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Fifty Years Of Indian Parliament
Editor : G.C. MALHOTRA
Published by Lok Sabha
Secretariat, New Delhi, 2002

   
 

NEED TO REGULATE THE WORKING OF POLITICAL PARTIES
--
A Surya Prakash

Introduction

One of the greatest achievements of Indian democracy over the last 50 years is that the system has enabled hitherto unrepresented social and cultural groups to overcome disabilities and to strive for their legitimate share of political power. This trend, to an extent, has been brought about by the denominational politics practised by several regional parties, but there is little doubt that it has improved the representative character of India's parliamentary institutions. While this indeed is a positive achievement, the rest of the story of Parliament is rather disappointing. There is a marked decline on many fronts, namely the quality of debates, members' interest in parliamentary work, conduct of members within the two Chambers, conduct of political parties and their parliamentary wings and moral standards.


Each of these factors need considerable elaboration but because of the constraint of space, I would like to take just one strand—the functioning of political parties—for discussion in this paper.

Growth of Political Parties

One cannot discuss the evolution and status of democratic institutions without taking a closer look at political parties. The growth ot political parties, the state of inner party democracy within them and the way in which they carry out the responsibility of representing the people has a great bearing on the kind of democracy that prevails in a society. That is why much of the blame for the current dissatisfaction with representative institutions in the country must be laid at the door of political parties.

It is indeed unfortunate that despite a sublime democratic environment in the country for over 50 years, political parties have failed to develop in a healthy maimer. The primary reason for this is that barring exceptions, most political parties in the country are personality-oriented. And since the persona of the leader is many times bigger than that of the party, the party's policy-making bodies do not develop and function in a healthy, democratic environment. That is why political parties have not grown into modern democratic outfits which breathe the free air of democracy.

Those anxious to improve the working of parliamentary institutions in the country will, therefore, have to attend to the task of regulating the formation and working of political parties. Some of the deficiencies that are apparent in their working are absence of membership lists; lack of inner-party democracy; non-maintenance of books of accounts and lack of transparency in the collection and distribution of funds; ad hocism in selection of candidates during elections to State Assemblies and Parliament; and use of black money for electoral purposes.

Reform of Electoral Laws : Recommendations of Law Commission

Many political scientists and well-meaning citizens and institutions have often voiced their concern over these issues and argued for legal and political initiatives to remedy the situation. The Law Commission of India is one of the institutions which has examined this issue in depth. The Commission, in its report titled "Reform of the Electoral Laws" has said that there is need to bring about a sense of discipline and order in the working of the political system.1 The Commission has suggested amendment of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 in order to achieve this goal. The main proposals are as follows:

 

Only political parties registered with the Election Commission should be entitled to contest elections.

 

In order to secure registration from the Election Commission, a political party must swear allegiance to the Constitution of India

 

The party must have a constitution that outlines: procedure for admission, expulsion and resignation of members and for taking disciplinary action against members; composition and powers of the executive committee and other organs of the party; the manner in which general body meetings can be requisitioned and conducted and the procedure for holding conventions to decide questions of continuance, merger and other such fundamental matters.

 

The party must maintain regular accounts of the funds it receives and submit its audited accounts to the Election Commission.

 

The party must hold elections at the national and State levels in the presence of observers nominated by the Election Commission.

 

The party's candidates for elections to the State Assemblies and 1 Parliament must be selected by its executive committee on the basis of recommendations and resolutions passed by the concerned local units

 

Should a political party fail to comply .with any of these 1 provisions, the Election Commission will have the power to hold an inquiry, punish the political party by imposing a fine of Rs. 10,000/- for each day of non-compliance and even withdraw its registration.2

Criminalisation of Politics

Two other proposals made by the Law Commission needs to be acted upon. The first one relates to the growing criminalisation of politics. The Election Commission has been drawing attention to this problem for a long time but nothing has been done either by political parties or by Parliament to reverse the trend. The Law Commission has said that in order to tackle this problem, the election law must be amended. The law as of now is that no candidate can be debarred from contesting elections unless he has been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by a trial court for certain offences. If there is an appeal pending against the trial court's order, the candidate has the right to contest elections. Thus, even if a person has been convicted of a heinous offence like murder by a trial court, he can get himself elected to the Legislative Bodies so long as his appeal is pending in a higher court. The Law. Commission has said that in order to keep out criminals, all persons against whom charges are framed in respect of offences listed in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 must be debarred from filing nominations in elections3. This is a suggestion which needs to be acted upon. However, until this happens, the entry of persons with criminal background into Legislative Chambers will continue and show democratic institutions and political parties in poor light. The credibility of the political process will depend on the ability of political parties to take the initiative in this regard.

Ceiling on Election Spending

The other proposal mooted by the Law Commission relates to deletion of the existing proviso to section 77 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. This proviso says that the expenses incurred by a political party cannot be taken into account while computing the election expenses of a candidate. It was added through a Presidential Ordinance in 1974 in order to provide candidates an escape route and to practically remove the ceiling on election spending. The Commission has recommended that this proviso be deleted4. The Election Commission too has been urging Parliament to elete the offending provision. Unless this suggestion is acted upon, the lection Commission's efforts to impose a ceiling on election spending will be futile. It will also not be possible to curb the flow of black money into the election arena.

Given the prevailing chaos and indiscipline in both national and State level  political parties, these proposals are unexceptionable, but their implementation will depend on whether parliamentarians are willing to lean the Augean stables.

Deficiencies in Parliamentary Parties

The stunted growth of political parties has inevitably had its impact on their parliamentary wings and prevented the latter from functioning in an efficient manner. A closer look at parliamentary parties is certain to throw up some of these inadequacies

 

Structural-functional deficiencies that prevent regular interaction amongst party MPs on issues coming up in Parliament resulting in ad hocism and poor floor management and coordination.

 

Near absence of debate and discussion within parliamentary parties on major issues that are raised by them in Parliament.

 

III-equipped and poorly manned parliamentary party secretariats which do not have modern information storage and retrieval systems that are needed to give MPs the much needed back-up and research assistance

 

A general contempt for back benchers and for their views on issues before Parliament, the principle being that MPs need not be heard, but only need to be "whipped" to toe the party line.

Parliament cannot improve its functional efficiency unless something is done to remedy this situation. The existing deficiencies in the working :of parliamentary parties has only compounded the problem for MPs who, in the Indian context, have to cope with enormous constituency pressures. MPs these days find it difficult to cope with constituency pressures and the deluge of petitions and requests from constituents seeking personal flavours and sifarish for school and college admissions, jobs, domestic gas and telephone connections and even railway reservations. An Indian MP is, therefore, worthy of sympathy on this count but something needs to be done about it if Parliament is to retain its importance. The initiative in this regard must come from non-MPs in order to lessen constituency pressures on parliamentarians.

Needed : A Parliamentary Reforms Commission

The Government, media and NGOs need to educate voters on the role of parliamentarians and on the negative impact that such pressures have on the working of the country's apex Legislative Body. Until then, improvement in parliamentary standards would be an unreasonable expectation. But it would be many years before any such campaign can' bear fruit. Therefore, one has to simultaneously look at the need for reorganising the work of Parliament and rationalising its methods with a view to improving its functional efficiency. This is an arduous task and would best be accomplished by a Parliamentary Reforms Commission.

In any case, it will not be difficult to find credible institutions and concerned citizens to take up the cause of MPs. But this cannot happen until political parties display an honesty of purpose in regard to regulation.

Strict laws govern the working of political parties in most western democracies. These laws have meant greater transparency not just in the collection of funds but also in the working of these parties. There is no reason why political parties in India should remain outside the framework of such regulation. And can there be a better occasion than the Golden Jubilee of the Parliament to take the first steps in this direction?

 

One Hundred and Seventieth Report on Reform of the    Electoral Laws,
Law Commission of India, May 1999, p.40.

 

Ibid, pp.48-53.

 

Ibid, pp.123-34.

 

Ibid, p.189

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