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Elections in India, the world’s second-most populous country, evoke descriptions like ’spectacle’ or ’carnival,’ in part due to the overwhelming numbers that participate in the process. In this country of over a billion people, 714 million voters will decide who rules the world’s largest democracy for the next five years. In the 2004 elections, over 5,400 candidates from 230 political parties participated. Nearly the same number of candidates will competefor seats in parliament in 2009. Electoral candidates vie for votes by promising reforms, such as better governance, greater socioeconomic equity, and bolstered efforts at poverty alleviation. However, corrupt politicians with criminal records, caste- and religion-based politics, and allegations of vote-buying continue to marthe democratic process. Meanwhile, the coalition politics of the last two decades, while more inclusive, have resulted in giving outsized power to small parties that have used it to further their short-term agendas.
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Indian historian Ramachandra Guha, in the book India after Gandhi, argues the country is only "50 percent a democracy," holding viable elections, but falling short when it comes to "the functioning of politicians and political institutions."
India’s parliamentary system is based on the Westminster model of constitutional democracy, a legacy of British colonial rule. The Parliament is comprised of a bicameral legislature: the Rajya Sabha, the 250-member upper house, where members are elected by state legislative assemblies (12 members are nominated by the president), and the Lok Sabha, the 543-member lower house directly elected by the people(with two additional seats reserved for Anglo Indians nominated by the president). In the Lok Sabha,voters elect candidatesbased on the electoral system where the person securing the largest number of votes in each district wins.
Elections and Voting
"There were few other competing ideologies that allowed people to make sense of their social circumstances in the way caste did." – Pratap Bhanu Mehta
To ensure political representation for historically marginalized groups in the lower house of the parliament, the Indian Constitution stipulates that each state reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (formerly known as the untouchables, lowest in the country’s stratified social order) in proportion to their population in the state. This means only candidates belonging to these groups can contest elections in reserved constituencies. In the 2009 elections, eighty-four seats for candidates from scheduled castes and forty-seven for scheduled tribe members are reserved, 24 percent of the total seats in the parliament’s lower house. A pending bill seeking a33 percent reservation for women in the parliament and state legislatures has been the subject of intense debate for over a decade.
The prime minister isthe leader of the party or alliance that enjoys majority support in the lower house. Ifno single party or alliance has a majority, the leader of the largest single party or alliance is appointed prime minister and mustsubsequently secure a vote of confidence from the entire lowerhouse.
Currently, India has hundreds of political parties registered (PDF) with the election commission, andof these seven are registered as national parties. The Indian National Congress and its rival the Bharatiya Janata Party are the largest among them.
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- Indian National Congress (INC): Formed in 1885, the INC or Congress Party, as it is popularly called, dominated the national movement for ending British rule. Since India gained independencein 1947, the Congress Partyhas formed most of India’s governments. The party has been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family and currently is led by Sonia Gandhi, thewife of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and thedaughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Some analysts expect party leadership to eventually go toSonia’s son Rahul. The party led the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) after the 2004 elections with Manmohan Singh as prime minister. Singh has been fielded as its 2009 prime ministerial candidate.
Elections and Voting
- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): Formed in 1980 from the remnants of previous Hindu political organizations,BJP has emerged as the main rival to the Congress party. This Hindu nationalist party first formed the national government in 1996 but failure to glean majority support in the lower house led to its ouster in just a fortnight. It returned to power in 1998 and led the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at the helm until 2004. The party’s prime ministerial candidate for 2009 elections, Lal Krishna Advani, has been one of its most prominent hardliners. Advani led the 1990s campaign to destroy a sixteenth-century mosque in northern India, resulting in nationwide communal riots between Hindus and Muslims that took hundreds of lives.
Elections and Voting
"Religion is part and parcel of Indian political life." – Sumit Ganguly, professor of political science, Indiana University.
- Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP): Formed in 1984 to represent the lower castes such as Scheduled Castes (also known as Dalits), Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and the religious minorities, the party has been broadening its support base and fielding upper-caste and Muslim candidates in recent elections. Its leader Mayawati is the chief minister of the country’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh and has expressed ambitions to become a pan-Indian leader. Experts say Mayawati could play a crucial role in coalition negotiations and could even emerge as the country’s first Dalit prime minister at the head of a "Third Front" alliance of communist and left-wing parties.
Elections and Voting
- Communist Party of India (CPI): A socialist party formed in 1925, it enjoys varying degrees of support in the states of West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura, Manipur, and Tamil Nadu, and is currently led by General Secretary A. B. Bardhan. The party was dealt a severe blow by a split in 1964 that resulted in the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). CPI, along with CPI (M), supported the UPA ruling coalition until July 2008 when the twoparties withdrew their support over the government’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with the United States.
Elections and Voting
- Communist Party of India (Marxist): CPI (M) emerged out of a division in the CPI in 1964 over ideological disagreements. Based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism, it has a strong presence in the states of West Bengal, Tripura, and Kerala. Its current general secretary is Prakash Karat.
Elections and Voting
- Nationalist Congress Party (NCP): Primarily based in the state of Maharashtra, the party was formed in 1999 after some of the top Congress Party members broke away in protest at Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. The party is led by Sharad Pawar, who has served as Maharashtra’s chief minister and as agriculture minister under the Congress-led UPA that came to power in 2004.
Elections and Voting
- Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD): Formed in 1997 by Laloo Prasad Yadav, who split from another regional party, the Janata Dal, RJD is primarily based in the north Indian state of Bihar. Yadav becamechief minister of Bihar in 1990 but was forced tostep down in 1997 on corruption charges. He returned to power as the federal minister of railways in 2004 as part of the UPA. RJD is another caste-based party that says it represents lower-caste Hindus and also enjoys the support of large numbers of Muslims in Bihar.
Elections and Voting
Besides the national parties, numerous regional movements play an important role in each state. While many of them have yet to make a name for themselves among the voters, experts say the influence of smaller regional parties has been growing steadily at atime whenbig national parties are declining. "Given that Indian states can be large and populous, the term ’regional’ is something of a misnomer," writes (BBC) Indian historian Mahesh Rangarajan. For instance, he notes Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, has 190 million people, rivaling the population of Brazil.
CFR’s Senior Fellow Evan A. Feigenbaum, in a CFR.org interview, said the trend "has vast implications for the ability of a party to push through a national program once it enters the government." Guha adds that fractious multiparty-coalition politics offers "no meaningful reform." Rangarajan writes that in general, these regional parties lean more toward rural than urban voters. "Though not anti-reform, they would see welfare as contingent on more public action, not market forces," he argues.
While result predictions for the Indian elections can be way off, most experts express little doubt that 2009 elections will bring in another coalition--Congress-led UPA, BJP-led NDA, or a Third Front alliance.
The Role of Caste
When universal adult suffrage offered all social groups, including previously disenfranchised ones, the right to vote, caste emerged as one of the most significant issues for political mobilization. This, political theorist Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in the 2003 book The Burden of Democracy, was in part because caste was "an axis of domination and subordination in Indian society" and the state, by sanctioning categories of caste, provided the incentives to mobilize. But he argues it was also because "there were few other competing ideologies that allowed people to make sense of their social circumstances in the way caste did."
However, caste politics in the last three decades have been marked by desire for power rather than a substantial agenda for social reform. Parties like BSP and RJD, which cameto power bymobilizing lower castes, have failed to offer much in the way of good governance or long-term social transformation. Instead, once some lower-caste groups have gained access to power, they have then sought to confine those privileges to their sub-caste. The problem, though, is not the salience of caste in Indian politics, but the failure to address its underlying causes and create new opportunities for marginalized groups, say some experts. "Unless the newly mobilized Dalit castes can be given access to the gains of the market economy, their prospects for social advancement remain dim," Mehta writes. Analysts note caste plays a lesser role in urban India, and with higher urbanization, its role in electoral politics might decline.
Playing the Religion Card
Many Indian historians date religion’s role in Indian politics back to the colonial period and the 1909 British policy of establishing separate electorates based on religion. However, in the 1980s, several events worked to bring religion to the forefront of electoral politics, say experts: rising Sikh fundamentalism followed by anti-Sikh riots after the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to support legislation that overturned a 1985 Supreme Court judgment to grant alimony to a Muslim woman, seen by many as capitulation to Muslim orthodoxy in an election year; and the rise of the BJP and its call to destroy the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. The dispute in Kashmir and several bloody Hindu-Muslim flare-ups in the last two decades have further divided people along religious lines.
Today, both the Hindus and the country’s 170 million Muslims, the largest minority group, are courted energetically by political parties. "Religion is part and parcel of Indian political life," says Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University. He says the BJP is the principal offender with its Hindutva agenda. But Congress is not free of culpability either, he argues. Regional actors such as Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena further exploit religion to court voters. Ganguly says lack of leadership in upper echelons of the Muslim community exacerbates the problem.
Elections and Voting
The Indian electorate has turned the standard law of political participation on its head.
While it is clear that religion plays a significant role, it is less clear how it translates into voting behavior. "Politically speaking, there is no single unified Muslim community in India," writes Yogendra Yadav (BBC), a political scientist who designed and coordinated the National Election Studies, the largest series of academic surveys of the Indian electorate, from 1996 to 2004. He argues that "Muslims are fragmented along the lines of religion, sect, caste, and community." Ganguly says economic issues are also intertwined with issues of religion and caste. Indian Muslims, who experience high poverty rates, voted for Congress for decades because of itssecular platform and promisedreforms. Unlike most minorities in most democracies around the world, Indian Muslims, Yadav says, have not voted for Muslim parties. Nor do they vote en bloc, "like, say, the black vote in the United States for the Democratic Party or the UK’s ethnic minorities who largely vote for the Labor Party," he says.
Democratic Politics and Economic Reform
The Indian electorate has turned the standard law of political participation on its head, say experts. In India, the lower castes vote more than the upper castes, and the poor vote as much or more often than the rich. Similarly, the illiterate cast ballots more often than the educated, and rural voters more than urban populations. India’s universal suffrage long preceded transition to a modern industrialized economy, Ashutosh Varshney, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2007. And in this low-income democracy, these large numbers of voters, most concerned with their basic needs and livelihoods, have made economic issues an important part of the debate.
The government’s performance on economic issues, especially reform, since India moved toward economic liberalization in 1991, has become important to electoral politics. Varshney argues that "the economic reforms undertaken thus far have not been those that would directly affect the lives of India’s poor masses, and this has fed their resentment against the reforms." As this Backgrounder points out, despite India’s 7.5 percent average annual growth rate since 1991, there is increasing rural-urban, sector-based, and income inequalities, and benefits from growth have failed to trickle down to significant segments of the population. Varshney says "political leaders will continue to find it extremely difficult to stake their political fortunes on economic reforms that are expected to cause substantial short-term dislocations and are likely to produce rewards only in the long term."
Voters Seek Accountability
High levels of corruption and poor governance have led to immense civil society mobilization seeking greater accountability from political candidates and reform of the electoral process. In 2004 general elections, candidates were required to disclose their assets and criminal records for the first time under new rules pushed for by ordinary citizens. In the 2004 election, the disclosures seemed to have little impact on the increasing criminalization of politics: 128 of the 543 winners had faced criminal charges (Newsweek), including eighty-four cases of murder, seventeen cases of robbery, and twenty-eight cases of theft and extortion.
Ahead of the 2009 elections, a nationwide campaign, led by more than a thousand NGOs and citizen groups working on electoral reforms, sought more transparency. Primary among their demands were barring candidates with criminal charges, the voters’ right to reject all the candidates through a "none of the above" optionon the ballot paper, and greater transparency and regulation of funding of political parties.
NATIONAL COMMISSION TO REVIEW THE
WORKING OF THE CONSTITUTION
REVIEW OF THE WORKING OF POLITICAL PARTIES SPECIALLY IN RELATION TO
ELECTIONS AND REFORM OPTIONS
January 8, 2001
VIGYAN BHAVAN ANNEXE, NEW DELHI – 110 011
E-mail: <email@example.com>Fax No.011-3022082
Electoral Reforms; Standards in Political Life
Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap
Shri R.K. Trivedi
q Shri P.A. Sangma
q Shri Mohan Dharia
q Shri N.N. Vohra
q Shri S.K. Mendiratta
q Dr. Vir Chopra
q Smt. Nalini Singh
q Prof. R.B. Jain
q Shri R.N. Mirdha
q Shri U.C. Aggarwal
q Shri S.D. Sharma
q Dr. V.A. Pai Panandikar
Dr. Raghbir Singh
This Consultation Paper on ‘Review of the Working of Political Parties specially the relation to Elections and Reform Options’ was prepared by the Advisory Panel on Electoral Reforms; Standards in Political Life.It is based on a paper prepared by the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies (ICPS).The ICPS appointed its own Committee of experts with Shri R.N. Mirdha in the chair.The drafting was entrusted to Dr. R.B. Jain, former Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.
The Commission places on record it profound appreciation of and gratitude to the ICPS and all others involved for their contribution.
Constitutional and Legal Position
Provisions for Recognition
De-recognition of Parties
Recent Trends in the Growth of Parties
Problems in the Working of Parties
6.1 Absence of Inner Party Democracy
6.2 Representation of Women
6.3 Training of Members
6.4 Need for Funds
6.5 Lack of Ideology and Values in Politics
6.6 Leadership Quality
6.7 Campaign Methods
6.12 Growing Violence
6.13 Fractionalization and Coalitions
6.14 Political Parties and Governance
6.15 Jumbo Council of Ministers
7.1 Areas of Concern
7.2 Areas of Reform
7.3 Suggestions for Reform
8.1 Need for a Legislation Governing Political Parties.
8.2 Criteria for Registration
8.3 Criteria for De-Registration
8.4 Structural Requirements
8.5 Educational Training and Development Activities
8.6 Leadership Conventions
8.7 Stabilising the Parliamentary System
8.8 Curbing Criminalisation of Politics
8.9 Checking Proliferation of Independent Candidates.
8.10 Problem of Party Funding
8.11 Regulating Political Contributions
8.12 Controlling Electoral Expenditure
8.13 Monitoring Election Expenditure
8.14 Patrimony of Candidates and Politicians
8.15 Strengthening of Anti-Defection Measures
8.16 Party System and Governance
8.17 Restoring Moral Standards in Public Life
1.1Political parties are indispensable to any democratic systemand play the most crucial role in the electoral process – in setting up candidates and conducting election campaigns.In recent years, we havewitnessed a successionof unstable governments, andthe reasonfor such a recurring phenomenonis said to be the archaic and chaoticfunctioning of political parties. Alliances and coalitions are made, broken and changed at whim, andthe balance of power seems to be held not by those at the Union level, but by minor parties on the fringes.There is nodoubtthat Indian political parties have fragmented over the years.Frequent party splits, mergers and counter splits have dramatically increased the number of parties that now contest elections.In 1952, 74 parties contested elections, whilst in recent years this number has swollen to more than 177, andhas been consistently increasing since 1989. Can the instability at the Union level or in the States be attributed solely to the growing number of parties, or the malaise with which the political system suffers today lies inthe functioning and the dynamics ofthe party system in India, apart of course, from the other causes in the working of the political system as a whole?
1.2Political parties and the party system in India have been greatly influenced by cultural diversity, social, ethnic, caste, community and religious pluralism, traditions of the nationalist movement, contrasting style of party leadership, and clashing ideological perspectives. The two major categories of political parties in India are National and State, and are so recognized by the Election Commissionof India on the basis of certain specified criteria.As of today , there are six national parties (seven after the split in the Janata Dal in August 1999) and 38 regional parties recognized as such by the Election Commission of India.
1.3The National parties are Indian NationalCongress ,Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Bahujan Samaj Party, and Janata Dal.As per the latest notification (June 29, 2000) the Election Commission has decided to de-recognizeseven regional parties in some Sates based on their poll performance.These are Haryana Vikas Party, NTR-TDP (Lakshmi Parvati), Rashtriya Janata Dal in Manipur, Shiv Sena in Dadar, Nagar and Haveli, United Minority Party in Assam, Samajwadi Janata Party in ChandigarhandSamta Party in Haryana. Meanwhile, the CPI (M) and the Republican Party of Indiahave been served notices of de-recognition.
2.Constitutional and Legal Position
2.1The legal andconstitutional position of political parties varies from country to country.In most democratic countries, however, there is neither any direct constitutional provision regulating the functioning of political parties, nor any legal sanction establishing political parties as a necessary governmental institution,althoughthere aresome governmental systems which try to prescribe some conditions for the operation of party system.A very good example is furnished by the Constitution of the Fifth French Republic, which prescribes that Parliament (The French National Assembly) cannot make a law that may abridge the right of the political parties to carry on their activities freely.This is perhaps a tacit recognition of the existence of political parties as a sine qua non of a democraticsystem.Similarly,the basic law ofGermany's Constitution includes political parties in its purview.Art. 21of the Law guarantees the legitimacy of parties and their right to exist, if they accept the principle of democratic government.The Federal Government of Germany has thoroughly institutionalized the structure of political parties,by introducing the 5% clause, which makes it extremely difficult for minority or splinter parties to form andflourish.
2.2The Canadian practice of Registration of Party or Party foundationisvery comprehensive. Parties are registered on certain conditions andparty leaders are selected through a national leadership conventioncomposed of provincial party delegates voting as individualsrather than as a bloc.(See para 7.3.8)
2.3Closer home, Nepalese Constitution (Art.12) provides freedom to form union and association, which has been enshrined as a fundamental right, andArt. 112 dealsspecifically with the prohibition to ban political parties. Anylaw, arrangement or decision which allows for participation or involvement of only a single political organization or party or persons having a single political ideology in the elections or in the political system of the country shall be inconsistent with the Constitution.And there are conditions for registration of political parties for contesting elections; (a) they should adhere to the norms of democracy within the party (b) there must be provisions for election of the office bearers in the Constitution of the party at least once every five years (c) political parties must field at least 5% women candidates for election. (d) those parties which get at least three per cent of total votes cast in elections are qualified for registration as political parties.A member ofparliament cannot change his party loyalty or abandon the party of which he was acandidate at the election. Ifhe does so, he loses his seat in the House[Art. 49, Clause (1) (f)].However, all the parliamentarians froma party which received less than three percent of the cast votes in the election to the House of Representatives are treated as Independents.
2.4Political partiesdo not as such find any direct mention in the Constitution of India. However, there isoneprovision in the Constitution which is directly relevant to the functioning of political parties: the Tenth Schedule.The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution was added by the Constitution (Fifty-second Amendment) Act, 1985. It deals with the disqualification of a person for being a member of either House of Parliament [Art. 102(2)] or the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of a State [Art.191(2)], on ground of defection.
2.5In the absence of a sufficiently detailed constitutional provisions, the major onus of framing and administering the rules and regulations governing political parties in India has fallen on the Election Commission, a constitutional body responsible for conduct of elections.The Election Commission of India has the ultimate power to accord recognition and status of political parties to “the association or body of citizens of India". The Election Commission has thepower to decide whether or not to register an association or body of individuals as a political party.
2.6According to Article 29A (1) and (2) of the R. P. Act, 1951 it is mandatory for any association or body of individuals of India calling itself a political party to make an application to the Election Commission for its registration as a political party, within thirty days following the date of its formation. Article 29A (5) requires that the application shall be accompanied by a copy of the memorandum or rules and regulations of the association or body, by whatever name called, and such memorandum or rules and regulations shall contain a specific provision that the association or body shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India, and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity and unity of India.And proviso to Sub-section (7) of Section 29A provides that no association or body shall be registered as a political party under this Section unless the memorandum or rules and regulations of such association or body conform to these provisions, i.e. the provisions of Sub-section (5) of Section 29A.The decision of the Commission in this matter is final.
2.7The recognized political parties are accorded the status of a National or State political party in accordance with the provisions of Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 as amended from time to time.These provisions are discussed in para 3 below.The number of National parties has been varying from 14 to 4 owing to continuous review of the status based on the performance of the parties. In 1951 there were 14 National parties while presently there are 7 National political parties. The number of National parties was: in 1957 (4), 1971(8), 1977 (5), 1980 (6), 1984(7), 1989 (8), 1991 (9), 1996 (8), 1998 and 1999 (7).There were no National parties in 1962 and 1967. [ These were at that time called multi-State parties]
2.8It may be noted thatpolitical parties in India are also sometimes categorized by observers, academics and political analysts on the basis of their territorial or geographical representation, such as: All India parties, Regional parties and Local parties. This is done by themonly as a matter of convenience to argue a particular point, or identify them in a particular way, and does not in any way reflect either any officialparty classification recognized by the Government or by the Election Commission. Similarly any identification of a party on the basis of its ideological orientation as aparty of theleft, right, center, socialist, communist, communalistor leader- centered etc.bears no official recognition.
3.1According to Para 2 (h)of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) order 1968, Political party means an association or body of individual citizens of India registered with the Election Commission of India as a political party under Section 29Aof the R. P. Act of 1951.
3.2As per para 6A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, as recently amended, a political party shall be treated as a recognized National party, if, and only if, -
either (A)(i) the candidates set up by it, in any four or more States, at the last general election to the House of the People, or to the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned, have secured not less than six percent of the total valid votes polled in their respective States at that general election; and (ii) in addition, it has returned at least four members to the House of the People at the aforesaid last general election from any State or States;
or (B)(i) its candidates have been elected to the House of the People, at the last general election to that House, from at least two percent of the total number of parliamentary constituencies in India, any fraction exceeding one-half being counted as one; and (ii) the said candidates have been elected to that House from not less than three States.
3.3According to para 6B of the aforesaid Order, a political party, other than a National party, shall be treated as a recognized State party in a State or States, if, and only if, -
either (A)(i) the candidates set up by it, at the last general election to the House of the People, or to the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned, have secured not less than six percent of the total valid votes polled in that STate at that general election; and (ii) in addition, it has returned at least two members to the Legislative Assembly of the State at the last general election to that Assembly;
or (B) it wins at least three percent of the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State, (any fraction exceeding one-half being counted as one), or at least three seats in the Assembly, whichever is more, at the aforesaid general election.
3.4According to para 6C of the said Order if a political party is recognized as a National party under paragraph 6A, or as a State party under paragraph 6B, the question whether it shall continue to be so recognized after any subsequent general election to the House of the People or, as the case may be, to the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned, shall be dependent upon the fulfillment by it of the conditions specified in the said paragraphs on the results of that general election.
4.1Section 29A of R. P. Act, 1951 makes it mandatory for the political parties to provide specifically in their constitutions that they bear true faith and allegiance to the principles of secularism, socialism, and democracy besides to the Constitution of India, to gain registration by the Election Commission.However, the sanctity of the provision is diluted by the fact that the parties who do not subscribe to secularism, socialism and democracy would be denied registration but they can contest election.Also the Election Commission has held that a political party duly registered under the R. P. Act, 1951 cannot be de-registered by the Commission on the allegation that the party had violated the law or has ceased to function in accordance with the undertaking that it would abide by the principles of secularism.The only case where the Commission could de-register a party was when it was found later that a party had obtained, through fraudulent means its registration, or it was declared by the Government as unlawful.It could also be de-registered if the party itself intimated the Commission that it had ceased to function or had changed its party constitution, or that it would not function in accordance with the provisions of the law.
5.Recent Trends in the Growth of Parties
5.1The historyof origin and growth ofpolitical parties in India can be traced to the days of India's struggle for freedom.The Indian National Congress was perhaps our first political party; it came into existence in the year 1885.There were some groups formed by patriotic Indians before that, but they did not converge into becoming apolitical party.The Indian National Congress was the natural and inevitable outcome of a national awakening. The evolution of the party system after Independence presents a study of transformationfromone-party dominant system to acomplex of multi-partyconfiguration, in which presently strong trends offragmentation, factionalism, and regionalism, coupled with the desire to form alliances for seeking a share in the pie of power (irrespective of any strongideological or programmatic commitments) are being increasingly witnessed.
5.2Elections heldfor the tenth Lok Sabha held in May-June 1991 produced a ‘hung’ house.The Congress (I) occupied the position of the single largest party with 220 seats followed by BJP and the Janata Dal.A minority government under the leadership of the Congress (I) President Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao, who succeeded the assassinated leader Rajiv Gandhiwas installed.The fractured verdict of the Eleventh Lok Sabha elections also produced a hung parliament.The BJP formed a minority government under the leadership of A. B. Vajpayee.But the Prime Minister had to relinquish office onlyafter thirteen days. When he was not sure of proving his majority in the House, he resigned.The fall of the BJP government paved the pay for installation of the UF government first under H. D. Deve Gowda and then I. K. Gujral on 1 June 1996 and 21 April 1997 respectively.Even then the Lok Sabha could not complete its full tenure offive years.
5.3In 1998, the BJP changed its strategy of fighting alone and entered into alliances with a number of regional parties.This strategy helped the BJP to improve its own score and also that of the alliance.Thecontest was mainly between two major pre-poll alliances.One was led by BJP and consisted of Samata Party, Harayana Vikas Party, Lok Shakti, Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal, Akali Dal, AIADMK, MDMK, Janata Party, PMK, Tamil Nadu Rajiv Congress, Loktantrik Congress, Jantantrik BSP, Janata Party (Rajaram), Trinamul Congress etc.The other alliance was led by the Congress Party and was composed of RJD, Samajavadi Party, Republican Party of India, BSP, TUTS, TNP, BKKP, Muslim Majlis etc.
5.4The results of the 1998 elections gave the message that electorate of India had endorsed a two-party or two national alliances system to dominate the country’s political scene.On the basis of the voting pattern, it could be said that the voters in almost every State hinted that they did not want their preferences to be divided only between the two major poles of alliances.They identified the two major contenders and confined their preferences to this either-or option.Both BJP and Congress could do well only in those States where they had struck alliance with some parties.This was an interesting phenomenon which waslikely to continue and usher in the country an era of polarization between two parties/alliances.The defeat of the BJP led alliance government by a single vote in the Lok Sabha in May 1999 when the AIADMKsuddenly withdrew support paved the way for the 13th General Elections, which wereheld in August/September 1999.The election results again went in favour of the BJP-led National DemocraticAlliance (NDA),consisting of 24 [rbj1]partners led by Atal Behari Vajpayee who comfortably formed the new Government in October 1999.
5.5The present phase in the evolution of the party systemis noted for two features.One, the general trend amongstboth the national and regional partiesto move away from the strict ideologicalframeworkof the party of the left or the right.Although in general, they do profess to stick to their party ideology or at leastare known by certain ideological labels.Butin their actual programmatic support they seem to be more pragmatic inasmuch as they are not reluctant to give up their ideological instance or put it on back burner, if that helps gain them a share of political power.Such trend has been witnessed both at the national as well as at the State level and parties are less inhibited to share power or coalesce in government formationwith the groups, whotillthe other day were their bitter political opponents.
Secondly,since the resultant coalition alliances are neither 'ideological' nor have any common objective to cement them together, they are merely short term tactical arrangements established by ambitious politicians that are rooted in the exchange of mutual benefits and compulsions of power,the mobilization of electorate is done through a strategy of support toregional cum segmental or ethnic issues without giving overriding support eitherto national or primarily local issues.
5.6The last decade of the 20th century saw a sharp rise in politicalmobilization on the basis of social cleavages based on ascriptive identities, in particular of religion and caste.Casteism, communalism and personality dominationhave been the main planks around which the fragmentationof political parties has taken place, which has resulted in more caste and class-based political violence in the society. Political parties have invariably exploited these sentiments for gainingelectoral support and political mobilisation ofthe voters.
5.7There was another significant development after the 1989 elections affecting the party system.The coalition politics gaineda newtrend:Parties' tended to lend support to Government from outside without formallyjoiningit, thus ostensiblysharingpower without assuming any responsibility.Article 75 (3) only says that the Council of'Ministers shall be' collectively responsible to the House of the People. The manner in which this condition is met from coalition partners or from those outside it, is of no constitutional significance.However,the experience of government formation with outside support both at the national and state levelhasinvariably created instability in Indian politics. A corollary to these developments has been emergence of an environment of'blackmail'within the party alliances, where not only aminority government or an alliance of parties felt insecure to implement its minimum election program or polices but also faced considerable hindrances in taking hard executive or routine administrative decisions in matters of appointments to council of ministers or representing a particular interest, constituency or any party's viewpoint in any policy move.
6.Problems in the Working of Parties
6.1Absence of Inner Party Democracy: Over the last fifty years of Independence, no political party has been able to observe the basic norms of inner party democracy.The authority in organizational mattershas always been from the top to the bottomthrough successive layers of party structures. Leaders of political parties in Independent India have not always emerged through a process of democratic elections and promotion from the lowerlevels to the higher and the top. Thus leadership inmost political parties in India may be democratic in appearance buthighly oligarchic in reality. Frequent rifts between the National and State party organizations in almost all national parties suggest that highly integrated party structures may soon no longer be appropriate and we may be led to the realisation that a national party should not be over-centralized, still less personalizedFear of party disintegrationhas led many political leaders to worry aboutpreventingit from being reduced to the status of a State or regional party. Strong leaderswith support from their States have been by-passed in favour ofloyalists. Instances are galore when the party presidents have appointedparty chiefs in the States just before the organizationalelections were to take place despite the protests of the central election authority chairmen.Even when the elections to State party chiefs were to take place after a gap of almost two decades, the President of the party was "authorized" to nominatea majority of the State party chiefs. These trends are likely to boomerang on the party's strength and capability.A modern party is a public institution, not a personal fief.Without intra-party elections, without ministers who enjoy strong regional support, and without the encouragement of a variety of opinions, political parties are like to wither away.
Undemocratic parties cannot contribute to constitutional and democratic government.It is suggested by some scholars that enforcement of party constitution through legal and judicial action may be necessary.Regular organizational elections should be mandatory.In order to control bossism in parties, many analysts have suggested the introduction of a more democratic process of nominating party candidates by a primary election by the party membership. An alternative suggestion is to authorize each local party unit to have a significant say in nominating the party candidates in that area for legislative offices.
6.2Representation of Women: Political parties cannot remain indifferent towards women who constitute nearly 50% of the electorate.Although almost all parties have attempted to build women organizations to secure their support and make their organization more broad -based, but in practice they have fielded much less proportion of women candidates in the elections giving themproportionately much lessrepresentation in the legislative bodies than their actualpopulation strength.In recent times this has beena matter of crucial concern in view of the controversy over reservation of30%or so of the seats in these bodies.
6.3Training of Members: Training and orientation of new members is one of the important functions of political parties.The parties which are organized on the model of cadre party systematically develop appropriate agencies of training for members.But most Indian parties,except for the Communist parties and the BJP have not followed thismodel.Parties in India do not have apermanent system of training of their members ,and whateverarrangements for training are done are done on ad-hoc basis by national or state level organization.
6.4Need for Funds: To perform various functionsand contestelections in an effective manner, every political party requires huge funds.Apart from expenditure of office establishment, full time-workers, agitations, propaganda and travel,parties have to organize election campaigns.But the financial matters of partyare kept secret while other aspects of organization are known to people. Very little is known about finances of political parties.In fact, secrecy is maintained even within a party.Only a few leaders at the higher level know the truth about the total funds and expenditure.Parties do not publish statements of accounts , income and expenditure,