Electoral Reforms In India

Can parties be de-recognized or de-registered? | Explained


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Political Parties and their registration/de-registration in India;

Mains level: Issues related to Political Parties;

Why in the News?

The ECI urges star campaigners to uphold societal harmony, sparking debate on its efficacy in curbing MCC violations and enforcing norms.

Criteria for Registration of Political Parties:

  • Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act) outlines the criteria for registering a political party with the Election Commission of India (ECI).
  • Any party seeking registration must submit a copy of its memorandum or constitution. This document must declare that the party will faithfully adhere to the Constitution of India.
  • Additionally, it must commit to the principles of socialism, secularism, and democracy, and uphold the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.

How are political parties registered in India?   

  • A political party recognized as a ‘National’ or ‘state’ party under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 (Symbols Order) by the Election Commission of India (ECI) is referred to as a Recognized Political Party (RPP).
  • Recognition as a ‘National’ or ‘state’ political party is contingent upon meeting specific criteria, such as winning a requisite number of seats or obtaining a required percentage of votes in a general election to the Lok Sabha or State Assembly.
  • Currently, there are 6 National political parties and 61 state political parties that have been granted recognition. Recognized parties benefit from additional privileges, including the reservation of a symbol during elections and the designation of forty ‘star campaigners’.
  • Registered political parties enjoy the following legal benefits:
    • Tax exemption for donations received under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
    • Common symbol for contesting general elections to the Lok Sabha/State Assemblies
    • Twenty ‘star campaigners’ during the election campaign. As per the ECI, there are 2,790 active registered political parties in India.

What are the issues related Criteria for Deregistration?

  • Misuse of Privileges: Non-contesting RUPPs raise concerns about potential misuse of benefits like income tax exemption and donations for purposes such as money laundering.
  • Absence of De-registration Powers: The Representation of the People Act (RP Act) does not explicitly empower the Election Commission of India (ECI) to de-register political parties for failure to contest elections, conduct inner-party elections, or submit required returns.
  • Legal Limitations: The Supreme Court ruling in “Indian National Congress versus Institute of Social Welfare & Ors (2002)” affirmed that the ECI lacks the authority to de-register political parties under the RP Act, except under extraordinary circumstances such as fraudulent registration or cessation of allegiance to the Constitution.
  • Violations of Model Code of Conduct (MCC): Recognised political parties have been found guilty of breaching the MCC, which prohibits the exploitation of caste and communal sentiments for electoral gain, as well as voter bribery and intimidation.

What needs to be done? (Way Forward)

  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) has proposed amendments to the law in its 2016 memorandum for electoral reforms, aiming to grant the ECI the authority to deregister political parties.
  • The Law Commission’s 255th report on ‘Electoral reforms’ in 2015 also advocated for amendments allowing the de-registration of a political party if it abstains from contesting elections for 10 consecutive years. These recommendations should be put into effect.
  • Paragraph 16A of the Symbols order grants the ECI the power to suspend or revoke the recognition of a recognized political party if it fails to adhere to the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) or comply with lawful directives from the Commission.
  • Although this provision has been utilized only once, as seen in the temporary suspension of the National People’s Party’s recognition in 2015 for non-compliance with ECI directives, stricter enforcement of this measure would foster adherence to the MCC.

Mains PYQ:

Q Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct.(UPSC IAS/2022)

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