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Can parties be de-recognized or de-registered

Why is it in the news?

  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) has issued a report discussing the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which emphasizes that the star campaigners should set a positive example and avoid actions that harm society.
  • This has sparked a debate regarding the powers of the ECI to take action against violations of the MCC.

Registered Parties

  • Registered political parties in India must fulfill certain requirements outlined in Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • These requirements include submitting a memorandum/constitution declaring loyalty to the Constitution of India, as well as principles of socialism, secularism, and democracy.
  • Registered parties enjoy several legal benefits, such as tax exemptions for donations, a common symbol for elections, and the ability to have twenty star campaigners during the election campaign.
  • Currently, there are 2,790 active registered political parties in India.

Recognized Parties

  • A registered party becomes a Registered Un-recognized Political Party (RUPP).
  • On the other hand, the Election Commission of India recognizes political parties as either “national” or “State” parties according to the provisions of The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.
  • Recognition as a national or State party depends on meeting certain criteria, including winning a specific number of seats and/or obtaining a required percentage of votes in a general election to the Lok Sabha or State Assembly.
  • At present, there are six national parties and sixty-one State parties that have been recognized. These recognized parties enjoy additional privileges, such as having a reserved symbol during elections and forty star campaigners.

Issues and Challenges

  • One significant concern is that less than a third of RUPPs participate in elections. However, the RP Act does not explicitly grant the ECI the power to de-register a political party for failing to contest elections, conduct internal elections, or submit required returns.

1) The Supreme Court, in the case of Indian National Congress versus Institute of Social Welfare & Ors (2002), held that the ECI does not possess the authority to de-register a political party under the RP Act. De-registration can only occur under exceptional circumstances, such as obtaining registration through fraudulent means, the party no longer being loyal to the Constitution, or being declared unlawful by the Government.

2) RUPPs that refrain from contesting elections raise concerns about the possible misuse of income tax exemption and donations for money laundering.

  • Another significant issue relates to the violation of the MCC by recognized political parties.

1) The MCC prohibits using caste and communal sentiments to secure votes, as well as bribing or intimidating voters.

2) While recognized political parties have been found guilty of MCC violations on numerous occasions, the ECI typically imposes temporary restrictions on their leaders’ campaigning for a short period of two to three days.

Proposed Solutions

  • The ECI, in its memorandum for electoral reforms (2016), has suggested amending the law to empower the ECI with the ability to deregister a party.
  • The Law Commission, in its 255th report (2015) on “Electoral reforms,” has also recommended amendments to allow for the de-registration of a political party if it fails to contest elections for ten consecutive years.
  • Under Paragraph 16A of the Symbols Order, the ECI is granted the power to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognized political party for its failure to abide by the MCC or follow lawful directions from the Commission. This provision has been used only once in 2015, when the recognition of the National People’s Party was suspended for three weeks due to its failure to comply with the ECI’s directives. Taking strict action under this provision would effectively promote adherence to the MCC.

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