Ross Douthat, in an excellent piece in The New York Times, argues that America needs more third-party dynamism, particularly at the local level. During his argument, he writes:
Imagine if California’s famously polarized legislature included several smaller parties — Libertarians, Socialists, Social Conservatives — capable of forming coalitions with either the left or the right, so that every budgetary debate didn’t pit a bloated Democratic majority against an intransigent Republican rump.
I have just one word for Douthat: India. Sometimes a dynamic political marketplace leads to less things getting done, not more, negating the benefits of less polarisation. The UPA’s last term at the center, especially when they still depended on the support of the Left Front to stay in power, is a classic case of how a splintered parliament can lead to a logjam. Given human nature, there is no reason why a similarly fractured legislature would work better anywhere.
That minor quibble aside, I agree with Douthat’s argument—especially with regard to more local parties fulfilling “the promise of federalism.”
It might seem that India’s politics is much more dynamic than America’s, with so many local parties in action, but that is a bit of an illusion. India’s parties are mostly feudal and/or undemocratic, ruled by a small elite. The Democrats and the Republicans, on the other hand, have vibrant inner-party democracy, with much lower entry barriers for new politicians. (Case in point: Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency. Can any Indian who is not part of a political family rise so fast in our system?) It is common for a successful professional in the USA, say a lawyer or an MBA, to switch to a career in politics. In India, politics has become so dirty that an Indian Obama would never contemplate moving to politics to begin with.
And yes, that renders that common talk-show question from a few months ago, ‘Who is India’s Obama?’, completely moot.