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ECI’s Enforcement of Model Code of Conduct Sparks Debate

Context;

Recently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) highlighted the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), stressing that star campaigners should lead by example and maintain societal harmony. This announcement has ignited a debate regarding the ECI’s authority to address MCC violations, including the power to deregister political parties.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What Does the Derecognition of Political Parties Mean?
  2. What Does the Deregistration of a Political Party Mean?
  3. Need for Deregistration of Political Parties
  4. Way Forward

What Does the Derecognition of Political Parties Mean?

Derecognition Explained
  • Definition: Derecognition refers to the Election Commission of India (ECI) withdrawing recognition from a political party.
  • Status Change: These parties are then classified as registered-unrecognised parties.
  • Election Participation: They can still contest elections but lose the privileges granted to recognised parties.
Authority of the ECI
  • The ECI can derecognise a political party if it violates provisions of the Indian Constitution or the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Recognised Party
  • A registered political party without recognition is known as a Registered Unrecognised Political Party (RUPP).
  • Political parties are classified as either ‘national’ or ‘state’ parties based on the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
Criteria for Recognition
  • To be recognised at the national or state level, a party must win a requisite number of seats and/or secure a required percentage of votes in general elections to the Lok Sabha (LS) or State Assembly (SA).
Current Status
  • There are currently six recognised national parties and sixty-one recognised state parties.
Privileges of Recognised Parties
  • Reserved Symbol: They receive a reserved symbol for elections.
  • Star Campaigners: They are allowed up to forty star campaigners.
  • Media Access: Since the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, they have free access to state-owned television and radio during elections.
Grounds for Derecognition as a National Party
  • Voting Threshold: Failing to secure at least 6% of total votes in a general election to the LS or the state legislative assembly, and failing to elect at least 4 MPs in the last LS polls or not winning 1 seat in the LS from the same state.
  • Seat Threshold: Not winning at least 2% of total seats in the LS from at least 3 states.
  • Vote Share: Failing to secure 8% of total valid votes in the state at a General Election to the LS or State Legislative Assembly.
  • Financial Compliance: Failing to submit audited accounts to the ECI on time.
  • Internal Elections: Failing to hold organisational elections (inner party elections) on time.

What Does the Deregistration of a Political Party Mean?

Deregistration Explained
  • Definition: Deregistration is the process of canceling the registration of a political party.
  • ECI’s Limitation: The Election Commission of India (ECI) currently does not have the authority to deregister political parties.
  • Consequences: Once deregistered, a political party cannot contest elections.
Registered Parties
  • Section 29A: According to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act), political parties must register with the ECI.
  • Requirements: Parties seeking registration must submit a constitution that declares allegiance to the Indian Constitution and the principles of socialism, secularism, and democracy.
  • Legal Benefits: Registered parties receive tax exemptions for donations under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961, a common symbol for elections, and the ability to have twenty ‘star campaigners’ during election campaigns.
Current Status
  • Statistics: As per the ECI, there are 2,790 active registered political parties in India.
Grounds for Deregistration

A political party can be deregistered if:

  • Fraud: The registration was obtained fraudulently.
  • Illegality: The party is declared illegal by the Central Government.
  • Non-compliance: The party revises its internal constitution and refuses to comply with the Indian Constitution.
ECI’s Power
  • Limitations: The RP Act does not grant the ECI the authority to deregister parties for not contesting elections, failing to hold inner-party elections, or not submitting required returns.
  • Supreme Court Ruling: In the Indian National Congress vs. the Institute of Social Welfare, 2002, the Supreme Court held that the ECI lacks the power to deregister political parties under the RP Act.

Need for Deregistration of Political Parties

Concerns and Issues
  • Low Participation: Less than one-third of Registered Unrecognized Political Parties (RUPPs) participate in elections.
  • Misuse of Benefits: Potential misuse of income tax exemptions and donations for money laundering.
  • MCC Violations: Recognized parties often breach the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), but the ECI can only temporarily bar leaders from campaigning.
  • Electoral Integrity: Deregistration mechanisms enhance electoral integrity by removing inactive entities and increasing transparency and fairness.
  • Democracy: The proliferation of inactive political parties undermines democracy by diluting the electoral process and lacking genuine participation.

Way Forward

Recommendations and Proposals
  • ECI Memorandum: The ECI, in its 2016 memorandum for electoral reforms, suggested amending the law to empower the ECI to deregister parties.
  • Law Commission’s 255th Report: Recommended amendments to deregister parties that fail to contest elections for 10 consecutive years.
  • Identification of Inactive Parties: In 2016, the commission aimed to identify registered, unrecognized parties that hadn’t fielded candidates from 2005 to 2015, to discourage the formation of paper parties for tax benefits.
  • Regular Exercises: Regular exercises to weed out inactive parties.
  • National Electoral Fund: Proposed by former chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy as an alternative to state funding to discourage inactive parties.
  • 170th Law Commission Report: Recommended introducing Section 78A in the RPA and penalties for parties defaulting in account maintenance.
  • Greater Transparency: Empowering the ECI to audit political party accounts for enhanced transparency.

-Source: The Hindu


June 2024
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