The Evolution of Indian Politics
February 13, 2012
BJ Panda, a member of the Lok Sabha (lower house) of the Parliament of India, described himself as “accidental politician,” in his February 9, 2012 presentation as part of the India and South Asia Program’s “South Asia Week.” He shared his experiences and lessons learned in over a decade of work in the Indian legislature as part of an eight-day series of panels, discussions, and lectures about the role of the subcontinent in 21st century international affairs, co-sponsored by Harvard Kennedy School’s Future of Diplomacy Project.
According to Panda, “linguistic and ethnic differences make Indian politics a unique breed.” As a founding member of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), a regional party in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, Mr. Panda has helped to shape a shift in the way the world’s largest democracy conducts public policy, increasingly moving away from the monolithic national parties and towards parties more closely associated with local constituencies. With this shift, the power of the states has increased at the expense of the federal government.
However, while some contend that an increasingly federal state will inevitably mean legislative and bureaucratic logjams, Panda argues that such concerns are unfounded. Instead of stunting the government, regionalized politics and government services will result in administrations that are more effective at delivering services that benefit their particular constituencies, he said. As proof, Panda cites his own home state of Orissa, which “has had double digit growth for about 10 years now under a regional-center coalition.”
At the same time, the emergence of regional political parties has entailed some complications. Notably, at the center, the decline of the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s two national political parties, has meant the rise of a new era of contentious coalition politics. However, Panda believes that Indian politicians, particularly a new era of younger leaders, are finally learning to work within these new political realities. “It is already significantly better than the past,” said Panda, and “in the next few years, it will get better.”
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