India’s Tectonic Political Shift: ‘Authoritative Hegemony’ and the ‘Congress System’

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‘Way back in the 1960s and 1970s, noted political scientist Rajni Kothari used to characterise the Indian political system as essentially ‘Congress System’ with ‘one party’ exercising its ‘authoritative’ hegemony, depicting the Congress as the “spokesman of the nation as well as its affirmed agent of criticism and change.” Kothari even predicted that the Congress would likely to be the most organized political party in the country, with a nationwide following and considerable depth in the localities. The party was expected to be in a position to control widespread local power and patronage even where it was no longer in power at the state level.

Kothari’s predictions had gone wrong with Indira Gandhi taking the party to a different style of functioning since the Emergency days and it eventually resulted in a long period of crisis and decay. Scholars even considered the transition of Indian democracy since 1975 as the beginning of the end of ‘Congress System.’’

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