India is a multi-party democracy. The rise of coalition politics since the late 1990s bears testimony to that fact. However, the scale of multi-party democracy in India is staggering if one accounts for the total number of “registered unrecognised parties”. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), there are 2,301 such outfits in the country. Many, if not all, of these unrecognised parties contest elections. Some of these unrecognised parties include "Bharosa Party," Sabse Badi Party," and "Rashtriya Saaf Niti Party." Apart from these little-known political outfits, seven political parties are recognised as being on the national level. At least 52 others enjoy the state party status.
The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, lays down the criteria for declaring any registered political party as a national party or a state party. As per the order, a registered political party needs to fulfil at least one of the three conditions to become a national party. Under the first condition, a political party needs to win minimum two percent of seats in the Lok Sabha (11 seats) from at least three different states. Another way of gaining national party status is by polling at least six percent of votes in four states in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, in addition to winning four Lok Sabha seats. A political party may also secure recognition as national party if it is recognised as a state party in four or more states.
Notably, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress became a national party in 2016 through the third route. By August 2016, Trinamool was a recognised state party in West Bengal, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. Interestingly, the BSP too became a national party for the first time in 2001 in a similar manner. At the time, BSP was already a recognised state party in four states: Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, the party won over six percent of votes in these states during the Assembly elections.
There are seven political parties with the tag of national party: Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Nationalist Congress Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Trinamool Congress.
In 2010, Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, lost its national party status after performing poorly in Jharkhand, where it used to be recognised as a state party. However, CPM, CPI and NCP were also at the risk of losing their national party tag after failing to perform well in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, they received a respite after the Election Commission decided to review performances of political parties on a 10 year-basis in 2016.
Each of the 29 states in India has at least one political party which comes under the category of state party. As of March 2019, the Election Commission of India recognises 52 political parties as such. Many of these parties have tasted political power at some point: either in coalition with a national party or single-handedly. At present, Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (Secular), Aam Aadmi Party, Telugu Desam Party, Janata Dal (United), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Biju Janata Dal, Sikkim Democratic Front, National People’s Party and Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party are the political parties recognised as such which are in power in different states.
In order to be recognised as a state party, a political party needs to fulfil at least one of the four criteria laid down by the Election Commission of India. A political party will be recognised as a state party if it wins three percent of the total seats in the Legislative Assembly of the state (subject to a minimum of three seats). Alternatively, a party must win one Lok Sabha seat for every 25 Lok Sabha seats allotted for the state in order to become a state party. The third and fourth criteria seem comparatively simpler for any registered political party to fulfil. A political party needspoll at least six percent of votes in a state during a Lok Sabha or Assembly election. In addition, it also needs to win at least one Lok Sabha or two Legislative Assembly seats. Finally, a political party will be recognised as a state party if it wins at least eight percent votes in a state during the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly elections.
In the past few years, many political parties have been derecognised for failing to secure minimum number of seats and vote share as prescribed by the Election Commission. Some of them include Vaiko-led Pattali Makkal Katchi and Manipur’s People’s Party. While the former was derecognised in 2010, the latter — which is the oldest political outfit in Manipur — its state party status in 2013.
Benefits of being a state party or national party
The Election Commission of India urges political outfits to register themselves to avail several benefits. “The RPA allows political parties to accept contributions voluntarily offered to it by any person or company other than a government company. Apart from this, candidates of registered parties get preference in allotment of election symbols,” as per a PIB press release. A state party is allowed exclusive use of its allotted symbol during Assembly or parliamentary elections in a state where it is recognised as such. For example: The DMK is allowed to use its symbol “Rising Sun” in Assembly or general elections in Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, a national party is allowed exclusive use of its allotted symbol during state or Lok Sabha elections across the country.
Recognised state or national parties also get other benefits from the Election Commission. A candidate belonging to such parties needs only one proposer for filing the nomination. These parties are also entitled to two sets of electoral rolls free of cost at the time of revision of rolls, while their candidates get one copy of electoral roll for no cost during general elections. Since 1998, these political parties also get broadcasting rights over All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan during Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. As per the Election Commission’s latest press release, the Congress and the BJP get the lion's share of time on AIR and Doordarshan. While the Congress gets 131 minutes of broadcast and telecast time, the ruling BJP gets 184 minutes for the same purpose.
Both national and state parties also enjoy the privileges of utilising star campaigners for their election campaigns. A recognised national or state party can have a maximum of 40 star campaigners during a state or national election. Notably, the travel expenses of star campaigners cannot be accounted for in the election expense accounts of candidates.
Many unrecognised parties remain dormant
The 2,000 plus registered but unrecognised political parties do not have the privilege of contesting elections on a fixed symbol of their own. They have to choose from a list of 'free symbols' issued by the poll panel. According to the latest Election Commission circular, there are 84 such free symbols available. However, these parties are allowed to have up to 20 star campaigners during an election campaign. In 2016, the Election Commission asked the Central Board of Direct Taxes to look into the finances of 255 registered, but unrecognised political parties. These parties remained electorally dormant for over a decade. However, the dormancy led to the fear that such parties are used to 'round trip' the black money into white. Some of these parties were also found to be “no longer in existence or functioning", a PTI report noted. It is to be noted that the Election Commission cannot deregister a party. However, it uses Article 324 of the Constitution to “unlist” dormant political parties.
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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 16:46:05 IST