Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] Intra Party Democracy / Democratization of Political Parties

UPSC 2023 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

One should not be surprised that the democratic system of administration was not new to India. Ever since ancient times, India had it and she lost it. We all have read about “Kingdoms, Kings and Early Republic” through NCERT since our preparation began.


  • In Maharashtra, recently splits in the ruling party led to the fall of a tripartite government which had acclaimed dynast and popular leaders.
  • Most political parties in India were no doubt dynastic, i.e. the future leader is almost always a family member of the present party leader (no doubt they are anyhow ousted with the present regime in India).
  • This however highlights huge vacuum in intra-party discipline and coherence of ideologies.
  • Thus the character of any India’s political institution or party system is a result of its political culture.

Today’s debate is – Is India being held back due to a lack of democracy in its political parties? Or does the freedom to start a new political party compensate for this defect?

Point of discussion

  • In India, there is no real movement toward the democratization of parties.
  • The selection of candidates, Chief Ministers and office-bearers of party units is usually left to the discretion of a handful of leaders who take decisions behind closed doors.

“It is not that India did not know what is Democracy,” Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee told the Constituent Assembly while presenting the final draft of the Constitution, “There was a time when India was studded with republics, and even where there were Mahajanpada monarchies, they were either elected or limited. They were never absolute. It is not that India did not know Parliaments or Parliamentary procedures. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments- for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments- but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modern times.”

Constituent Assembly Debates

Political Parties in India: A Backgrounder

  • A party system is a concept in comparative political science concerning the system of government by political parties in a democratic country.
  • In India, there is a multi-party system in place, with the number of parties at the national level fluctuating.
  • Furthermore, India has a diverse range of political parties, including left, centrist, and right-wing parties, as well as communal and non-communal parties.

Features of Political Parties in India

The key features of the Indian Party system are:

  1. Ideology base
  2. Multi-Party System
  3. Pre-poll Alliances
  4. Coalition System
  5. Opposition’s Multi-Party Character

Issues with Political Parties in India

  • Lack of proper organisation: Another feature of the Indian party system is its lack of structure. Political parties live and die by their organization.
  • Groupism inside India’s party structure: In India, groupism is a major problem for every political party. This shatters a party’s cohesiveness, causing it to split into several factions. Ex. INC, NCP, TMC.
  • Extra-constitutional ways of gaining power: Political parties do not hesitate to utilize uncertain measures to gain political power in addition to legitimate means. Ex. Resort Politics
  • Populist tendencies: In India, it is well noticed that political parties turn to populist politics in order to gain power. They take unfair advantage of people’s emotions and compulsions, promote populist slogans, and mislead the public. Ex. Temple reconstruction movements
  • Lack of discipline among party members:  It has been observed that members of various political parties are unconcerned about party discipline, preferring instead to sling dirt at one another. Ex. Undue political statements
  • Communal characteristics: The people of India are influenced by caste and religion, and they have a strong sense of allegiance to their caste and religion. Ex. Political party in Hyderabad.
  • Criminalization of politics: Leaders are valued for their capacity to attract crowds and raise funds as elections become more and more expensive.

Why are tainted candidates inducted by political parties?

  • Innocent until proven guilty maxim: The other reason offered by political parties is summarised by the maxim of Indian law, which is that any accused is innocent until proven guilty.
  • Popularity: Such candidates with serious records seem to do well despite their public image, largely due to their ability to finance their own elections and bring substantive resources to their respective parties.
  • Prospected victory: The logic of a candidate with criminal charges doing better for the cause of people of is another flawed argument.
  • Destabilizing other electors: Others do not seek to punish these candidates in instances where they are in contest with other candidates with similar records.
  • Vested interests: Some voters tend to view such candidates through a narrow prism: of being able to represent their interests by hook or by crook.

Why voice for democracy within?

  • Dynastic politics: Many political parties in India has charges of dynastic politics irrespective of the political insights of the person who inherits the legacy.
  • Opaque appointments:  Although election of the party president cannot be the sole criteria for judging intraparty democracy, political parties view the matter only through the procedure of electing the chiefs.
  • Dominants: The party head positions are mostly influenced by some external forces which have larger say in finance and caste (or) religion.
  • Personality cult: There is a tendency of hero worship in people and many times a leader takes over the party and builds his own coterie, ending all forms of intra-party democracy.
  • Centralised power: Most parties are subservient to one supreme leader or a charismatic personality.   Such leaders are valued for their capacity to attract crowds and raise funds as elections become more and more expensive.
  • Lack of institutionalization: Most of political parties still refuse to lay down settled and predictable procedures for almost everything they do, from the selection of candidates to the framing of a manifesto.

How this impacted election has mandates?

  • Weaker opposition: In India, strong and well-organized opposition is required for parliamentary democracy to succeed, yet it does not exist.
  • Non-coherence: There are several national and regional political parties performing the role of opposition at the moment, both at the national and state levels, but they are not unified on many political topics and do not have a uniform agenda.
  • Electoral autocracy: India is often accused to be a flawed democracy on accounts of its alleged far-right-wing political government. There has been increased pressure on human rights groups, intimidation of journalists and activists, and a spate of attacks, especially against Muslims.
  • Against public aspirations: People vote for fulfilling their demands and put much effort with aspirations that a stable government would be at their behest to resolve their issues.
  • Unstable government: This point needs no explanation. We have largely seen the perils of poor decision-making of politicians due to a lack of consensus among the allies.

Even Monarchies were either elected or limited but never absolute Bhakti or hero-worship sure road to dictatorship, says Dr.Ambedkar

A critical evaluation

  • Political parties have become oligarchies: India’s success in consolidating a democratic system of government has paradoxically forestalled pressure for party reform.  .
  • One person diktat rules the parties: Most parties are subservient to one supreme leader who can impose his/her offspring on the party, and even electoral defeat does not loosen their control or hold over the party.
  • Election manifesto is nowhere relevant post-election: Political parties with the exception of the Left parties still refuse to lay down settled and predictable procedures for almost everything they do, from the selection of candidates to the framing of a manifesto.
  • Party reform is a pressing one in India: While many argue that intraparty democracy is essential to sustain broader political democracy, this is not a panacea for the numerous problems facing parties.
  • Vague system is the status-quo:  The biggest weakness of parties is that they are leader-centric and most leaders are unwilling to institutionalize the procedures.
  • Diktat of the party high-command actually rules a govt.: As a rule, strong leaders rarely support institutionalization because it constrains their discretion and personal power.  
  • Partisan mobilization of the left-liberals: There is a major challenge facing the party system by party activity driven by partisan mobilisation lies at the root of much of the schism and disruption of Indian politics today. Ex. Leftists frequently meeting the Chinese.
  • Sake of electioneering and winning never ends: Another aspect is the reduction of party organisations into election-winning machines. This has become the only role a party envisages for itself.
  • Lack of political will persists: If party funds are raised and controlled centrally, this weakens the State units and rank and file vis-à-vis the central leadership on a range of issues including leadership selection and nominations for elections.

Need for imbibing democracy

  • Ensuring equal opportunity: The absence of intra-party democracy adversely impacts the constitutional right of all citizens to equal political opportunity to participate in politics and contest elections.
  • Less factionalism: A leader with strong grassroot connection would not be side-lined. This will allow less factionalism and division of parties thereby ensuring a stable govt in power.
  • Popular representation: A transparent party structure with transparent processes will allow proper ticket distribution and candidate selection.  The selection would not be based on the whims of a few powerful leaders in the party but will represent the choice of the larger party.
  • Accountability of the legislators: A democratic party will be accountable to its party members, for they will lose elections in the next cycle for their shortcomings.
  • Decentralising power: Every political party has State and local body units, an election at each level will allow creation of power centres at different levels. This will allow decentralisation of power and the decision making will take place at the ground level.
  • Legal loopholes: Currently, there is no express provision for internal democratic regulation of political parties in India except political defection. The ECI’s power to require parties to hold regular internal elections for office bearers, and candidate selection is compromised in the absence of any penal provisions.

How to attain internal democracy within parties?

  • Internal elections: It shall be the duty of the political party to take appropriate steps to ensure holding of elections at all levels. The political party shall hold elections in an unpartisan ways by their ‘karyakartas’.
  • Strengthening Anti-defection Law: The Anti-Defection Act of 1985 requires the party legislators to act according to the party whip which is decided by the diktats of the highest party leadership. One way to democratise political parties is to promote intra-party dissent.
  • Limited reservations: Seats can be reserved for women and members of the backward community including minorities.
  • Empowering ECI: The ECI shall be competent to inquire into allegations of non-compliance of any of the provisions requiring elections.
  • Social audit and penal provisions: ECI should have the penal power to deregister a party until free and fair elections in the party are conducted.
  • Encouraging new generation of leaders: For long, there is a widespread impression created that lot of good people shy away from politics. It is therefore necessary that this impression be changed and efficient people brought into political arena.

Way forward

  • The 170th report of the Law Commission of India on reform of electoral laws, dedicated an entire chapter on the necessity of providing laws relating to internal democracy within parties.
  • It observed that 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.
  • The National Commission for Review of Working of Constitution states that there should be comprehensive legislation regulating the registration and functioning of political parties or alliances of parties in India.
  • The Administrative Reforms Commission II (ARC), 2008 Ethics and Governance Report pointed out that corruption is caused by over-centralization.


  • Politics is inseparable from political parties as they are the prime instruments for the execution of democracy in the country.
  • We must emphasize our PM’s call for a debate on internal democracy in political parties.
  • It is imperative that political parties open their eyes to growing calls for electoral political reforms and take steps towards bringing in intra-party democracy.

UPSC 2023 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
joginder bhardwaj
joginder bhardwaj
22 days ago