The 70s, 80s and the 90s witnessed a decline in the popularity of the Congress. During the same time, INC (Indian National Congress) also saw a rise in the control and command style of functioning. This led to many ambitious regional leaders forming their own parties. The formation of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is the classic case as it was a result of the arrogance of the INC central leadership.

Over the years, the inability of the INC to meet the aspirations of its popular regional leaders coupled with its arrogance led to the creation of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and others. The local leaders who enjoyed mass following demanded that they deserved a prominent place in the political landscape and got it by establishing a successful political party.

Most of these regional political parties over the years have become strong regional political dynasties. The genesis of these political parties and the exit of these popular leaders have significantly contributed to the decline in the popularity of the INC.

DNA of Janata Party
The rise of Indira Gandhi as the undisputed leader of India also resulted in the rise of unstructured opposition in the form of Janata Party. The Janata Party movement, which enjoyed a strong mass following and trust of the voters could not manage its growth and popularity.
The biggest problem for the Janata Party was identifying a leader who could efficiently manage the pack of strong, aggressive, passionate and ambitious leaders, who enjoyed a mass following in their respective pockets. The Janata party started to disintegrate even before it reached its full potential, resulting in the rise of regional parties such as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Janata Dal Secular (JDS), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

The emergence of these regional parties was a function of regional pride, regional caste equation and, most importantly, ambition of the regional leaders. Most of these regional parties such as RJD, RLD, SP, JDS build their base around the caste equation of the tallest leader.

Demand for Separate State
The third set of regional parties are the ones born out of movements that promoted regional culture and focused on the ethnic roots. The political leaders in Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Telangana agitated for separate States based on their unique regional, cultural, and ethnic traditions.

Over time, the politicians who were agitating for separate States formed a new regional political party. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in West Bengal were formed as the result of separate statehood movements. The scenario is no different in Maharashtra where the regional party Shiv Sena (SS) followed by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) emerged from a movement in Mumbai demanding preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city.

At times, political parties also fight for autonomy and make it the core of their existence. The National Conference (NC) and the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir are demanding greater autonomy and powers to the State of Kashmir.

Regional Pride and Development
Regional parties also fight for the recognition of cultural rights, unique identity and regional pride. Parties like Shiv Sena in Maharashtra focus on regional rights and pride and the BSP fights for the identity and development of the Dalits.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is known for fighting the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. These set of political parties are flag bearers of regional growth and development.

Fall from Grace
Most of the regional chieftains viz, Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Parkash Singh Badal, N Chandrababu Naidu and M Karunanidhi soon after gaining power converted the regional party or the movement into a family affair. This has led to the rise of the regional political family in the last three decades.

We are also witnessing the rise of new political families in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal as the BSP supremo Mayawati is promoting her brother Anand Kumar and nephew Aakash, and Mamata Banerjee is promoting her nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the party.

This rise of political families is the biggest hindrance to the growth of the idea of regional parties. We are witnessing its adverse impact in the form of decline in the popularity of the regional political parties including the RJD, JDS and the BSP. The decline in the popularity of regional parties and a sudden rise in popularity of a national party is a function of the trust deficit in regional parties.



Relying on regional aspirations

The emergence of regional political parties in India’s political spectrum is one of the most important political developments in the post-independence era. Regional parties have had a big impact for almost three decades and are still playing a crucial role in government formation, both in Parliament and in Assemblies. It will not be off the mark to state that this is the era of co-existence of national and regional parties. This is one of the main reasons why Prime Minister Narendra Modi even after getting an absolute majority continued to take regional alliance partners along.

At present, India is governed by national parties – Indian National Congress (INC), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — and many strong regional parties (see graph). A closer look on the co-existence of national and regional parties gives us three set of States.

Charismatic Leadership
First, there are States such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh which are mostly governed by the national parties – INC and BJP, and regional parties have very little or no say in these States. Second, there are States like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Bihar, where regional parties are stronger than the national parties. Third, in States like Jharkhand and Karnataka regional parties are not very strong and need the help of the national parties to form government.

The regional parties, irrespective of the State they come from, were formed by charismatic leaders who enjoyed unprecedented regional following and cult status. Here again, these leaders can be defined in two categories – caste-based leaders and region-based leaders. A set of these mass leaders like Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati enjoy a loyal base of specific caste, religion or belief system and the other set of leaders like K Chandrashekhar Rao, Naveen Patnaik, Parkash Singh Badal, N Chandrababu Naidu and M Karunanidhi enjoy the status of flag bearer of regional pride and identity.

Most of these leaders could not grow beyond their vote bank and over the years have not reinvented themselves to gain additional votes. Leaders who enjoyed a loyal base of specific caste, religion or belief system have 20-25% of the vote share and those who are the flag bearer of regional pride mostly enjoy 30-40% of the vote share. That makes the positioning of regional pride and identity stronger than the positioning based on a specific caste, or belief system.

Rise of Regional Parties
If we evaluate the emergence of the regional parties, we observe that the big reasons for the formation of regional parties had been the resentment of the locals over the treatment received from the Central government, rise in the ambition of the regional leaders, rise in the regional pride and local issues, and resentment against the central party leadership. The rise of the regional parties is not a recent phenomenon; this trend started in the early 60s.

The first 60 years of independence saw the Congress being in power at the Centre. And during the first four decades, the central leadership was held mostly by the Gandhi-Nehru family and the States were managed by the Congress stalwarts who enjoyed mass following at the regional and State level.

The situation in the South Indian States started to change in the 60s. The politics of Tamil Nadu began witnessing a rise in discomfort with the central leadership, increase in the sentiments of regional pride and rise in the ambition of regional leaders. These factors triggered various regional movements that led to the rise of Dravidian parties.

This was the beginning of a trend, which caught on in many States and in the years that followed saw the emergence of caste and religion-based political parties, led by ambitious regional leaders with a mass following in their areas. It will not be wrong to say that most of the regional parties that emerged in the 80s and 90s actually trace their origins to national parties, either the INC or Janata Dal. The other set of regional parties were formed in search of statehood or identity.

We will explore each category of the regional parties in the second part of the piece appearing tomorrow.