The Editorial 23 Sept, 2022 - Internal Democracy

23 Sep, 2022

1. Internal Democracy.

Theme : Polity & Governance

Related Paper : GS - 2

                    TABLE OF CONTENT

  1. Context
  2. Internal Democracy
  3. Why is there a Centralized Control in a Party?
  4. How Democratic Accountability in a Political Party is different from that in a Country
  5. Framework to ensure Intra-Party Democracy
  6. Global Practices
  7. Recommendations
  8. Road Ahead

Context :
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has rejected the idea of a ‘Permanent President’ for a party. A party from Andhra Pradesh reportedly elected states’ Chief Minister as its president for life.As per the ECI, such a step is inherently anti-democratic.

Internal Democracy :

  • It refers to the level and methods of including party members in the decision making and deliberation within the party structure.
  • It is usually known to nurture citizens’ political competencies and/or producing more capable representatives which in turn ensures that the party produces better policies and political programmes.
  • Any party that participates in a democratic process, and wants to govern and legislate, should include formal and periodic election of office-bearers as part of the way it functions as an association.
  • Today, in India and South Asia, almost all political parties are centralized.They are family-controlled parties, and dynastic politics has become a norm.

Why is there a Centralized Control in a Party?

  • The fragmentation of India’s polity into a federalised, multi-party system has also given way to domination by “charismatic” individuals or their families, mainly because of the nature of support that these parties enjoy or due to their financing structures which necessitates centralized control by a single family.
  • Because of this, several political parties do not insist on thoroughgoing internal elections to secure their leadership; and even if they do conduct polls, they lack sufficient contestation and are done to reaffirm the dominance of the high command.

How Democratic Accountability in a Political Party different from that in a Country ?

  • Democratic accountability in a political party is qualitatively different from that in a country.
  • A political party is a collaborative platform to capture state power to achieve a certain vision for society. 
  • In a country, there are sharp differences between citizens on the vision and values themselves and the role of democracy is not just to create a framework to negotiate conflict but to ensure that the state is representative of the largest section of the electorate through periodic elections.
  • Thus, while democracy at the level of the country is a bottom-up opportunity to change direction altogether, democratic accountability in a political party exists within an ideological framework.

Framework to ensure Intra-Party Democracy :

  • RPA,1951: ECI uses guidelines issued for registration of parties under Section 29A, RPA,1951 to remind parties to conduct elections and to ensure that their leadership is renewed, changed or re-elected every five years.

  • Constitution: All rules and regulations apply more to candidates than to political parties in India.

    • Nothing in Article 324, or Section 29A, RPA,1951 tells us that the ECI can actually regulate internal structures, organizations or elections of the party.

  • However, ECI does not have any statutory power to enforce internal democracy in parties or to mandate elections.

    • The ECI does not question the result or the procedure the parties followed.

    • The ECI expects political parties to abide by their constitution, a copy of which is also submitted to the commission when the parties are registered. It is not for the commission to step in or criticize if anyone is elected unopposed.

  • In the 1990s, when T.N. Seshan was at the helm at ECI, by an executive order political parties were ordered to conduct organizational elections.

Global Practices :

  • In the U.S. election, the selection of the candidate to be the presidential nominee is done via debate, in which the contenders condemn and criticize each other.
  • Something similar is seen in the U.K. Democracy.

Recommendations :

  • 1999 Law Commission Report: It strongly recommended that India should have some mechanism for internal regulation of political parties.
  • The CEC in 2011 also submitted a draft on this to the Union Law Ministry.

Road Ahead :

  • Instead of looking at internal party processes, one way to decentralize power is by getting rid of the anti-defection law.
  • The need to canvass votes in the legislature will create room for negotiation in the party organization too.
  • Most importantly, this reform will impose a similar burden on all political parties and may create space to change the overall political culture.