There are six major national parties in India:
1) the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
2) Indian National Congress (INC)
3) Communist Party of India (CPI) CPI (M)
4) All India Trinamool Congress
5) Bahujan Samaj Party
6) Nationalist Congress Party
Of these; the INC, also commonly known and the Congress Party, and the BJP are the largest. [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

Section 6b of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 stipulates the following criteria for recognition as a national party: 1) The party wins 2 percent of seats in the Lok Sabha (11 seats) from at least 3 different States. 2) At a General Election to Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly, the party polls 6 percent of votes in four States and in addition it wins 4 Lok Sabha seats; 3) A party gets recognition as State Party in four or more States. |*|

The Indian National Congress that led India to independence in 1947 was the largest party, governing in coalition with minor centrist parties. It was later known as the Congress Party and ruled the nation until the 1990s—to some extent through the use of corruption and intimidation. Over the years, a number of parties were formed, and the major opposition to the Congress Party comes from the BJP, which among its followers has some strong Hindu nationalists, who believe that India should not be a multi-ethnic state. [Source: Payam Foroughi, Raissa Muhutdinova-Foroughi, Sujatha Naidu, Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies, Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Seats Held by Political Parties in the Indian Legislature

In 2016, thirty-six political parties are represented in the Lok Sabha. Following is a breakdown of the representation of the political parties with the most seats in the Lok Sabha (Party Name, Number of Members, Percentage ( percent)
1) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — 282 — 52.13
2) Indian National Congress (INC) — 44 — 8.13
3) All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) — 37 — 6.84
4) All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) — 34 — 6.28
5) Biju Janata Dal (BJD) — 20 — 3.70
6) Shiv Sena (SS) — 18 — 3.33
7) Telugu Desam Party (TDP) — 16 — 2.96
8) Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) — 11 — 2.03
9) Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSR Congress Party) — 9 — 1.66
10) Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) — 9 — 1.66 [Source: Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, 2017 |*|]

Thirty political parties are represented in the Rajya Sabha, with the Indian National Congress (INC) (60), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (56), Samajwadi Party (SP) (19), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) (13), and All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) (11) parties holding the most seats. |*|

Elections for the House of the People (Lok Sabha) were last held April-May 2019 in 7 phases. The next ones will be held in 2024. Seats by party: BJP: 303; INC: 52; DMK: 24; AITC: 22; YSRCP: 22; SS: 18; JDU: 16; BJD: 12; BSP: 10; TRS: 9; LJP: 6; NCP: 5; SP: 5; other: 35; independent: 4; vacant: 2. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2023]

House of the People (Lok Sabha) ( percent of vote by party): BJP: 55.8 percent; INC: 9.6 percent; AITC: 4.4 percent; YSRCP: 4.4 percent; DMK: 4.2 percent; SS 3.3 percent; JDU 2.9 percent; BJD 2.2 percent; BSP 1.8 percent; TRS 1.7 percent; LJP 1.1 percent; NCP 0.9 percent; SP 0.9 percent; other 21.2 percent; independent 0.7 percent.

Elections for the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) were last held by state and territorial assemblies at various dates in 2019. They were in progress March through July 2022 to fill 70 expiry seats. Election results: seats by party — BJP: 97; INC: 34; AITC: 13; DMK: 10; other: 2; independent: 2.

History of Political Parties in India

In various forms, the left-of-center Indian National Congress controlled the government of India for most of the years after independence in 1947. Founded in 1885, the Indian National Congress, known after 1947 as the Congress Party (CP), was the most powerful mass movement in the fight for independence in British India. It became the ruling party of independent India due to its national popularity and because most leaders of the independence movement — including India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru — belonged to it. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

India's party system was in the throes of historic change in the 1990s. The 1989 general elections brought the era of Congress dominance to an end. Even though the Congress (I) regained power in 1991, it was no longer the pivot around which the party system revolved. Instead, it represented just one strategy for organizing a political majority, and a declining one at that. While the Congress (I) was encountering growing difficulties in maintaining its coalition of upper-caste elites, Muslims, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes, the BJP was endeavoring to organize a new majority around the appeal of Hindu nationalism. The Janata Dal and the BSP, among others, were attempting to fashion a new majority out of the increasingly assertive Backward Classes, Dalits, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and religious minorities. [Source: Library of Congress, 1995*]

In the 1990s, the center-right, Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the centrist Janata Dal emerged as influential political parties. BJP won the national elections in 1996, and its leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was named prime minister. , although Congress returned to power in May 2004 with Manmohan Singh as prime minister.

Characteristics of Political Parties in India

The Indian National Congress and its factions dominated national politics until the 1990s. Since 1989, single political parties have generally failed to win a parliamentary majority. As a result, parliament is often run by coalitions of political parties. It is believed that the emergence of multiparty governments is caused by voters’ frustration with political corruption and the fragmentation of electorate support among the growing number of political parties that represent specific parochial or local interests. Thus, those parties have strong support only in particular states. Furthermore, lower castes and other social groups have become more involved in politics as both voters and politicians. It remains to be seen if these trends are indicative of increasing social fragmentation as parties attempt to advance parochial interests or simply the result of a socially diverse population’s increasing participation. [Source: Library of Congress, 2005 **]

Opposition to the Congress was always fragmented. Opposition parties range from Hindu nationalist parties such as the BJP on the right to communist parties on the left. The divisiveness of the opposition, combined with the "first-past-the-post" electoral system, has enabled the Congress to dominate Indian politics without ever winning a majority of the vote from the national electorate. The extent of electoral alliances among the opposition is an important predictor of its ability to win seats in Parliament. The first two instances when the opposition succeeded in forming a government at the center occurred after it united under the Janata Party banner in 1977 and after the formation of the Janata Dal and the National Front in 1988. In each of these cases, the unity that was facilitated by anti-Congress sentiment prior to the elections collapsed in the face of rivalry and ambition once the opposition came into power. [Source: Library of Congress, 1995*]

Since the late 1960s, minority parties in Parliament have often been majority parties in state legislatures. With the decline of the Congress Party as a national party, there has been a rise in the number of single-state, linguistic, ethnic, and regional parties capable of governing only at the state level but available for coalition-building at the national level. In 2006, the Congress Party, the BJP and the Communist Party held the most influence in parliament. However, there were 16 other parties represented as well as well as numerous national and state parties. Among the best known and most prominent are: Akali Dal, All-India Anna DMK (AIADMK), Asom Gana Parishad, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Indian National Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party, Samata Party, Shiv Sena, and Telugu Desam. **

Indian National Congress

In various forms, the left-of-center Indian National Congress (INC) controlled the government of India for most of the years after independence in 1947. Founded in 1885, the Indian National Congress, known after 1947 as the Congress Party (CP), was the most powerful mass movement in the fight for independence in British India. It became the ruling party of independent India due to its national popularity and because most leaders of the independence movement — including India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru — belonged to it. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007 ++]

The Indian Congress Party was the party of Indian icons such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi. It dominated politics of India through the first 44 years of Indian independence until it was defeated in general elections in 1996 by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Through it evolution, the Congress Party spawned many offshoots, often for personal reasons rather than policy matters. The first to do so was the socialist wing that split off shortly after independence to form a party in its own right, dividing again several times thereafter.

The Indian Congress Party has traditionally been regarded as a leftist party and defender of Indian secularism and the ideal that India is a place in which people from different religions, castes and ethnic groups can live together in harmony. It has traditionally been ruled by the upper classes and has had strong support from Muslims, Christians and members of the lower classes.

Over the years the Congress Party has developed a reputation of being corrupt and insensitive to the needs of its traditional supporters. It has been abandoned by many many members to lower castes parties and even the BJP, some of whom have been stirred by anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) translates to Indian People's Party. It is one of the two major Indian political parties along with the Indian National Congress. Since 2014, it has been the ruling political party in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP is aligned with right-wing politics, and its policies adhere to Hindutva, a Hindu nationalist ideology. It has close ideological and organisational links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer paramilitary organisation. As of September 2023, it is the country's biggest political party in terms of representation in the Parliament of India as well as state legislatures. [Source: Wikipedia]

The BJP is unique among India's political parties in that neither it nor its political predecessors were ever associated with the Congress. Instead, it grew out of an alternative nationalist organization — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS — National Volunteer Organisation). The BJP still is affiliated with the network of organizations popularly referred to as the RSS family.

The RSS is a powerful Hindu fascist, supremacist movement linked with the BJP and made up of around three dozen social. educational, cultural and political organizations and 48,000 “shakas”, or local chapters, in the early 2000s. RSS members say that their goal is to create ideal Hindu citizens. They look back on the Muslim-Mogul and British periods as a source of humiliation.

Rise of "Janata Politics"

Prior to 1967, the opposition was divided into an array of small parties. While the Congress garnered between 45 percent and 48 percent of the vote, no opposition party gained as much as 11 percent, and during the entire period, only two parties won 10 percent. Furthermore, in each election, independent candidates won between 12 percent and 20 percent of the vote. [Source: Library of Congress, 1995*]

The opposition's first significant attempt to achieve electoral unity occurred during the 1967 elections when opposition party alliances won control of their state governments in Bihar, Kerala, Orissa, Punjab, and West Bengal. In Rajasthan an opposition coalition prevented the Congress from winning a majority in the state legislature and forced it to recruit independents to form a government. The Congress electoral debacle encouraged even more dissidence within the party, and in a matter of weeks after the elections, defections brought down Congress governments in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. By July 1967, state governments of two-thirds of the country were under opposition rule. However, opposition rule in many cases was short-lived. The aftermath of the 1967 elections initiated a climate of politics by defection in which the Congress, and to a lesser extent the opposition, attempted to overthrow governments by winning over their state legislators with promises of greater political power and outright bribes. Needless to say, this period seriously undermined the ability of most parties to discipline their members. The increase in opposition-ruled state governments after 1967 also prompted the Congress to use President's Rule to dismiss opposition-led state governments with increasing frequency.*

Although the centrist and right-wing opposition formed a "grand alliance" during the 1971 parliamentary elections, it was not until the general elections of 1977 that opposition efforts culminated in electoral success at the national level. Imprisoned together under the authoritarian measures of the Emergency, India's senior opposition leaders found their personal animosity toward Indira Gandhi and the Congress to be a powerful motivation to overcome their division and rivalry. In January 1977, opposition parties reactivated a pre-Emergency multiparty front, campaigned under the banner of the Janata Party, and won a dramatic electoral victory in March 1977. The Janata Party was made up of the Congress (O), the Jana Sangh, the Bharatiya Lok Dal (Indian People Party), the Samajwadi Party (Socialist Party), a handful of imprisoned Congress dissidents, and the Congress for Democracy — a group led by Scheduled Caste leader Jagjivan Ram that had splintered off from the Congress during the election campaign.*

Despite the diversity of this assemblage of parties and the different social strata that they represented, members of the Ja-nata Party achieved surprising ideological and programmatic consensus by passing a program stressing decentralization, development of rural industries, and employment opportunities. It was not ideology, but rather an inability to consolidate partisan organizations and political rivalry among the leadership that led to the demise of the Janata government in 1979. The Janata's three most senior leaders — Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, and Jagjivan Ram — each aspired to be prime minister. The rivalry continued during Desai's tenure (March 1977-July 1979). Desai, Charan Singh, and Ram continually conspired to discredit each other. Their connivances ultimately discredited the Janata Party and allowed the Congress (I) to return to power in 1980.*

Just as key defections from the Congress were essential to the Janata electoral success in 1977, so too did V.P. Singh's defection from the Congress (I) in 1987 enable opposition factions from the Janata Party and Bharatiya Lok Dal to unite the Janata Dal in 1988. Regional parties, such as the Telugu Desam Party (Telugu National Party), the DMK, and the Asom Gana Pa-rishad (AGP — Assam People's Assembly), together formed the National Front, led by Janata Dal, which defeated Rajiv Gandhi's Congress (I) in the 1989 parliamentary elections. With V.P. Singh as prime minister, the National Front government earned the appellation of "the crutch government" because it depended on the support of the Communist Party of India (Marxist — CPI (M)) on its left and the BJP on the right.*

Decline of "Janata Politics"

On August 7, 1990, V.P. Singh suddenly announced that his government would implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission to reserve 27 percent of central government jobs for the Backward Classes, defined to include around 52 percent of the population. Although Singh's Janata Dal had pledged to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations as part of its election manifesto, his announcement led to riots throughout North India. Some seventy-five upper-caste youths died after resorting to self-immolation to dramatize their opposition, and almost 200 others were killed in clashes with the police.*

BJP president Lal Kishan (L.K.) Advani announced that he would traverse the country on a pilgrimage to Ayodhya where he would lead Hindu activists in the construction of the Ramjanmabhumi Temple on the site of the Babri Masjid. As the pilgrimage progressed, riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out throughout the country. The National Front government decided to end the agitation, and Janata Dal chief minister of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, arrested Advani on October 23, 1990. On October 30, religious militants attempted to storm the Babri Masjid despite a massive military presence, and as many as twenty-six activists were killed. The BJP's withdrawal of support for the National Front government proved fatal, and V.P. Singh lost a parliamentary vote of confidence on November 7, 1990.*

Two days before the vote, Chandra Shekhar, an ambitious Janata Dal rival who had been kept out of the National Front government, joined with Devi Lal, a former deputy prime minister under V.P. Singh, to form the Samajwadi Janata Party — Samajwadi meaning socialist — with a total of sixty Lok Sabha members. The day after the collapse of the National Front government, Chandra Shekhar informed the president that by gaining the backing of the Congress (I) and its electoral allies he enjoyed the support of 280 members of the Lok Sabha, and he demanded the right to constitute a new government. Even though his rump party accounted for only one-ninth of the members of the Lok Sabha, Chandra Shekhar succeeded in forming a new minority government and becoming prime minister (with Devi Lal as deputy prime minister). However, Chandra Shekhar's government fell less than four months later, after the Congress (I) withdrew its support.*

The Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Janata Party declined after the fall of the Chandra Shekhar government. In the May-June 1991 parliamentary elections, their share of the vote dropped from 17.8 percent to 15.1 percent, and the number of seats in Parliament that they won fell from 142 to sixty-one. The parties were able to win seats only in Bihar, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh. The factional rivalry and ineffectiveness that impeded the National Front government's efforts to provide effective government tarnished the Janata Dal image. In the absence of strong national leadership, the party was rendered a confederation of ambitious regional leaders whose rivalry prevented the establishment of a united party organization. The Janata Dal's persistent backing of the Mandal Commission recommendations made the party highly unpopular among high-caste people in the middle and upper classes, creating fund-raising difficulties. Although the Janata Dal won state elections in Karnataka in 1994 and Bihar in the spring of 1995, its poor showing in most other states gave the impression that its support was receding to a few regional bastions.*

Political Organizations and Interest Groups in India

Most interest groups found worldwide also exist in India. However, India is unusual in that groups which are extremely active elsewhere — for example, women's groups and trade associations — take a decidedly second place to its traditional religious, linguistic, and regional groupings. [Source: Robert S. Robins, Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

There are also numerous religious or militant-chauvinistic organizations, hundreds of social reform, anti-corruption, and environmental groups at the state and local level and various separatist groups seeking greater communal and/or regional autonomy. Among the major political pressure groups and leaders are:
All Parties Hurriyat Conference in the Kashmir Valley (separatist group)
Bajrang Dal (religious organization)
India Against Corruption led by Anna HAZARE
Jamiat Ulema-e Hind (religious organization)
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh led by Mohan BHAGWAT (nationalist organization)
Vishwa Hindu Parishad led by Ashok SINGHAL (religious organization) other:

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India,, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated December 2023

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.