- Briefly mention the history of long stifle over the issue.
- Mention why Parliament is not ready to accord the ECI with the power.
- Mention suitable Supreme Court judgements on the issue.
The Election Commission of India, the supreme body responsible for conducting electoral affairs, is mandated only to register political parties and not to deregister them. The Representation of People Act 1951 makes no explicit provision for a political party’s deregistration. According to the Part IV A of RPA 1951, the political parties must register with the ECI.
The long stifle: from 1998 the ECI made recommendations to the government to modify legislation to grant it the right to deregister political parties, and in 2004 it had sent proposals for electoral reforms to the Centre. A close chance of success came in 1994 when the Representation of People (Second Amendment) Bill was introduced. It suggested allowing a complaint to be filed with the High Court within whose jurisdiction a political party’s office is based, for cancellation of the party’s registration for non-compliance with their memorandum or regulations. Upon dissolution of Lok Sabha in 1996, it lapsed. In 2016, the CEC proposed 47 electoral reforms including decriminalizing politics, preventing money laundering, empowering ECI to countermand elections in cases of bribery and misuse, etc., along with deregistering parties. Observing on a PIL, the Madras High Court in 2017 opined that ECI should have the power to deregister any political party if their leaders make defamatory speeches against caste, sex, religion or race.
Parliamentary status-quoism: the Parliament’s intention has been questioned as to why it is leaving out on deregistration, when it has provided for registration. In this context, the Supreme Court in Indian National Congress vs Institute of Social Welfare and Others (2002) held that Parliament has purposefully omitted to give the ECI the power of deregistration mainly because it operates independently to ensure free & fair elections, which can possibly jeopardize their vested designs.
- The Indian National Congress vs Institute of Social Welfare (2002) : this case addressed the issue of whether the ECI under Section 29-A of RPA 1951 has the authority to deregister or cancel party’s registration. The court held that ECI has no express mandate to deregister a political party for violating Indian Constitution, except in rare circumstances like (a) when a party becomes registered by defrauding; (b) when a political party modifies its terminologies of association, rules, abrogating the provisions or notifies the Commission that it has lost allegiance to the Indian Constitution or its principles; and (c) when the central government declares a political party illegal under the UAPA 1967.
- In the Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs UOI (2014), the Supreme Court requested the Law Commission to examine whether ECI should be granted the power of deregistering political parties, since it lacks effective execution.
The recommendations of the Law Commission are still pending before the Parliament. This has led to lack of effective control over political parties by the ECI. The legislation on this grey area is the need of the hour – a significant electoral reform that can potentially rid the democratic-political ecosystem from some of its evils.