[op-ed snap] Making party bosses give up their powers

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Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Law Commission of India, MPLADS and MLALADS

Mains level: Reforms required in political party structure in India


Context

  1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a debate on levels of intra-party democracy in different political parties in India
  2. He also stressed that the quality of a democracy ultimately depends on internal democracy (or the lack of it) in political parties

Importance of intra-party democracy in the success of a democracy

  1. In its 170th report in 1999, the Law Commission of India underscored the importance of intra-party democracy
  2. It argued that a political party cannot be a “dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside”

Is central control inevitable?

  1. The opacity of political financing necessitates “unhindered top-down control” and “absolute loyalty down the line”
  2. The fear of party fragmentation, not uncommon in India, also drives the desire for centralized control

Anti-defection law is also responsible for low intra-party democracy

  1. By making it mandatory for the legislator to vote along her party line, this law has done immense damage to both intra-party democracy and the accountability of a legislator towards her constituency
  2. It also skews the balance of power between the executive and the legislature
  3. The legislator is no longer empowered to act as an effective check on the government of the day

Patronage politics increases due to MPLADS and MLALADS

  1. Local area development schemes like MPLADS and MLALADS that vest an annual sum with the members of Parliament and legislative assemblies for development work in their constituencies skew the balance in favor of state and Central legislators
  2. This is at the expense of city- and village-level administrators
  3. These schemes unjustly favor the incumbent representative and also exacerbate the problem of patronage politics

Way forward

  1. Unlike some countries like Germany and Portugal, India has no legal provision for enforcing internal democracy in a political party
  2. There are some related provisions in the Election Commission guidelines but those are neither adequate nor enforceable
  3. Anti-defection law should be done away with, especially for those votes where the survival of the government is not at stake
  4. MPLADS and MLALADS should be scrapped
  5. A partial state subsidy should be provided to fund elections and political parties, which will increase accountability
Electoral Reforms In India
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