Inner Party Democracy

Democratic theory includes both procedural and substantive democracy. Procedural democracy can be said to refer to the practice of universal adult franchise, periodic elections, secret ballot. Substantive democracy can be said to refer to the internal democratic functioning of the parties, which purportedly represent the people.

Internal democracy includes provisions governing internal elections, candidate selection, secret ballots, and registration and deregistration of parties etc.

According to the NCRWC’s Report on Electoral Processes and Political Parties: “no electoral reforms can be effective without reforms in the political party system” and it recognizes the following areas of immediate concern here:

  • Structural and organizational reforms – party organisations – National, State and local levels – inner party democracy – regular party elections, recruitment of party cadres, socialization, development and training, research, thinking and policy planning activities of the party.
  • Party system and governance – Mechanisms to make parties viable instruments of good governance
  • Institutionalization of political parties – need for a comprehensive legislation to regulate party activities, criteria for registration as a national or State party – de-recognition of parties

History of attempts to reform

  • The 1999 Law Commission Report strongly recommended the introduction of a regulatory framework governing the internal structures and inner democracy of parties, financial transparency, and accountability before attempting state funding of elections.
  • The ARC’s 2008 Ethics and Governance report also underlined the importance of inner party democracy and it also noted that corruption is caused by over-centralisation since “the more remotely power is exercised from the people, the greater is the distance between authority and accountability”.
  • In 2011, a draft Political Parties (Registration and Regulation of Affairs, etc.) Act, 2011 was prepared under the guidance of Justice Venkatachalaih and submitted to the Law Ministry. It envisages:
  • creation of an Executive Committees for every political party, whose members would be elected by members of the local committees of the State units of the party, and who themselves would elect the office-bearers of the party from amongst themselves (without accepting any nominations).
  • The Executive Committee was also empowered to elect candidates for contesting Parliamentary and State, having due regard to the recommendations made by the State and District units of the constituency.
  • The Act further provided for all decisions of the Executive and local committees to be taken on the basis of a simple majority vote with secret ballots.

Laws related to Inner party democracy:

  • Currently, there is no express law for internal democratic regulation of political parties in India and the only governing law is provided by Section 29A of the RPA, which provides for registration of political parties.
  • Unfortunately, there are no provisions do not regulate the internal functioning of already registered parties. Moreover, the ECI’s power to require parties to hold regular internal elections for office bearers, and candidate selection is compromised in the absence of any penal provisions.
  • The Supreme Court in Indian National Congress v Institute of Social Welfare made it clear that neither Section 29A of the RP Act, nor the provisions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 empowered the ECI to de-register parties on the grounds of violating the Constitution or breaching the undertaking given to it at the time of registration.

Suitable amendments have to be made for introducing internal democracy and transparency within political parties as it is important to promote financial and electoral accountability, reduce corruption, and improve democratic functioning of the country as a whole.

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