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Synopsis: The majority of the countries do not provide constitutional status for Political parties. But it is time for making political parties constitutional.
Political parties maintain a continuous connection between the people and those who represent them, either in government or in the opposition. But despite that, they do not provide constitutional status.
What are political parties?
It is an organized group of people or bodies who share a common view on governance and act as a political unit. They seek to capture political power through an election in order to run the affairs of a country.
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What is their constitutional status?
In spite of their important functioning, political parties do not have constitutional status in most democracies. Eg: In the USA, The American Constitution does not presume the existence of political parties. In Britain, too, political parties are still unknown to the law. Ivor Jennings on the British constitution said that “a realistic survey of the British Constitution today must begin and end with parties and discuss them at length in the middle”.
In India too, political parties are extra-constitutional, but they are the breathing air of the political system.
How the political parties are working in developed nations?
They maintain high levels of internal democracy. For example, In 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 parties have the National Committee as their top decision-making body. The National Committee plays an important role in the presidential election and agenda-setting.
How the political parties are working in India?
In spite of one of the longest constitutions in the world, the Indian Constitution does not provide the right to form a political party. Even the political parties in India are mostly formed on a religious or caste-based. Their finances are also not done transparently. There are no periodical in-party elections in Indian parties except in a few like the CPI (M).
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What do we need to learn from 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.
In India, Section 29(5) of the RPA Act 1951, is the only major statutory provision dealing with political parties in India. It orders political parties to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established.
What should India do?
With political parties being the agent of democracy and safety valves of politics, there is a need to bring reforms in their structure and functioning. It is high time to constitutionalize political parties to ensure in-party democracy, to impart transparency in their finances, and to de-communalize them.
Source: This post is based on the article “Making parties constitutional” published in The Hindu on 1st October 2021.