Making parties constitutional

Party paraphernalia on sale at a shop in Kolkata. File

Party paraphernalia on sale at a shop in Kolkata. File | Photo Credit: Sushanta Patronobish

A political party is an organised group of citizens who hold common views on governance and act as a political unit that seeks to obtain control of government with a view to further the agenda and policy they profess. They are indispensable links between the people and the representative machinery of government. Political parties maintain a continuous connection between the people and those who represent them either in government or in the opposition.

Political parties have extralegal growth in almost every democratic country. The American Constitution does not presume the existence of political parties. In Britain too, political parties are still unknown to the law. Nonetheless, Sir Ivor Jennings, in The British Constitution, opined that “a realistic survey of the British Constitution today must begin and end with parties and discuss them at length in the middle”. Similarly, political parties in India are extra-constitutional, but they are the breathing air of the political system.


The German model

The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (1949) gives constitutional status to political parties. Article 21 of the Basic Law deals with their status, rights, duties and functions. It provides: “(1) Political parties shall participate in the formation of the political will of the people. They may be freely established. Their internal organisation must conform to democratic principles. They must publicly account for their assets and for the sources and use of their funds. (2) Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional... (4) The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality... (5) Details shall be regulated by federal laws.” The German model of constitutionalising political parties is more desirable for India than the U.S. and the U.K. models. Section 29A(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is the only major statutory provision dealing with political parties in India. It orders that a political party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy, and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

Political parties in developed nations maintain high levels of internal democracy. In the U.K., the Conservative Party has the National Conservative Convention as its top body. It has a Central Council and an Executive Committee. The Central Council elects its President, a Chairman and Vice Chairmen at its annual meeting. It also elects an Executive Committee which meets once a month. In the U.S., both the Democratic and the Republican Party have the National Committee as their top decision-making body. The National Committee plays an important role in the presidential election and agenda setting.

The Indian Constitution is the one of the longest Constitutions in the world. It even elaborately deals with the co-operative societies. The right to form co-operative societies is a fundamental right under Article 19 (1)(c), but the right to form political parties is not. It is astonishing that such a meticulous Constitution overlooked political parties, the vital players in the political system, for constitutional regulation. Most of the parties are openly caste- or religious-based. Their finances are dubious and opaque. Almost all the parties — the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the Indian Union Muslim League, etc. — are family fiefdoms. The Congress high command is only a euphemism for the Gandhi family. There are no periodical in-party elections in Indian parties except in a few like the CPI(M).

Political parties are the agents of democracy and safety valves in the political system. They desperately need reform. Hence, it is high time to constitutionalise political parties to ensure in-party democracy, to impart transparency in their finances, and to de-communalise them.

Faisal C.K is an Under Secretary (Law) to the Government of Kerala

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2022 7:58:50 pm |