A secular, left-leaning “third force” has long struggled to cultivate the political space between the upper-caste-based Congress party, which ruled India for most of its history as an independent country, and the Hindu nationalist movement, whose party controls the government today. But the left has constantly splintered along ideological, caste, and regional lines. On the three occasions when it came to power, it ruled in coalition governments that held together for less than a full parliamentary term each. Ruparelia notes the achievements of the leftist-led governments but pays special attention to their factious politics, which he attributes partly to poor political judgment and partly to India’s “federal party system,” in which large, ethnolinguistically defined states spawn distinctive political subsystems that are shaped by local, rather than national, cleavages. His analysis explains the dynamics of the leftist coalitions but does not make clear how they differed from the other coalition governments that have led India since 1989, some of which did serve full terms.
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