Deregistration of Political Parties in India

Can parties be de-recognised or de-registered?

GS Paper -2

Electoral Process: The deregistration of political parties is a mechanism within the electoral system that governs how parties register, function, and potentially lose their official recognition. Understanding this process is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of Indian elections.

Role of Election Commission: The Election Commission of India (ECI) plays a vital role in the deregistration process. Knowing the ECI’s powers and regulations related to political party registration and deregistration is important.

Role of Political Parties: While discussing the role of political parties in Indian democracy, utilizing star campaigners to influence voters is also important.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) in its report on enforcement of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has stated that it expects star campaigners to lead by example and not vitiate the fabric of society. This has raised a debate about ECI powers to rein in MCC violations.

What are registered parties?

Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act) lays down the requirements for registration of a political party with the ECI. Any political party that seeks registration should submit a copy of its memorandum/constitution.

Such document should declare that the party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India.

It should also bear allegiance to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy, and uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

Registered political parties enjoy the following legal benefits –

(a) tax exemption for donations received under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

(b) common symbol for contesting general elections to the Lok Sabha/State Assemblies.

(c) twenty ‘star campaigners’ during election campaign. As per the ECI, there are 2,790 active registered political parties in India.

What are recognised parties?

A registered party is referred to as a Registered Unrecognised Political Party (RUPP).

Political parties are recognised as a ‘national’ or ‘State’ party under the provisions of The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 (Symbols Order) by the ECI.

The criteria for recognition at the ‘national’ or ‘State’ level consists of winning requisite number of seats and/or obtaining required percentage of votes in a general election to Lok Sabha or State Assembly.

At present, there are six ‘national’ parties, and sixty-one ‘State’ parties that have been recognised.

These recognised parties enjoy additional concessions of having a reserved symbol during elections and forty ‘star campaigners’.

Issues

It has been noticed that less than a third of RUPPs contest elections. The RP Act does not confer explicit powers on the ECI to de-register any political party if it fails to contest elections, conduct inner-party elections or lodge requisite returns.

The Supreme Court in Indian National Congress versus Institute of Social Welfare & Ors (2002) had held that the ECI does not have power to de-register any political party under the RP Act.

It may de-register only under exceptional circumstances like registration being obtained by fraud or the political party ceasing to have allegiance to the Constitution or if it is declared unlawful by the Government.

The RUPPs that don’t contest elections raise concerns over the possible misuse of income tax exemption and donations collected being used for money laundering.

The MCC prohibits using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, and bribing or intimidation of voters. Recognised political parties are guilty of violating the MCC on various occasions.

However, it has been observed that the ECI on such occasions at best bars leaders from campaigning for a short period of two to three days.

Reforms Needed

The ECI in its memorandum for electoral reforms (2016) has suggested amendment to the law that would empower the ECI to deregister a party.

The Law Commission in its 255th report (2015) on ‘Electoral reforms’ has also recommended amendments for de-registration of a political party if it fails to contest elections for 10 consecutive years.

These recommendations should be implemented. Under Paragraph 16A of the Symbols order, the ECI has the power to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognised political party for its failure to observe MCC or follow lawful directions of the Commission.

It has probably been used only once for three weeks in 2015 when the recognition of National People’s Party was suspended for failure to follow the directions of the ECI.

Strict action under this provision would have a salutary effect in ensuring adherence to the MCC.

Star campaigners

Star campaigners are prominent personalities chosen by political parties to campaign for them in elections. They are typically well-known figures who can attract large crowds and media attention. These campaigners can be:

Politicians: Popular leaders from the party or from allied parties.

Celebrities: Actors, actresses, sportspersons, or other famous personalities who can leverage their fan following.

Religious figures: Spiritual leaders who can influence voters from their community.

Regulations and Limits:

The Election Commission of India regulates the number of star campaigners a party can have. Recognized national parties can have a maximum of 40 star campaigners, while other parties have a limit of 20.

Parties need to submit a list of their star campaigners to the Election Commission before the campaign period begins.

Star campaigners’ expenses are counted towards the party’s overall election expenditure limit for each constituency.

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