From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Article 324
Mains level : Paper 2- Powers of Election Commission
The recent split in Shiv Sena and the subsequent political slugfest in Maharashtra has brought into focus the legal and constitutional framework to deal with issues when a party splinters and rival factions assert themselves as the recognised political party.
Culture of functioning political parties in India
- What is a political party? A political party is an organised group of citizens who hold common views on governance and act as a political unit that seeks to obtain control of government with a view to further the agenda and policy they profess.
- Political parties maintain a continuous connection between the people and those who represent them either in government or in the opposition.
- Political parties in India are extra-constitutional, but they are the breathing air of the political system.
- There are reportedly 2,598 registered political parties, eight national parties and 50 state parties.
- The regulation of these parties and elections in the country is a crucial segment of India’s constitutional imagination.
- Yet, the proliferation of political parties also means that established parties splinter.
- A battle ensues for recognition of one faction or group as the recognised political party and securing the party symbol.
Legal and Constitutional framework
- There is a legal and constitutional framework to deal with issues when a party splinters and rival factions assert themselves as the recognised political party.
- Article 324 of the Constitution provides that the superintendence, direction and control of elections is vested in the Election Commission.
- Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, Rule 5 specifies that the Commission shall specify the symbols that may be chosen by candidates at elections in parliamentary or assembly constituencies and the restrictions to which their choice will be subject.
- Choice and allotment of symbol: The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order 1968 provides for the choice and allotment of symbols in Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies and for recognition of political parties and matters connected.
- Power to recognise party from splinter group: Paragraph 15 of this Order specifies that the Commission has the power to recognise as the party, from amongst splinter groups or rival sections.
Important case on recognition of faction
- The classic case on recognition of a faction and accrual of the party symbol is Sadiq Ali v the Election Commission of India (1972).
- Here, the Supreme Court was confronted with the case of the Indian National Congress which had split into two factions.
- The Commission ruled in favour of Congress (J) being the recognised political party and the case reached to the Supreme Court,
- The SC relied on the figures presented to the Commission and found that a substantial majority of the members of the Congress in both its legislative wing as well as the organisational wing supported the Congress (J).
- The SC concludes that “numbers have importance in a democratic system of government or political set up, and it is neither possible nor permissible to lose sight of them. Indeed, it is the view of the majority which in the final analysis proves decisive in a democratic set-up.”
- It was also concludes that paragraph 15, which gives the Commission power to settle such disputes pertaining to symbols between factions of a party, is entirely legal, for this power accrues from Article 324 that creates the Commission and vests in it the power of superintendence over elections.
In India’s 72nd year as a constitutional democracy, the free and fair regulation of political parties by the Election Commission and the courts is a crucial part of our political success as a nation. The Supreme Court’s thoughtful judgment decades ago is a realisation of the importance accorded to judicial oversight of our political parties.