Political parties are important and useful ingredients in a representative democracy. The healthy functioning of political parties contributes to a healthy representative democracy, as is apparent from an analysis of some Western democracies.
Since independence, political parties in India have multiplied unabated. We now have six national parties, 54 state parties, and 2,597 unrecognized parties. The first two categories are those relevant to elections. Some of the unrecognized parties also compete in limited regions, but most lobby or engage in questionable activities by taking advantage of the tax breaks available to such parties. Altogether, the scenario is very different from that of the US and the UK, where only two or three major parties compete in elections at the national level.
Fissures in political parties are not a new phenomenon. The first political party to split in India was the Communist Party in 1964; A few years later, the ruling Congress suffered the same fate. However, recent years have produced a spate of such splits and defections, which have become a tool for capturing political power with little regard to divergent political ideologies. The way of performing a split has also changed over the years; currently, it appears that a leadership struggle within the existing party is increasingly the trigger for joining the ruling party or seizing power in an alliance with other political parties, depending on strength. of the members of the splitting party, and of the party in power.
In a democracy, elected representatives are supposed to represent the will of the citizens and ultimately contribute to the general will of the people in the legislature. A peculiar feature of the Indian political system is divisions in political parties that fought together in an election forming a pre-election alliance, but then the factions formed post-election alliances with the sole aim of forming the government. This is not healthy for a democracy because they cannot be said to represent the will of the people and therefore represent a denial of an essential principle of democracy.
That such developments occur in parties immediately after an election, or soon after, is indeed an unfortunate feature of our politics, distinguishing us from more advanced democracies. A key reason for this appears to be the anti-defection law which emphasizes a two-thirds threshold for lawmakers who defect from the parent party for legal recognition: representatives are required to be disqualified if the members who leave the party are minors. than the minimum benchmark, but they do little to prevent this from happening.
Such divisions are seen more in the case of small parties, which often destabilize existing governments. The consequent proliferation of small and medium-sized parties, therefore, wreaks havoc on the stability of elected administrations.
One of the reasons for the splits in parties disturbed by internal disputes is the absence of a codified law that regulates the formation of political parties and their operation. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has repeatedly recommended a codified law on political parties. The Law Commission as well as the Venkatachaliah Justice Committee, appointed to revise the Indian Constitution, suggested a separate law to regulate the formation, operation and dissolution of political parties.
Currently, due to the absence of a separate law, ECI is responsible for deciding disputes between the parties, based on various judicial pronouncements of the Supreme Court and higher courts. Such a vague system further contributes to the uncertainty of party divisions, leading to many complaints and counterclaims from faction leaders. Additionally, legal delays in resolving issues and appeals to a higher judiciary result in avoidable confusion.
The normal rule should be that a representative, or a group of representatives, who disagrees with the leadership of a party, withdraws and forms a new political entity. This does not seem to be attractive to our elected representatives, simply because they want to exploit the party symbol, funds and flag, which act as easy tools in their quest for power. The law against desertion does not provide adequate provisions to deal with unhealthy partisan disputes.
Therefore, it would be necessary to frame appropriate rules and regulations under a new codified law on political parties or amend the anti-defection law to deal with partisan disputes and splits more effectively. It would also be worth considering banning party splits for a period of one or two years immediately after the formation of government in a state or in the Center. Another suggestion to prevent the proliferation of these unhealthy tendencies and party division is to move away from the current absolute majority system and prescribe a minimum threshold of 33.13% or 50% of the votes obtained in a particular constituency as a condition for winning the election. choice.
TS Krishna Murthy is a former chief election commissioner. The opinions expressed are personal.