A political party is generally described as an organized body of people who share common principles and cherish certain common goals regarding the political system. A political party operates and seeks political power through constitutional means to translate its policies into practice. It is a body of like-minded people having similar views on matters of public concern.
Following can be identified as the main characteristics of political parties:
• A political party is an organized group of people;
• The organized group of people believe in common principles and common goals;
• Its objectives revolve around seeking political power through collective efforts;
• It employs constitutional and peaceful methods in seeking control over the government through elections; and
• While in power, it translates its declared objectives into governmental policies
The functions performed by the political parties, especially in the context of India, are as under:
• They nominate candidates during elections;
• They campaign to obtain support for their candidates in the elections;
• They place objectives and programmes before the voters through their manifestos;
• Those securing the majority in elections form the government and enact and implement the policies;
• Those not in power form opposition and keep a constant check on the government;
• They form opposition when they are in minority in the legislature and constantly put pressure on the government for proper governance;
• They educate people and help in formulating and shaping public opinion;
• They articulate peoples’ demands and convey them to the government; and
• They provide a linkage between people and governmental institutions
Types of Political parties
Political parties in India are classified by the Election Commission for the allocation of symbols. The Commission classifies parties into three main heads: National Parties, State Parties, and Registered (unrecognized) Parties.
A political party shall be treated as a recognised political party in a State, if and only if either the conditions specified in Clause (A) are, or the condition specified in Clause (B) is, fulfilled by that party and not otherwise, that is to say-
(A) that such party –
• Has been engaged in political activity for a continuous period of five years; and
• Has, at the last general election in that State to the House of the People, or, as the case may be, to the Legislative Assembly of the State, returned-
either (i) at least one member to the House of the People for every twenty-five members of that House or any fraction of that number from that State;
or (ii) at least one member to the Legislative Assembly of that State for every thirty members of that Assembly or any fraction of that number;
(B) That the total number of valid votes polled by all the contesting candidates set up by such party at the last general election in the State to the House of the People, or as the case may be, to the Legislative Assembly of the State, is not less than six per cent of the total number of valid votes polled by all the contesting candidates at such general election in the State.
1. The conditions in Clause (A) or Clause (B) above shall not be deemed to have been fulfilled by a political party, if a member of the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State becomes a member of that political party after his election to that House or, as the case may be, that Assembly.
2. ‘State’ includes the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union Territory of Pondicherry.
3. If a political party is treated as a recognised political party in four or more States, it shall be known as a `National Party’ throughout the whole of India, but only so long as that political party continues to fulfill thereafter the conditions for recognition in four or more States on the results of any subsequent general election either to the House of the People or to the Legislative Assembly of any State.
4. If a political party is treated as a recognised political party in less than four States, it should be known as a `State Party’ in the State or States in which it is so recognised, but only so long as that political party continues to fulfill there after the conditions for recognition on the results of any subsequent general election to the House of the People or, as the case may be, to the Legislative Assembly of the State, in the said State or States.
Issues in the working of political parties
• The first challenge is lack of internal democracy within parties. All over the world there is a tendency in political parties towards the concentration of power in one or few leaders at the top. Parties do not keep membership registers, do not hold organisational meetings, and do not conduct internal elections regularly. Ordinary members of the party do not get sufficient information on what happens inside the party. They do not have the means or the connections needed to influence the decisions. As a result the leaders assume greater power to make decisions in the name of the party. Since one or few leaders exercise paramount power in the party, those who disagree with the leadership find it difficult to continue in the party. More than loyalty to party principles and policies, personal loyalty to the leader becomes more important.
• The second challenge of dynastic succession is related to the first one. Since most political parties do not practice open and transparent procedures for their functioning, there are very few ways for an ordinary worker to rise to the top in a party. Those who happen to be the leaders are in a position of unfair advantage to favour people close to them or even their family members. In many parties, the top positions are always controlled by members of one family. This is unfair to other members of that party. This is also bad for democracy, since people who do not have adequate experience or popular support come to occupy positions of power. This tendency is present in some measure all over the world, including in some of the older democracies.
• The third challenge is about the growing role of money and muscle power in parties, especially during elections. Since parties are focussed only on winning elections, they tend to use short-cuts to win elections. They tend to nominate those candidates who have or can raise lots of money. Rich people and companies who give funds to the parties tend to have influence on the policies and decisions of the party. In some cases, parties support criminals who can win elections. Democrats all over the world are worried about the increasing role of rich people and big companies in democratic politics.
Thus law is needed to curb the growth of valueless politics.
Elections in India are conducted according to the procedure laid down by law. The following process is observed.
• Notification for Election
The process of election officially begins when on the recommendation of Election Commission, the President in case of Lok Sabha and the Governor in case of State Assembly issue a notification for the election. Seven days are given to candidates to file nomination.
The seventh day is the last date after the issue of notification excluding Sunday. Scrutiny of nomination papers is done on the day normally after the last date of filing nominations.The candidate can withdraw his/her nomination on the second day after the scrutiny of papers. Election is held not earlier than twentieth day after the withdrawal.
• Filing of Nomination Structure of Government
A person who intends to contest an election is required to file the nomination paper in a prescribed form indicating his name, age, postal address and serial number in the electoral rolls. The candidate is required to be duly proposed and seconded by at least two voters registered in the concerned constituency. Every candidate has to take an oath or make affirmation. These papers are then submitted to the Returning Officer designated by the Election Commission.
• Security Deposit
A general candidate has to pay a security deposit of Rupees Twenty Five Thousand (Rs. 25,000) for Lok Sabha Election. Candidates belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) are eligible for concession of Rupees Twelve Thousand Five Hundred Only (Rs. 12,500). As for Assembly Elections, general candidates have to pay Rupees Ten Thousand Only (Rs. 10,000), and those belonging to SC/ST have to pay Rupees Five Thousand Only (Rs. 5,000).
• Scrutiny and Withdrawal
All nomination papers received by the Returning Officer are scrutinised on the day fixed by the Election Commission. This is done to ensure that all papers are filled according to the procedure laid down and accompanied by required security deposit. The Returning
Officer is empowered to reject a nomination paper on any one of the following ground:
(i) If the candidate is less than 25 years of age.
(ii) If he/she has not made security deposit.
(iii) If he/she is holding any office of profit.
(iv) If he/she is not listed as a voter anywhere in the country
The second day after the scrutiny of nomination papers is the last date for the withdrawal of the candidates. In case that day happens to be a holiday or Sunday, the day immediately after that is fixed as the last day for the withdrawal.
• Election Campaign
Campaigning is the process by which a candidate tries to persuade the voters to vote for him rather than others. During this period, the candidates try to travel through their constituency to influence as many voters as possible to vote in their favour. In the recent times, the Election Commission has granted all the recognised National and Regional Parties, free access to the State-owned electronic media, the All India Radio (AIR) and the Doordarshan to do their campaigning. The total free time is fixed by the Election Commission which is allotted to all the political parties. Campaigning stops 48 hours before the day of polling. A number of campaign techniques are involved in the election process. Some of these are:
i. Holding of public meetings
ii. Distribution of handbills, high lighting the main issues of their election manifesto (election manifesto is a document issued by political party.
iii. Door to door appeal by influential people in the party.
iv. Broadcasting and telecasting of speeches by various political leaders.
• Model Code of Conduct
During the campaign period the political parties and the contesting candidates are expected to abide by a model code of conduct evolved by the Election Commission of India on the basis of the consensus among political parties. It comes into force the moment schedule of election is announced by the Election Commission. The code of conduct is as follows :
(i) Political Parties and contesting candidates should not use religious places for election campaign.
(ii) Such speeches should not be delivered in a way to create hatred among different communities belonging to different religions, castes and languages, etc.
(iii) Official machinery should not be used for election work.
(iv) No new grants can be sanctioned, no new schemes or projects can be started once the election dates are announced.
(v) One cannot misuse mass media for partisan coverage.
• Scrutinisation of Expenses
Though the Election Commission provides free access for a limited time to all the recognized National and State parties for their campaign, this does not mean that political parties do not spend anything on their elections campaign. The political parties and the candidates contesting election spend large sum of amount on their election campaign. However, the Election Commission has the power to scrutinise the election expenses to be incurred by the candidates. There is a ceiling on expenses to be incurred in Parliamentary as well as State Assembly elections. Every candidate is required to file an account of his election expenses within 45 days of declaration of results. In case of default or if the candidate has incurred (expenses) more than the prescribed limit, the Election Commission can take appropriate action and the candidate elected may be disqualified and his election may be countermanded.
• Polling, Counting and Declaration of Result
In order to conduct polling, large number of polling booths are set up in each constituency. Each booth is placed under the charge of a Presiding Officer with the Polling Officers to help the process.
A voter casts his/her vote secretly in an enclosure, so that no other person comes to know of the choice he/she has made. It is known as secret ballot.
After the polling is over, ballot boxes are sealed in the presence of agents of the candidates. Agents ensure that no voter is denied right to vote, provided the voter turns up comes within the prescribed time limit.
Administrative officers involved in design of electoral rolls:
• Chief Electoral Officer:
For each State a chief electoral officer is appointed who shall be such officer of Government as the Election Commission may, in consultation with that Government, designate or nominate in this behalf. The Chief Electoral Officer of a State/ Union Territory is authorised to supervise the election work in the State/Union Territory subject to the overall super intendence, direction and control of the Election Commission. The chief electoral officer of each State shall also supervise the conduct of all elections in the State.
• District Electoral Officer:
For each district in a State the Election Commission shall, in consultation with the Government of the State, designate or nominate a district election officer who shall be an officer of Government: The Election Commission may designate or nominate more than one such officer for a district if the Election Commission is satisfied that the functions of the office cannot be performed satisfactorily by one officer. , the District Election Officer shall coordinate and supervise all work in the district or in the area within his jurisdiction in connection with the conduct of all elections to Parliament and the Legislature of the State.
• Electoral registration officers:
The electoral roll for each parliamentary constituency in the State of Jammu and Kashmir or in a Union territory not having a Legislative Assembly, each assembly constituency and each Council constituency shall be prepared and revised by an electoral registration officer who shall be such officer of Government or of a local authority as the Election Commission may, in consultation with the Government of the State in which the constituency is situated, designate or nominate in this behalf. An electoral registration officer may, subject to any prescribed restrictions, employ such persons as he thinks fit for the preparation and revision of the electoral roll for the constituency.
• Assistant electoral registration officers:
The Election Commission may appoint one or more persons as assistant electoral registration officers to assist any electoral registration officer in the performance of his functions. Every assistant electoral registration officer shall, subject to the control of the electoral registration officer, be competent to perform all or any of the functions of the electoral registration officer.
Officers on Election Duty:
To ensure that elections are held in free and fair manner, the Election Commission appoints thousands of polling personnel to assist in the election work. These personnel are drawn among magistrates, police officers, civil servants, clerks, typists, school teachers, drivers, peons etc. Out of these there are three main officials who play very important role in the conduct of free and fair election. They are Returning Officer, Presiding Officer and Polling Officers.
• Returning Officer
In every constituency, one Officer is designated as Returning Officer by the Commission in consultation with the concerned State government. However, an Officer can be nominated as Returning Officer for more than one constituency. All the nomination papers are submitted to the Returning Officer. Papers are scrutinised by him/her and if they are in order, accepted by him/her. Election symbols are allotted by him/her in accordance with the directions issued by the Election Commission. He/she also accepts withdrawal of the candidates and announces the final list. He/she supervises all the polling booths, votes are counted under his/her supervision and finally result is announced by him/her. In fact, the Returning Officer is the overall incharge of the efficient and fair conduct of elections in the concerned constituency.
• Presiding Officers
Every constituency has a large number of polling booths. Each polling booth on an average caters to about a thousands votes. Every such booth is under the charge of an officer who is called the Presiding Officer. He/she supervises the entire process polling in the polling booth and ensures that every voter gets an opportunity to cast vote freely. After the polling is over he/she seals all the ballot boxes and deliver them to the Returning Officer.
• Polling Officers
Every Presiding Officer is assisted by three to four polling officers. They check the names of the voters in the electoral roll, put indelible ink on the finger of the voter, issue ballot papers and ensure that votes are secretly cast by each voter.
Allotment of Symbol to political parties
Political Parties have symbols which are allotted by the Election Commission. For example, Hand is the symbol of the Indian National Congress, Lotus is the symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Elephant is the symbol of Bahujan Samaj Party. These symbols are significant for the following reasons:
• They are a help for the illiterate voters who cannot read the names of the candidates.
• They help in differentiating between two candidates having the same name.