Political Party: A political party is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government.
A political party has three components:
- the leaders,
- the active members and
- the followers
Funtions of political parties
Basically, political parties fill political offices and exercise political power. Parties do so by performing a series of functions:
- Parties contest elections. In most democracies, elections are fought mainly among the candidates put up by political parties.
- Parties put forward different policies and programmes and the voters choose from them.
- Parties play a decisive role in making laws for a country.
- Parties form and run governments.
- Those parties that lose in the elections play the role of opposition to the parties in power, by voicing different views and criticising government for its failures or wrong policies.
- Parties shape public opinion.
- Parties provide people access to government machinery and welfare schemes implemented by governments.
More than 750 parties are registered with the Election Commission of India. But not all these parties are serious contenders in the elections. Usually only a handful of parties are effectively in the race to win elections and form the government.
One-party systems: In some countries, only one party is allowed to control and run the government. These are called one-party systems. EXAMPLE: CHINA
Two-party systems: In some countries, power usually changes between two main parties. Several other parties may exist, contest elections and win a few seats in the national legislatures. But only the two main parties have a serious chance of winning majority of seats to form government. Such a party system is called two-party system. The United States of America and the United Kingdom are examples of two-party system.
Multiparty system : If several parties compete for power, and more than two parties have a reasonable chance of coming to power either on their own strength or in alliance with others, we call it a multiparty system. Thus in India, we have a multiparty system.
When several parties in a multi-party system join hands for the purpose of contesting elections and winning power, it is called an alliance or a front.
- For example, in India there were three such major alliances in 2004 parliamentary elections– the National Democratic Alliance, the United Progressive Alliance and the Left Front.
- The multiparty system often appears very messy and leads to political instability. At the same time, this system allows a variety of interests and opinions to enjoy political representation.
There are some country-wide parties, which are called ‘national parties’. These parties have their units in various states. But by and large, all these units follow the same policies, programmes and strategy that is decided at the national level.
- Every party in the country has to register with the Election Commission. While the Commission treats all parties equally, it offers some special facilities to large and established parties.
- These parties are given a unique symbol – only the official candidates of that party can use thatelection symbol. Parties that get this privilege and some other special facilities are ‘recognised’ by the Election Commission for this purpose.
- That is why these parties are called, ‘recognised political parties’.
The Election Commission has laid down detailed criteria of the proportion of votes and seats that a party must get in order to be a recognised party.
- A party that secures at least six per cent of the total votes in an election to the Legislative Assembly of a State and wins at least two seats is recognised as a State party.
- party that secures at least six per cent of the total votes in Lok Sabha elections or Assembly elections in four States and wins at least four seats in the Lok Sabha is recognised as a national party.
According to this classification, there were seven recognised national parties in the our country in 2017.
- All India Trinamool Congress (AITC)
- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
- Communist Party of India (CPI)
- Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M)
- Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
- Indian National Congress (INC)
- Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
- Yet these parties need not be regional in their ideology or outlook. Some of these parties are all India parties that happen to have succeeded only in some states.
- Parties like the Samajwadi Party, Samata Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal have national level political organi- sation with units in several states.
- Over the last three decades, the number and strength of these parties has expanded. This made the Parliament of India politically more and more diverse. No one national party is able to secure on its own a majority in the Lok Sabha, until 2014. As a result, the national parties are compelled to form alliances with State parties.
- first challenge is lack of internal democracy within parties. All over the world there is a tendency in political parties towards the concentration of power in one or few leaders at the top.
- The second challenge of dynastic succession is related to the first one. In many parties, the top positions are always controlled by members of one family.
- The third challenge is about the growing role of money and muscle power in parties, especially during elections. Since parties are focussed only on winning elections, they tend to use short-cuts to win elections. They tend to nominate those candidates who have or can raise lots of money.
- The fourth challenge is that very often parties do not seem to offer a meaningful choice to the voters.
In order to face these challenges, political parties need to be reformed.
Let us look at some of the recent efforts and suggestions in our country to reform political parties and its leaders:
- The Constitution was amended to prevent elected MLAs and MPs from changing parties. This was done because many elected representatives were indulging in DEFECTION in order to become ministers or for cash rewards.
- The Supreme Court passed an order to reduce the influence of money and criminals. Now, it is mandatory for every candidate who contests elections to file an AFFIDAVIT giving details of his property and criminal cases pending against him. The new system has made a lot of information available to the public.
- The Election Commission passed an order making it necessary for political parties to hold their organisational elections and file their income tax returns. The parties have started doing so but sometimes it is mere formality.
Besides these, many suggestions are often made to reform political parties:
- A law should be made to regulate the internal affairs of political parties.
- It should be made mandatory for political parties to give a minimum number of tickets, about one-third, to women candidates. Similarly, there should be a quota for women in the decision making bodies of the party.
- There should be state funding of elections. The government should give parties money to support their election expenses.
There are two other ways in which political parties can be reformed.
One, people can put pressure on political parties. This can be done through petitions, publicity and agitations.Ordinary citizens, pressure groups and movements and the media can play an important role in this.
Two, political parties can improve if those who want this join political parties. The quality of democracy depends on the degree of public participation. It is difficult to reform politics if ordinary citizens do not take part in it and simply criticise it from the outside.