General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity): Intraparty reforms to decriminalize politics

 

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity)

Intraparty reforms are inevitable to decriminalize politics in India. Do you agree with the statement? Substantiate. (15 Marks)

Introduction:

Political parties are considered as the major actors to inculcate democratic values in politics by engaging citizens in the political processes and thus serve as prerequisite for political

Institutionalization in a society. The quality of a democracy ultimately depends on internal democracy (or the lack of it) in political parties. One should assess the importance of intra-party democracy in the success of a democracy. The lack of intra-party democracy has contributed to the growing nepotism in political parties. Thus there is a need for intra party reforms.

BODY:

Intra party democracy:

  • Internal democracy in political parties, also known as intra-party democracy, refers to the level and methods of including party members in the decision making and deliberation within the party structure.
  • In its 170th report in 1999, the Law Commission of India underscored the importance of intra-party democracy by arguing that a political party cannot be a “dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside”.
  • Intra-party democracy is essential to sustain broader political democracy in a country.

 

Why intraparty reforms are inevitable to decriminalize politics.

The absence of intra-party democracy has contributed to political parties becoming closed autocratic structures with increasing fragmentation within parties, selection of poor electoral representatives and growing criminalisation and abuse of financial power in elections. The roots of the most pertinent challenges faced by Indian politics today can be traced to the lack of intra-party democracy in candidate selection and party elections.

Problems within the parties.

The major problems which led to the criminalization of politics are listed below.

Dynastic politics.

  • Patrick French in his book ‘India: A Portrait’ has presented extensive analyses on dynastic politics. 
  • Dynasty is again at the forefront in the ongoing ticket distribution process. With senior party leaders fielding their sons, daughters and nephews in the Lok Sabha elections, the succession plans for “family” constituencies are being put in place.

Political parties are leader-centric:

  • The biggest weakness of parties is that they are leader-centric and most leaders are unwilling to institutionalise procedures for the selection of candidates and increase the participation of members in party functioning to prevent elite capture from getting entrenched.
  • As a rule, strong leaders rarely support institutionalisation because it constrains their discretion and personal power. This has proved detrimental to the political system as it impedes the growth of broad-based non-sectarian parties which can effectively articulate and aggregate a variety of interests.

Winning elections is more important than intra-party democracy:

  • Another aspect is the reduction of party organisations into election-winning machines, which depend for their success on the charisma of the leader and their capacity to win elections. Winning elections has become the only role a party envisages for itself.
  • The privileging of elections at the expense of intra-party democracy implies that parties are inattentive to the need for constant organisational change and renewal. Leaders are valued for their capacity to attract crowds and raise funds as elections become more and more expensive.

 

NO transparency in terms of functioning.

  • As there is no well-defined process for the distribution of tickets to candidates before elections, tickets are given to candidates on the vague concept of winnability. This has led to an additional problem of candidates with criminal backgrounds making forays into the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. By virtue of money and muscle power, they have become winnable candidates and political parties are not shy about giving tickets to them.
  • According to the data analysed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), there are 162 Members of Parliament in the 15th Lok Sabha with criminal cases pending against them .

Internal Elections

  • The Representation of People Act, 1951, was amended in 1989 to include Section 29, which deals with the provisions for registration of political parties with the Election Commission of India. 
  • Section 29 (A) (9) dealing with the internal elections states, “after an association or body has been registered as a political party as aforesaid, any change in its name, head office, office-bearers, address or in any other material matters shall be communicated to the Commission without delay.”
  • Hardly any information about internal elections is provided to the Election Commission. The judiciary has also taken note of the lack of intra-party democracy within political parties and the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has issued a notice to the ECI in February 2014 seeking its reply on the internal elections held in the political parties in response to a Public Interest Litigation.

To decriminalize the political parties in India, it’s not only intraparty reforms play a major role, but the ECI, judicial and parliamentary executives should also work towards the goal of decriminalization.

  • Though ECI has introduced NOTA and right to know, still there is need for strong involvement of ECI for electoral reforms. It is high time that election commission takes stock of registered political parties to submit their internal election process and define the rules.
  • Judiciary played an important role , ruled that any Member of Parliament(MP), Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) or Member of a Legislative Council (MLC) who is convicted of a crime and awarded a minimum of two year imprisonment, loses membership of the House with immediate effect. 
  • Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which allowed elected representatives three months to appeal their conviction, was declared unconstitutional
  • Parliament and executive has to play major role in intraparty reforms, like strong parliamentary law is needed, for intra party regulation and decriminalization of politics.

Conclusion

Politics is inseparable from political parties as they are the prime instruments for the execution of democracy in the country. The selection of candidates, the mobilisation of the electorate, the formulation of agendas and the passing of legislation are all conducted through political parties. They are the only organisations in the country that seek, compete for, and acquire power over state apparatus, control over public funds, government bureaucracy and legislative mechanisms.

 It is therefore needed to make strong parliamentary laws to strengthen the processes of institutionalisation of intra-party democracy in political parties in India. It is imperative that political parties open their eyes to growing calls for electoral political reforms and take steps towards bringing in intra-party democracy.

 

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