“If democracy and accountability constitute the core of our constitutional system, the same concepts must also apply to and bind the political parties which are integral to parliamentary democracy. A political party which does not respect democratic principles in its internal working cannot be expected to respect those principles in the governance of the country. It cannot be dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside."

170th report of the Law Commission

 

These words of the Law Commission Report give the bird’s eye view of the importance of accountability in political parties. Political parties are perhaps the most important institutions and almost indispensable to a democratic system. Political parties accomplish critical tasks in a democracy which includes selection of candidates, mobilisation of the electorate, formulation of agendas and the passing of legislation. However, in recent past we have witnessed how the functioning of political parties of India has deteriorated internally as well externally. While it is true that politics is inseparable from political parties as they are the prime instruments for the execution of the same, there must be some ethical systematic standard of doing so while respecting internal organizational values, transparency, accountability and national interests at the same time.

In India, there are mainly two categories of political parties in India- National and State or regional parties, and are so recognized by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on the basis of certain specified criteria. 

Do you know?
Constitutional and legal position of political parties in India:
Political parties do not find any direct mention in the Constitution of India. However, there is one provision 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. In the absence of the sufficiently detailed constitutional provisions, the onus of framing and administering the rules and regulations governing political parties in India is on the Election Commission

Issues with the working of political parties:

  • Criminalization of political parties:  Distribution of party tickets is perhaps the most discussed aspect of a political party. Presently, there is no established convention on distribution of party tickets. As there is no well-defined process for the distribution of tickets to candidates before elections, tickets are given to candidates on the vague concept of potential “winnability”. This has led to problem of candidates with criminal backgrounds making forays into the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.

By virtue of money and muscle power, criminals are considered winnable candidates and political parties are not shy about giving tickets to them. According to the data analyzed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), there are 162 Members of Parliament in the 15th Lok Sabha with criminal antecedents.  

The Election Commission of India (ECI) and other commissions on electoral-political reforms including the Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms (1990), the Vohra Committee Report (1993), the Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections (1998), the Law Commission Report on Reform of the Electoral Laws (1999), the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2001), the Election Commission of India – Proposed Electoral Reforms (2004). In the similar context the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008) in India, has suggested disbarring candidates with criminal cases from contesting elections. Political leaders from various parties also raise this issue every now and then. However, political parties have consistently abating these concerned voices.

Concept Builder
Important judicial pronouncements on “criminalization of politics”:
Lily Thomas v/s Government of India (GoI):
This petition in front of Supreme Court challenged the validity of section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act (RPA)
  • Lack of intra-party democracy and dynasty politics: The lack of intra-party democracy has contributed to the growing nepotism in political parties. For the MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha, there is a direct relationship between age and links to a political family. According to a report, all MPs below the age of 30 in the 15th Lok Sabha are from political families. Additionally, all 11 MPs from a particular political party below the age of 35 years are hereditary MPs. In this way, dynasty is at the forefront in the ongoing ticket distribution process. With senior party leaders fielding their sons, daughters and nephews in the Lok Sabha elections, the succession plans for “family” constituencies are being put in place.

The Representation of People Act, 1951, was amended in 1989 to include Section 29, which deals with the provisions for registration of political parties with the Election Commission of India. Section 29 (A) (9) dealing with the internal elections states, “after an association or body has been registered as a political party as aforesaid, any change in its name, head office, office-bearers, address or in any other material matters shall be communicated to the Commission without delay.” However, defying this provisions, hardly any information about internal elections is provided to the Election Commission. The judiciary has also taken note of the lack of intra-party democracy within political parties and the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has issued a notice to the ECI in February 2014 seeking its reply on the internal elections held in the political parties in response to a Public Interest Litigation.

  • Lack of ideology and values in politics: There has been a steady erosion of the ideological orientation of political parties.  Party dynamics in India has led to the emergence of valueless politics much against the ideals of our freedom fighters and constitutional framers, who believed that the prime goal the service of the people. However, on the contrary, the political parties in India have constantly been demolishing the democratic norms and institutions systematically over the last fifty years of the working of the Constitution.   In the process, both the politicians and political parties have lost their credibility, the ultimate value that should bind them with the masses. There seems to be a crisis of character amongst the politicians, as the system does not encourage the honest leader.  Because of the falling moral standards both in the public and among the leaders, criminalization of politics and politicization of criminals has become the norm.  Due to degeneration of leadership, parties have been entangled in power struggle for the sake ofpersonal ends.
  • Leadership quality: One of the fundamental differences between older party system and new party system is that the older political leadership had risen from the ranks.  The rise was neither sudden nor irrational, and their adherence and commitment to party ideals and ideology was unflinching. They respected party discipline. The present day political leadership seems to be in a tremendous hurry to reach up to the top, and is not shying away from using short cuts, dubious methods,   and money or muscle power to achieve their objective.  The entry of the toughs and persons with criminal background to the portals of the legislature is a very serious consequence of these trends
  • Fractionalization and coalitions:  Since 1990s, the trend of coalition governments have increased tremendously. A significant impact of the trend towards coalition governments in India has been its effect on the policy outcomes

Today, the regional political parties have come to play a very effective role in the formation and deformation of governments leading to political instability and frequent elections.  However, there is a need to conceptualize the role of regional political parties in a democracy like India. The regional parties come into power because of some popular stand that they take up on some local issues.  The national political parties have to align with them due to political compulsions without commitment in detail to everything that regional parties may profess.  But a problem continues in the relationship between national and regional parties as a national party has to cater to national issues and causes which should naturally admit of no regional barriers; while regional parties by their very nature have to take up only local issues.  Hence, the national party too tends to become ‘regional’ as it adopts a regional platform.

  • Funding of political parties: To perform various functions and contest elections in an effective manner, every political party requires huge funds.  Apart from expenditure for the office establishment, full time-workers, agitations, propaganda and travel; these parties have to organize election campaigns.  But the financial matters of party are kept secret while other aspects of organization are made public. 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, though financial matters are discussed at conventions and conferences or in meetings of higher bodies like working committee or the executive committee.  Many political parties and candidates have been found to be using dubious methods in raising funds, like kickbacks, funds from foreign countries and even from donations by mafia gangs and other non-desirable elements.  The political parties are not answerable to anybody about the source of the fund and its usage. The culture of opacity prevails in financial matters. Interestingly, the political parties and their financial matters are not covered under the Right to Information Act. Only recently, the government amended the Foreign Contribution and Regulation Act (FCRA) so that political parties could receive funds foreign based sources as well.

 

Conclusion:

In contrast to what erstwhile American president Churchill infamously predicted about Indian democracy, the Indian democracy has outlived all suspicions about its ability to survive and provide the country with stable leadership. The question whether Indian democracy would keep serving the country in same manner as it did in last six decades age is a question with very less relevance. However, the quality of democracy is indeed a matter of grave concern for the people of India. In a country where despite having highest economic growth rate, also hosts the highest number of poor people; rampant corruption; caste and identity politics; the leadership must be scrutinized through all possible measures. In respect of this, reforms in political parties should be the first step. The parties must be made accountable to the Indian democracy for what they do or intend to do.

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