Book Review: Ajay K. Mehra (ed.), Party System in India: Emerging Trajectories

Published date01 December 2014
Date01 December 2014
AuthorAsha Sarangi
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 245
Studies in Indian Politics, 2, 2 (2014): 243–257
this is one of those very few attempts that dare to engage with paradoxes within the legal system
by touching upon divergent and unrelated elements of it. The dilemmas in the arguments of the book
represent the dilemmas of the legal system in India itself.
Anushka Singh
Doctoral Student
Department of Political Science
University of Delhi
Ajay K. Mehra (ed.), Party System in India: Emerging Trajectories. New Delhi: Lancer Publishers. 2013.
533 pages. ` 995.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014551879
Parliamentary democracy in its representational character is procedurally possible through the effective
role played by political parties. Due to the diversity and complexity of social–cultural and political
experiences of the process of democratization, the Indian story of elections to the parliament and state
legislatures is one marked by phenomenal changes and complex democratic dynamics at various levels.
Ajay Mehra’s edited volume is truly a magnum opus, consisting of 18 essays, with a very substantive
and insightful introduction by the editor. The essays by prominent analysts and well-known scholars in
the field of Indian politics focus on almost every aspect of the life and times of Indian democracy and
its intense relationship with the political parties and the party system.
Mehra’s Party System in India: Emerging Trajectories analyzes socio-political trends and looks at
the party system beyond the mere power arrangements. With a careful analysis of the elections and
political parties since the first parliamentary election in 1952, he argues that the need is to think through
once again the bi-nodal theorization that illuminates the coalitional strategies and bargains on the part of
the political parties. Ranabir Samaddar’s essay suggests that the ‘governmentalization’ of the party sys-
tem happened much faster in the last 20 years, and for the renewal of democracy in India, political parties
would need to undergo major transformation, and not just participate in the process of government mak-
ing but also to sustain the democratic ethos of the country (p. 128). But the parties that have emerged out
of long political or protest movements and specific ideological formations might be affected by certain
processes of governmentalization differently from those whose aim is primarily to capture the power and
control of the state.
The last two decades have also seen a significant shift in the class character of political parties. In this
regard, Ashutosh Kumar’s essay, while emphasizing the vagueness and fuzziness of the category of the
middle class, argues that the ‘cultural attributes of plebian and metropolitan middle classes are reflected
in their different political, economic and cultural choices which in turn underpinned the emergent party
system’ (p. 148). However, as Sandeep Shastri reminds us in the following essay, this emergent competi-
tive multi-party system in India has to be in sync with the democratization in their internal functioning
along with possibilities of negotiation at the multiple centres of power. This process of democratization
can be further enriched since the idea of ‘public’, as Amit Prakash analyzes it, is articulated in a more
plural sense at the time of elections, mainly in the manifestoes and programs of three political parties

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