National Political Parties:
Every party in the country has to register with the Election Commission. While the Commission treats all parties equally, it offers some special facilities to large and established parties. These parties are given a unique symbol – only the official candidates of that party can use that election symbol. Parties that get this privilege and some other special facilities are ‘recognised’ by the Election Commission for this purpose. That is why these parties are called, ‘recognised political parties’.
State Party: A party that secures at least 6 per cent of the total votes in an election to the Legislative Assembly of a State and wins at least two seats is recognised as a State party.
National Party: A party that secures at least six per cent of total votes in Lok Sabha elections or Assembly elections in four States and wins at least four seats in the Lok Sabha is recognised as a national party.
According to this classification, there were six national recognised parties in the country in 2006.
- Indian National Congress (INC): This is popularly known as the Congress Party. This is one of the oldest parties of the world and was founded in 1885. The Congress Party had played a dominant role in Indian politics at the national and state level for several decades after India’s Independence. Since the first general elections in 1952, the Congress party had been in power continuously till 1977. After that, it came back to power in 1980 and remained till 1989. The Congress Party once again came back to power in 1991 for another five years. Congress Party came back in power in 2004 and completed two terms in office, i.e. ten years.
- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): This party was founded in 1980 by reviving the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Building a strong and modern India is the main goal of this party. The BJP wants to promote cultural nationalism (or ‘Hindutva). This party wants full territorial and political integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India, a uniform civil code and a ban on religious conversions. It support base increased significantly in the 1990s. The Party came to power in 1998 and remained in power till 2004. This party stormed back to power in centre in 2014.
- Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP): This party was formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram. The party seeks to represent and secure power for the bahujan samaj which includes the dalits, adivasis, OBCs and religious minorities. This party has good presence in Uttar Pradesh and has been in power in UP for a couple of terms.
- Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M): This party was founded in 1964. Marxism- Leninism is the main philosophy of this party and it supports socialism, secularism. The party enjoys strong support in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, especially among the poor, factory workers, farmers, agricultural labourers and the intelligentsia. The CPI has off late slipped in its hold over public and has lost power in West Bengal and Kerala.
- Communist Party of India (CPI): This party was formed in 1925. It has the same philosophy as CPI (M). Became weak after the split in the party in 1964 that led to the formation of the CPI(M). Significant presence in the states of Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Its support base had gradually declined over the years. It secured about 1.4 per cent votes and 10 seats in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Advocates the coming together of all left parties to build a strong left front. Initially supported the UPA government from outside, but withdrew support in late 2008.
- Nationalist Congress Party (NCP): This party was formed in 1999 following a split in the Congress party. The party espouses democracy, Gandhian secularism, equity, social justice and federalism. This is a major party in Maharashtra and has a significant presence in Meghalaya, Manipur and Assam.
Rise of Regional Parties: Many regional parties have grown in prominence over the last three decades. This is a sign of expansion and deepening of democracy in India. Many regional satraps are very strong in their states. Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, DMK, etc. are examples of regional parties.
Challenges to political parties:
Some of the challenges which the political parties face are as follows:
Lack of Internal Democracy: In most of the political parties, the power is concentrated in the hands of one or a handful of leaders. Ordinary members of the party cannot even dream of rising to the top. The top leadership is often disconnected with the grassroots workers. Loyalty to the policies and principles of the party has less value than the loyalty to the top leadership.
Dynastic Succession: The top positions in many political parties are usually controlled by members of one family. A person born in a particular family becomes the leader by virtue of his birth; which is not the sign of a healthy democracy. This tendency is present in most of the political parties in India. This is not the case in India alone, but in many other countries as well.
Money and Muscle Power: Winning an election is the ultimate challenge for a political party. For this, a political party leaves no stone unturned and spends huge sum of money on electioneering. Parties often take help of criminals and goons to terrorise voters and polling officers.
Being a Meaningful Choice: Most of the political parties sound similar to one another. Very few political parties give any real alternative. People have no choice than choosing the better of the two evils. In some states, the party in power just changes every five year but people seldom experience change on the ground.
Way to Reform Political Parties:
Following are some of the recent efforts and suggestions in our country to reform political parties and its leaders:
- Anti-defection Law: This law was passed during Rajiv Gandhi's Premiership. The law says that if any MLA or MP changes parties, he or she will lose the seat in the legislature. This new law has helped bring defection down. At the same time this has made any dissent even more difficult. MPs and MLAs have to accept whatever the party leaders decide.
- Details of Property and Criminal Proceedings During Nomination: It is mandatory for every candidate who contests elections to file an AFFIDAVIT giving details of his property and criminal cases pending against him. The new system has made a lot of information available to the public. But there is no system of check if the information given by the candidates is true.
- Mandatory Organizational Elections and IT Returns: The Election Commission passed an order making it necessary for political parties to hold their organisational elections and file their income tax returns. The parties have started doing so but sometimes it is mere formality.
Suggestions for Future:
- A law should be made to regulate the internal affairs of political parties.
- It should be made mandatory for political parties to give a minimum number of tickets, about one-third, to women candidates.
- There should be state funding of elections. The government should give parties money to support their election expenses. This support could be given in kind: petrol, paper, telephone etc. Or it could be given in cash on the basis of the votes secured by the party in the last election.
There are two other ways in which political parties can be reformed and they are; people’s pressure and people’s participation.