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The many-headed hydra

Amidst the hurly-burly in the Indian political scene ahead of a national election, have you heard of a party called All India Bharatiya Muhabbat Party?
PTI | By Indo-Asian News Service, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON APR 15, 2004 07:07 PM IST

Amidst the hurly-burly in the Indian political scene ahead of a national election, have you heard of a party called All India Bharatiya Muhabbat Party?

Or the Bharat Dal (India Party)? Or the Desh Bhakt (Patriot) Party?

Believe it or not, they are among nearly 200 political parties supposedly in the fray in the parliamentary elections -- or they at least figured in the list of parties that contested the last time in 1999.

The list makes for an interesting study, with many of these parties desperate to get noticed among the big fish with their unusual names.

The Pyramid Party, based on the concept of the Egyptian Pyramids as a source of other worldly power, tells its members to shun all forms of medication and rely entirely on meditation and automatic self-healing.

Candidates are also required to spend as much time as possible in silent contemplation.

The Indian National Green Party seeks to "de-pollute India's environment".

The Akhil Bharatiya Sena boasts among its candidates its founder Arun Gawli, the notorious former underworld don.

In the first general election in 1952, five years after independence, the Election Commission recognised 14 national parties and 60 state parties.

Contrastingly, 12 elections later in 1999, there were fewer national parties - seven - 47 state parties and 122 registered but unrecognised parties.

There are a whopping 700 parties across the country.

The birth of new parties, a frequent event in times of elections or any political upheaval, has been attributed to many factors ranging from insatiable political ambitions to just the need for 15 minutes of fame.

Politically, a number of parties owe their existence to the relentless splits in India's oldest Congress party, the constantly changing shape of the socialist family and the assertion of underprivileged and backward classes.

The repeated splits among Indian communists are also a cause.

Psephologists say no party in India has survived without splits or mergers.

The country's first political party, Indian National Congress, was set up in 1885 by a group of lawyers and activists seeking to give voice to the national awakening against British rule.

Single-party domination has over the years given way to a multiparty cocktail, badly fractured and constantly realigning in a country blighted by different communities, cultures, languages and food habits.

To register a new party, the poll panel takes into account its contribution, electoral presence and geographical spread.

The Congress has been out of power in New Delhi since 1996, its previous position of biggest political outfit already taken by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), born in 1980 as a new avatar of the erstwhile Jana Sangh.

The once powerful Janata Party has fragmented into a number of permutations over the decades, finally yielding four main groupings - Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Party, Janata Dal-United and Janata Dal-Secular.

The Janata Dal-United has subsumed the Samata Party that was a key player in the 1999 elections and boasted of two cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government. But some still call themselves the Samata Party.

But for an anti-defection law that requires factions or individuals to seek a fresh mandate on quitting their party, there could have been a burgeoning population of breakaway groups.

Other prominent parties in the fray include the Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Telugu Desam Party, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena, AIADMK, DMK and PMK.

As for the rest, the more obscure they get, the more unusual their names.

What they have in common with the national parties are prefixes or suffixes such as Bharatiya (Indian), Rashtriya (national), and Janata and Lok (people).

There are 25 parties prefixed with 'All India', 32 with 'Akhil Bharatiya', as many as 78 with 'Bharat' or 'Bharatiya', 16 with Indian and 62 with 'Rashtriya'.

Some outfits make their intentions clear with their very introduction.

To name a few -- the United Citizens Party, the Humanist Party of India, the Secular Party of India, Kamzor Varg Sangh (Weaker Sections Party), Amra Bangalee, the National Minorities Party and Labour and Job Seekers' Party of India.

Others promise social change in various forms. They include Rashtriya Unnatisheel (Progressive) Dal, Parivartan Samaj (Social Change) Party, All India Gareeb (Poor) Congress, Akhil Bharatiya Berozgar (Unemployed) Party, Soshit Samaj Dal (Oppressed Communities Party) and Pragatisheel Manav Samaj (Progressive Human Society) party.

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