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NATIONALISM: Politics Among Parties

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Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party government had earlier earmarked 84 crore rupees solely for the installation of nearly 500 Indian national flags across Delhi as part of the larger “Deshbhakti project”. The government intends to present this State-sponsored project as a means to instil patriotic fervour among the citizens of Delhi presumably in the context of India’s celebration of Suvarna Mahotsav or 75th Independence Day. Such an exaggerated projection of one’s sense of nationalistic fervour if I may say so would raise critical questions about the ideological underpinnings within the larger context of the structure of party-political formations and its relationship with democracy. Are such projections merely a subconscious momentary response or conscious political action with certain normative-ideological compulsions? In this write-up, the author will delve into the structural make-up of party politics in India rather than normative-value determinations of the ideological compulsions which drive the party systems.

Historically, party-political formations have been rather dissimilar in terms of functions yet identical in terms of the structures with the Western competitive democratic system of government (Recognition and representation). Rajni Kothari offers a theoretical explanation as well as an illustration of this in the form of the “Congress System” - a period of hegemonic intervention by the Indian National Congress in the Indian political experience. He observes that India’s party-political system under the Congress regime was “One-party dominant” with sub-categories of “parties of pressure” and “parties of consensus”.

Theoretically speaking, the evolution of the Indian party-political system in India can be divided into four categories based on the structural viability in terms of popular alternations. It is primarily important to first introduce the characteristic features of one-party hegemony in a political system. The one-party hegemonic system operates within a framework of competitive democratic mobilization and represents a distinct relationship between the governing elites and the masses. A hegemonic party acts as a unit of interest aggregation across multiple socio-economic constituencies with local and national distinctiveness. For example, illustrates this by describing the nature of the Congress System - “programmatic commitments” towards parties of consensus at the local level while its national electoral appeal points towards “national integration and coexistence”. The emergence of such a party becomes a frame of alignment and realignment across ideological divides. One-party dominance determines the national narrative, agenda and ideological consensus with its internal variants.

The evolution of party-political structures in India requires a theoretical formulation to locate and understand the underlying pressures in Indian democracy. As it was briefly noted above, the criteria of popular alterations can be applied to understand “post-Congress” structural formations in the aftermath of a brief period of emergency (1975-77). The genesis of the displacement of one-party dominance lies in i) the internal stratifications born out of loosening charismatic leadership following the death of Jawaharlal Nehru ii) diverging national-regional electoral arithmetic iii) outgrowth of centralisation of authority necessitated by historical predicaments like partition, national integrity and integration, economic revival etc.

Post-Congress order can be understood as the emergence of a consociational system of governance - the emergence of coalition politics that displaced the hegemony of the Congress Party. Under a consociational system (power-sharing), fragmented social units have proportional political representation in a pluralist State and enjoy autonomy and agency for political mobilisation. To borrow the phrase from postcolonial theorist Ranajit Guha, the emergence of coalition politics represented a non-hegemonic interregnum and a phase of “dominance without hegemony”. Under a consociational system, a simultaneous process of contestation for recognition based on the intergroup hostility between the incumbents and aspirants of power kept political association afloat. This period was also the emergence of confrontational regional parties in relation to the hegemony enjoyed by the Indian National Congress under a larger phenomenon of “vernacularization of politics.”

The year 2014 represents a break in the interregnum of coalition politics and the re-emergence of one-party hegemony under the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi. The characteristic features of this re-emergent hegemony under the BJP are as follows: distinct political principles of re-emergence rather than dissipation of the central gravitational party, identical electoral longevity and the degree of ideological entrenchment to the Congress system and consolidation rather than fragmentation of social units - an emergence of the absolute-majority regime.

Within this resurgent hegemonic structure of party-politics can the function of AAP be located. The position of a small regional party such as the Aam Aadmi Party within a larger context of hegemonic structural formations requires us to understand the ideological underpinnings of the regimes. Today, the ideological moorings of an average Indian represent what can be called “post-materialist” with high political salience for meta ideological formulations such as nationalism. Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal has adopted positions that require certain theoretical understanding to appropriately locate its function within this party system. At a facile analysis, Arvind Kejriwal’s occasional endorsements of BJP’s political actions such as the de-operationalization of Article 370 pertaining to the autonomy of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir while his explicit disapproval of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 attracts characterisation of playing a dual role of “party of pressure” as well as a “party of consensus” as Kothari noted. However, it requires larger interrogation.

At the heart of AAP’s political posturing is the survival instinct or what Katz and Mair characterize as “a cartel party”. Survival instinct is born out of a perception of systemic pressure and confrontation with an expanding State and therefore a move towards the perpetuation of resources and relative restraint on competition. If so, how does one theoretically explain the momentary confrontational posturing the AAP has taken in the context of CAA? It is important to emphasise the nuances inherent in the AAP’s posturing towards the CAA. On the one hand, Kejriwal opposed CAA while on the other he exhibited muscular administrative rhetoric of the BJP’s kind towards the protesting Muslim women at Shaheen Bagh. Amidst such manoeuvring, he visited the Hanuman temple in Delhi before the Delhi elections and expressed his intentions as Hanuman Bhakt in a direct message to the BJP’s potential move to brand him anti-Hindu. This complicated political posturing can be summed up into what Sigmund Neumann characterised as a party of social representation - articulations of particular group interests political as well as social.

Therefore, flag nationalism is neither a momentary response nor an aberration in the politics of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. It is essential to locate such micro political formulations within the larger structural pressures of one-party hegemony in a political system, in the Indian case democracy.

By Nikhil Jois K.S

Nikhil is a politics and philosophy enthusiast. He finds solace in Indian Classical Music. He is an aspiring civil servant. He studies History, Economics and Political Science at Christ University, Bangalore.


Guha, R. (1998). Dominance without hegemony. Harvard University Press.

Gunther, R., & Diamond, L. (2003). Species of political parties: A New Typology. SAGE Publications, 9(2), 167-199. https://olemiss.edu/courses/pol628/guntherdiamond03.pdf

https://carnegieendowment.org/, Vaishnav, M., & Hintson, J. (2019, September 5). The Dawn of India's fourth party system. https://carnegieendowment.org/. https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/09/05/dawn-of-india-s-fourth-party-system-pub-79759

Kothari, R. (1964, December). The Congress System in India. Asian Survey, 4(12), 1161-1173. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2642550

Lalwani, V. (2021, July 29). Why is the Delhi government spending Rs 84 crore to install 500 giant flags? Scroll. https://scroll.in/article/1001285/why-is-the-delhi-government-spending-rs-84-crore-to-install-500-large-flags

Jayal, N. G. (Ed.). (2001). Themes in Politics: Democracy in India. Oxford University Press. Pg. No 326-359

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