From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Election symbols
Mains level : Split of political parties
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has frozen an election symbol of a political party in Bihar to which a cabinet minister belonged.
What are the Election Commission’s powers in a dispute over the election symbol when a party splits?
- The question of a split in a political party outside the legislature is dealt by Para 15 of the Symbols Order, 1968.
- It states that the ECI may take into account all the available facts and circumstances and undertake a test of majority.
- The decision of the ECI shall be binding on all such rival sections or groups emerged after the split.
- This applies to disputes in recognised national and state parties.
- For splits in registered but unrecognised parties, the EC usually advises the warring factions to resolve their differences internally or to approach the court.
How did the EC deal with such matters before the Symbols Order came into effect?
- Before 1968, the EC issued notifications and executive orders under the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
- The most high-profile split of a party before 1968 was that of the CPI in 1964.
- A breakaway group approached the ECI in December 1964 urging it to recognise them as CPI(Marxist). They provided a list of MPs and MLAs of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal who supported them.
- The ECI recognised the faction as CPI(M) after it found that the votes secured by the MPs and MLAs supporting the breakaway group added up to more than 4% in the 3 states.
What was the first case decided under Para 15 of the 1968 Order?
- It was the first split in the Indian National Congress in 1969.
- Indira Gandhi’s tensions with a rival group within the party came to a head with the death of President Dr Zakir Hussain on May 3, 1969.
Is there a way other than the test of majority to resolve a dispute over election symbols?
- In almost all disputes decided by the EC so far, a clear majority of party delegates/office bearers, MPs and MLAs have supported one of the factions.
- Whenever the EC could not test the strength of rival groups based on support within the party organisation (because of disputes regarding the list of office bearers), it fell back on testing the majority only among elected MPs and MLAs.
What happens to the group that doesn’t get the parent party’s symbol?
- The EC in 1997 did not recognise the new parties as either state or national parties.
- It felt that merely having MPs and MLAs is not enough, as the elected representatives had fought and won polls on tickets of their parent (undivided) parties.
- The EC introduced a new rule under which the splinter group of the party — other than the group that got the party symbol — had to register itself as a separate party.
- It could lay claim to national or state party status only on the basis of its performance in state or central elections after registration.