Utilising data on election results from 1952 to 2017, covering all 16 Lok Sabha or Parliamentary Constituency elections and last 3 elections for each state/UT assemblies, this paper offers a comprehensive and up-to-date evaluation of fragmentation and consolidation of political power in India. We quantify the changes in political diversity and competition in India based on estimates of Effective Number of Parties (ENP).
India’s political diversity has increased over time, with a considerable jump in the 1990s. Even though the 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw a decline in political diversity, we argue that there is little evidence from the subsequent assembly elections to suggest any major reversal from the post-1990 levels.
As is to be expected, political diversity varies considerably across states. We present an ENP-based framework to measure the impact of pre-poll alliances and assess the nature of competition in each state. It clearly shows that even as there is space for five to six parties at the state level, an electoral contest after considering alliances is usually restricted to two or three parties. Extending this analysis to the booth level, we find that the contest rarely goes beyond two candidates and at times is dominated by just one candidate.
We also find that assembly elections tend to be more competitive than parliamentary elections. Given that the level of competition varies across states, we argue that the difference between the effective parties contesting in an election and the Duvergerian equilibrium—an ENP of two—is an indicator of the likelihood of future political realignment in terms of shifting pre-poll alliances, mergers and acquisitions of political factions. The research suggests that analysis of recent local-body elections using this framework can provide further insights into changes in political diversity, nature of competition and predicting political churn.