- The Election Commission of India (ECI) has recognized the Eknath Shinde group as the official “Shiv Sena”, allowing them to use the official “Bow & Arrow” symbol and “Shiv Sena” name.
- The Uddhav Thackeray faction has been allowed to use the name “Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray)” and the symbol of the “flaming torch” for the upcoming bye-elections in the Maharashtra assembly.
- In this context, this edition of the burning issue will elaborate on the topic of allotment of elections symbols, EC’s role and overall party politics in India. The topic is important for the upcoming Prelims as well as Mains Examination.
What are party election symbols?
- An election symbol is a standardized symbol allocated to a political party. They are used by the parties during their campaigning and are shown on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), where the voter chooses the symbol and votes for the associated party.
- They were introduced to facilitate voting by illiterate people, who can’t read the name of the party while casting their votes.
How does the Election Commission decide on party symbol disputes?
- In the 1960s, the Government of India proposed that the regulation, reservation and allotment of electoral symbols should be done through a law of Parliament, i.e., Symbols Order.
- In a response to this proposal, the Election Commission of India (ECI) stated that the recognition of political parties is supervised by the provisions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 and so will the allotment of symbols. In 1968, the Election Commission promulgated this order.
- Symbols order has provisions regarding the registration and recognition of political parties as state and national parties.
- Under Paragraph 15 of the Order, it can decide disputes among rival groups or sections of a recognized political party staking claim to its name and symbol.
- As per the guidelines, when a recognized political party splits, the Election Commission decides on assigning the symbol by evaluating the support enjoyed by a claimant in both organizational and legislative wings. within the political party.
- Where it is not possible to decide which group has a majority, the EC may freeze the party’s symbol and allow the groups to register with new names.
- Additionally, the Supreme Court in the Sadiq Ali case (1972) formulated three tests for deciding on party symbol disputes. In this case, only one test proved conclusive.
3 tests formulated by the Supreme Court
Following are the three tests and their application as per which the ECI made its decision–
Test of Aims and Objects of the Party Constitution
- Regarding this test, the ECI found that the test could not yield an effective outcome as both sides claimed adherence to the aims and objectives of the party. Therefore, ECI held–
“The application of this test will render an inconclusive answer for the purpose of adjudicating the present dispute.”
Test of Party Constitution
- While applying this test, the commission found that the party constitution on which the respondent (Uddhav Thackeray faction) was placing strong reliance was undemocratic. Further, the complete list of office bearers of various bodies was not provided to the commission, whenever elections were held or appointments were made. As per the commission –
“Any reliance on the test of party constitution for determining the present dispute case would be undemocratic and catalytic in spreading such practices across parties.”
Test of Majority
- The election commission of India found that the majority test was in favor of the petitioner (Eknath Shinde faction). The commission found that the majority test outcome in the legislative wing reflected the qualitative superiority of the majority test in favor of the Shinde faction.
Bigger Picture: Democratic Deficit in Political Parties
- Several of the political parties in India have witnessed factionalism in the recent past some examples being Janata Dal (United), Samajwadi Party, Indian National Congress etc. highlighting the issue of democratic deficit in political parties.
- In its order, the ECI highlighted the importance of internal party democracy. It stated–
“The requirement for a written constitution of political parties and an undertaking to the effect that such Constitution adheres to the norms of democracy prescribed in the Constitution of India is meant to promote inner party democracy.”
Other 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 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.
- Criminalization of politics: Leaders are valued for their capacity to attract crowds and raise funds as elections become more and more expensive.
How to attain Internal Democracy within parties?
- Internal elections: It shall be the duty of the political party to take appropriate steps to ensure the holding of elections at all levels. The political party shall hold elections in an unpartisan way 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 democratize 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 with 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 a new generation of leaders: For a long, there is a widespread impression created that a lot of good people shy away from politics. It is, therefore, necessary that this impression be changed and efficient people brought into the political arena.
- The 170th report of the Law Commission of India on the reform of electoral laws dedicated an entire chapter to the necessity of providing laws relating to internal democracy within parties.
- It observed that a political party that 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 top leaders of the political parties need to introspect and allow for democratic decision-making in the party’s affair’s thus paving the way for intra-party democracy.
- Such a step would strengthen the Party Culture in India, thus improving the Political ethics and overall Politics in India.