n any modern democracy, including India, political parties are vital institutions. Without multiple political parties, there can be no representative democracy. But the irony in our country is that most parties here are devoid of internal democracy.
A truly democratic party allows party members from the grass-roots to the top level to participate in decision-making. In such a party, power comes from bottom to top, and not vice-versa. Even during the election of representatives, there is a specific and transparent process of nomination and selection of candidates.
If these were criteria for a democratic party, then perhaps most parties in India would be branded as undemocratic. Most national and regional parties are run by individuals or families. All decisions flow from top to bottom. All voices of dissent are throttled by coercion or intimidation.
Although political parties are vital to democracy, the Constitution did not originally mention the term “political party”. It was in 1985 that the tenth schedule, or the Anti-Defection Law, was added to the Constitution. Here, too, the term is neither defined, nor is any guideline for internal functioning of parties mentioned. Perhaps framers of the Constitution took it for granted that politicians would be honest enough to run parties with a democratic mindset and process.
Since India was a monarchy and a feudal polity and society for millennia before it got Independence and became a democratic republic, the mindset of leaders and commoners should not have been expected to be democratic overnight. As old habits die hard, the mindset would remain feudal for long.
In countries such as the US, UK, France and some Western European countries, where democracy evolved in a prolonged process, intra-party democracy also evolved. But in a country such as India, a legal regulatory mechanism is essential to instil democratic values and to enforce them in political parties. Countries such as Germany, Spain and Finland have laws that enforce intra-party democracy. Article 6 of the Spanish Constitution defines political parties thus: “Political parties are the expression of political pluralism; they contribute to the formation and expression of the will of the people and are a fundamental instrument for political participation. Their creation and exercise of their activities are free insofar as they respect the Constitution and the law. Their internal structure and operation must be democratic.” We should probably borrow this into our Constitution.
In India, the only law that speaks of political parties is the Representation of People’s Act (RPA), 1951, and it is confined to registration, recognition and de-recognition of parties. The only vague criterion of formation of a party is that it must adhere to the Constitution; but how to adhere is not elaborated. It also directs parties to inform the Election Commission of India information regarding office-bearers, but does not mention how these officials would be elected or selected. Any violation of the Constitution would not affect the party adversely as the Act is conspicuously silent on de-registration. Other minor laws relating to this issue are the Election Symbols (Reservation & Allotment) Order, 1968 and the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, which play no role in democratising parties.
The Law Commission of India in its 170th Report, 1999, and 225th Report, 2015, submitted to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice on the issue of regulation of political parties and inner-party democracy, has repeatedly advised the Central Government to amend the RPA, 1951, to ensure and legalise internal democracy of parties; but all is in vain. The reports also suggest de-registration of parties that deviate from the democratic process in internal elections, candidate selections and voting procedure.
In 2011, too, a committee headed by former CJI MN Venkatachaliah had drafted a Bill to regulate and democratise internal functioning of political parties; but that was also ignored by the then political establishment.
Now, who will bell the cat? Since political parties are reluctant to initiate this vital process, the civil society, academics, intellectuals and the media must coerce the government to enact such laws, so that the Indian democracy will be much stronger than it is today.
The writer is an advocate based in Bolangir.