureaucratic structure holds fast to that as if sanctimoniously. The two parties or the groups of parties share power alternately after general elections or hold on to power for more than one term as the luck favours or disfavours which depends on voters' favour or frown. The policies of the parties in power regarding local or internal affairs generally do not reflect upon national policies that include international affairs which are in most cases affected by global developments beyond the control of any single country, such as the oil crisis which has upset economies of the countries world over.

The prospects of an imminent two-party system in India proved to be short-lived. The Congress with the help and cooperation of splinter groups and smaller parties with liberal views could have provided one side of an emerging system while the other side could have been the rightists and conservatives under the BJP umbrella. But this group is itself pulling apart due to the strong tug from ultra extremists. There is nothing basically wrong in pursuing extremist policies if it can help the economy of the country, improve employment opportunities, raise the status of the country in the comity of nations. But unfortunately, the recent history shows otherwise. Nazism and fascism brought disasters to their people. Stalinist communism led the Soviet Union to a dead end. These are the lessons for the extreme rightists in this country which happens to be a far more complicated society and the times have also changed as globalization has a dominating influence on all matters that makes interdependence a compulsion for all big and small.

Thus the two-party system in India would mean a party or a group of parties on both sides of the tug. This is certainly not going to work because all the parties joining to form a ruling group would insist on harnessing their horses to the administrative cart. The consequences are obvious. But still one or the other form of coalition seems to be the only workable system in the country for a long time to come. As regards its form it is likely to be changing with the evolution of regional political formulations. Thus the form of emerging coalition will be dominated by regional considerations. Unfortunately regional parties or groups aspiring for power evolve and revolve round individuals. Still worse, the power and influence of a group is not assessed by the effectiveness of its programmes or its contribution to the total wellbeing of the people but the assessment is based on the brute force and its propensity to foment trouble and cause harm to national property in the stir and agitation sponsored by it as a means to show its power.

An important feature of the two-party system is that the party out of power is always ready to take over. It has its declared policies on all issues of national importance. It has spokesmen on all important affairs just as ministers in the ruling party. In UK it is possible that the ruling party falls before the stipulated time, say as a result of a mid-term election. In the US it is not likely to happen as the president or in his absence the vice president completes the term and this pivotal source of policy structure remains intact even if his party loses majority in the Congress.

Here in India none of the two conditions for smooth functioning of a two-party system is prevailing. But still experience shows that all parties despite their unbridgeable differences work in complete unison. Demolition of Babri Masjid is a glaring example in this respect: armed forces of the state and the centre in their tens of thousands stood guard to the brigand brigade that worked incessantly for seven hours to raze the centuries-old structure to the ground despite assurances to the apex court.

Individualism or personification is the bane of our political system in practice which may be a direct outcome of our traditional social system. However, as a component of the whole society, we as a group with some distinctive features, have to devise means for our survival along with all our cherished values. With this objective in view and as a matter of strategy we should keenly observe the individual functionaries in the political arena, go along with them as far as possible, and as far as they are positive in their thinking and approach.

We have observed that local issues and local leaders however shortsighted, narrow minded and self-centred they might be, are able to influence the central government, rather the tail is wagging the dog. So we should go along with the people wherever we are, have a regard for their sentiments and susceptibilities and share their ambitions. After all we have to live among the people wherever we are and we cannot expect a centre as far away as Delhi from Kanya Kumari or Imphal to descend to solve every individual problem of life and death.

To conclude: one party or the other along with its clouts cannot solve the problems confronting the Indian Muslims who must always deal with the local people and parties. So they should be wiser in not blowing local issues to a disproportionate national level. No power on earth can descend to solve their problems. They must devise means to solve their problems and live with them until they are solved.
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