In a democratic set up party-system of the state is essential and has profound effects on the process of social, economic and political changes. Democracy seems to be the order of the day which is a widely accepted form of governance and still activities are on to democratise the institutions, the organisations and the society. In a state, writes Harold J. Laski in his book, A Grammar of Politics, ‘Parties arrange the issues upon which people are to vote. It is obvious that in the confused welter of the modern state there must be some selection of problems as more urgent than others. It is necessary to select them as urgent and to present solutions of them which may be acceptable to the citizen body. It acts, in Lowell’s phase as the broker of ideas. From the mass of opinion, sentiments, beliefs, by which the electorates move, it chooses out those it judges most likely to meet the general acceptance. It organises persons to advocate its own view of their meaning. It states that view as the issue upon which the voter has to make up his mind. Its power enables it to put forward for election candidates who are willing to identify themselves with its view. Countries which have granted universal adult franchise expect their voters to exercise their franchise in a free and fair manner and also expect the political parties to extend their support to ensure on their part purity and transparency in the electoral process as held by Ivor Jennings, ‘in a democracy political power rests in free elections’.
Democracy and political parties
With the spread of democracy, the role of national as well as regional political parties has also assumed immense significance for participation in the elections, formation of the government and discharge their functions as responsible opposition parties for the success and smooth functioning of democracy and its institutions like parliament, state legislatures etc. The political parties serve as a link between the ruler and the ruled. The Party in power is entrusted with the task of running the government in accordance with the programmes and policies envisaged in its Manifesto and the opposition parties serve as a watchdog on the actions of the government to find out its shortfalls and make the people aware about them. The opposition party is always in look out for an opportunity to dislodge the ruling Party from the seat of power through the electoral process, whereas the ruling party becomes conscious about its rivals’ tactics and tries to rectify its policies to retain in power. In this manner political parties play significant role in strengthening the process of democracy and consolidating the foundations of democracy.
Different approaches of governance
Thus from the beginning of the two prevalent approaches – state – centric and society – centric in relation to the way in which society is organised and governed, India is clearly near the former. State- centrism is described as the perception that operators of the state system – politicians, bureaucrats, the military, industrialists and representatives play the most decisive roles in the determination of public policies. Such actors influence the structure and content of public policies introduced by the state, which embodies a system of law and government; a structure of offices with jurisdiction over a definite territory in which its citizens are located; and a centre of bureaucratic skills focused on information, calculation and implementation. It also implies that the state is comprised of essentially of politicians and bureaucrats, since the making of public policy is the responsibility of the former while interpretation and implementation of public policy falls under the jurisdiction of bureaucrats. For many developing countries, the state centric approach becomes very useful when there are few sustained, well-organised social groups and when the population has limited international exposure. However its overdose may bring about discontent among the population and diminish the acceptability of state elites.
In contrast to the state – centric model which assumes the state to be an autonomous entity, the society – centric approach treats the state as an entity dependent on society and on social forces. Advocates of this approach argue that causes of decisions about public lie in understanding relationships of power and competition among individuals, groups or classes in society or in their international extensions. In this system the state becomes a representative structure that translates the expressed demands of members of society into policy outputs. According to Blondel a key function of government is to convert suggestions, values and ideas from inputs to outputs. Society is assumed to be comprised of a large number of groups with varying interests and desires that they pursue. The dominant or allied classes eventually influence and shape the processes of the state.35 In nutshell state – centric and society – centric approaches differ in their emphasis on the values, perceptions and preferences of the state versus those of societal classes and groups in the political decision-making process. However, both are used, in practice, depending on the type of activity sought; the prevailing social, political and economic circumstances; and the time available to accomplish the activity. Since the state arises out of society while society can not exist without some kind of administration or state, it is difficult to consider any of them as being independent of others in the decision-making process. The society – centric approach emphasises the centrality of social classes and interest groups in the initiation of public policies, while the state centric approach focuses on the operators of the state system or the government.
The writer is Dr. Rajkumar Singh Professor and Head P.G. Department of Political Science BNMU, West Campus P.G.Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India.