The curious craze for political parties

Pradipti Jayaram Chennai | Updated on March 13, 2018

No dearth of followers Pyramid Party of India activists at a meeting in Visakhapatnam. (file photo)

There are 1,627 registered unrecognised outfits, with about as many agendas

The Pyramid Party of India’s manifesto says it aims to “spread the twin concepts of vegetarianism and meditation”. This Andhra Pradesh-based party, founded in 1999, is part of a long list of “registered unrecognised” political parties.

Others in the list include West Bengal-based The Religion of Man Revolving Political Party of India and Haryana-based Total Vikas Party. There are 1,627 such parties, and a few are contesting the general elections this year.

Registering a political party is rather simple — you need to submit an affidavit signed by 100 members and pay ₹10,000 to the Election Commission.

The perks are many.

“Registered parties enjoy 100 per cent tax exemption under Section 13A of the Income-Tax Act,” says Jagdeep S Chhokar, founding member, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a New Delhi-based political think-tank. Registered political parties can eventually be officially recognised as a national party or State party. Based on the EC’s data, their numbers have increased from 702 in 2004 to 1,000 in 2009 and 1,627 in 2014. “Around 75-80 per cent don’t contest elections,” Chhokar observes.

Tax havens

“The proliferation is fuelled by the desire to decentralise power and is a response to a highly centralised government,” says D Dhanuraj, Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research, a Kochi-based think-tank. But he also believes there is a money factor at play.

“Tax exemption is a primary draw to register a political party,” adds Chhokar.

In 2006, the Election Commission had reportedly expressed concern over the growth of registered unrecognised political parties.

It raised this issue when it found that Haryana-based Parmarth Party and New Delhi-based Rashtriya Vikas Party used donations of up to ₹2 crore to invest in shares, loans and jewellery.

Another document listing a summary of reforms proposed by the EC says this was also noted in several proposals dating as far back as 1998. An EC proposal for electoral reforms submitted to the Government in 2004 speaks of the Commission’s inability to curb the mushrooming of parties.

“In addition to there not being sufficient conditions under Section 29A to deny registration to a political party… once registered, a political party would stay registered in perpetuity,” it said.

The EC suggested that another clause be introduced authorising it to issue orders regulating registration and de-registration of political parties. “As of 2014, there is no method to de-register a party,” says ADR’s Chhokar. “To check proliferation of parties it is necessary to do away with the prevailing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system,” says former CEC TS Krishnamurthy. “This system facilitates vote-splitting by having more candidates and has resulted in the proliferation of parties.” The FPTP system loosely means the candidate with the highest number of votes — and not necessarily the majority of votes — wins.

Krishnamurthy offers a solution: “Prescribe a condition such that the winning candidate should have a minimum one-third of votes polled (which can be increased to 50 per cent after 10 years).”

He feels this would help filter out the smaller parties and weaken their bargaining power. In the long run, this will deter non-serious registrations.

Not all are frivolous, feels Arun Bhatia, a former IAS officer and founder of the People’s Guardian Party. “I decided to start a party because I was disenchanted with the existing political parties,” he says. The party contested in the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“As a registered party, you get access to the EC’s literature, which is handy,” Bhatia points out.

“And people are more willing to contribute to a party.”

Published on April 30, 2014

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