The Historical Legacy of Party System Stability in Kerala

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
The Historical Legacy of Party
System Stability in Kerala
Balu Sunilraj1
Oliver Heath2
Kerala has one of the most stable party systems in India, and represents a clear exception to the Indian
norm of volatility, instability and electoral change. In this article, we explore the geographical struc-
ture of this stability, and examine the extent to which current political divisions are a reflection of the
divisions that existed at the inception of mass democracy in Kerala more than 50 years ago. First, we
examine the extent to which historical legacies of party formation shape contemporary patterns of
voting behaviour. Second, we examine the extent to which these historical legacies were established
along social lines to do with caste, religion and class. Finally, we discuss the implications of these results.
Social cleavages, party systems, historical legacies, Kerala
India is frequently characterized as politically unstable: elections are volatile, anti-incumbency is high
and parties are dominated by charismatic leaders who garner votes by patronage and clientelism rather
than pursuing programmatic policies. Against this backdrop, Kerala represents a sharp contrast to the
pattern of party politics seen in many states around India. Kerala has a long history of party stability.
Programmatic parties have emerged with clear policy goals. The famous Kerala development model,
which prioritized expenditure on social amenities, has led to Kerala performing comparatively well on
various indices of human development (Frank & Chasin, 1994; Ramachandran, 1998). Accordingly, Kerala
is widely considered as an example of a successful social democratic model within the Indian context
(Heller, 1999; Sandbrook, Edelman, Heller, & Teichman, 2006).
Kerala also exhibits a well-institutionalized party system. From its inception as a state in the 1950s
party competition has been broadly structured along a Left–Right axis, with the coalitions led by the
Communists generally to the left of the Congress. There has also been a high degree of party stability,
1 Doctoral Student, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India.
2 Professor of Political Science, Co-Director, Democracy and Elections Centre, Department of Politics and International
Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, England.
Corresponding author:
Balu Sunilraj, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India.
Studies in Indian Politics
5(2) 193–204
© 2017 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023017727959

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