Friday, December 3, 2010

National vs. State Parties: A Case for the "Regional Party" Tag

From Linky

With the Election Commission taking strong action against those parties not fulfilling the minimum eligibility criteria for getting recognition as “national” or “State” parties, the number of national parties in the country has come down to six from seven. The total number of State parties is 52 and registered unrecognised parties, 1112. A “State party” is entitled to exclusive allotment of its reserved symbol to its candidates in the States where it is recognised, and a candidate of a “national Party” can use the reserved symbol throughout India.

Now, the six recognised national parties are the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India (CPI), the CPI(M), the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which was earlier considered a national party, will henceforth be only a recognised State level party in Bihar, Jharkhand and Manipur. Its recognition in Nagaland has been withdrawn in view of its poor performance in the 2008 Assembly election there. For getting national party status, a political party should have recognition in at least four States.

Here is the complete list of all national, state and registered unrecognized parties: Linky
From the ECI website, Linky

The recognition of a political party and its continued recognition as national or state party are governed by the provisions of paragraphs 6A, 6B and 6C of the Symbols Order. For facility of reference, the said paragraphs 6A, 6B and 6C are reproduced below:

6A. Conditions for recognition as a State Party – A Political Party shall be eligible for recognition as a State Party in a state, if, and only if, any of the following conditions is fulfilled:
(i) At the last general election to the Legislative Assembly of the State, the candidates set up by the party have secured not less than six percent of the total valid votes polled in the State; and, in addition, the party has returned at least two members to the Legislative Assembly of that state at such general election; or
(ii) At the last general election to the House of the People from that State, the candidates set up by the party have secured not less than six percent of the total valid votes polled in the State; and, in addition, the party has returned at least one member to the House of the People from that State at such general election; or
(iii) At the last general election to the Legislative Assembly of the State, the party has won at least three percent of the total number of seats in the Legislative Assembly, (any fraction exceeding half being counted as one), or at least three seats
in the Assembly, whichever is more; or
(iv) At the last general election to the House of the People from the State, the party has returned at least one member to the House of the People for every 25 members or any fraction thereof allotted to that state.

6B. Conditions for recognition as a National Party – A Political party shall be eligible to be recognized as National Party, if, and only if, any of the following conditions is fulfilled:
(i) The candidates set up by the party, in any four or more States, at the last general election to the House of the People, or to the Legislative Assembly of the State concerned, have secured not less than six percent of the total valid votes polled in each of those states at that general election; and, in addition, it has returned at least four members to the House of the People at the aforesaid last general election from any State or States; or
(ii) At the last general election to the House of the People, the party has won at least two percent of the total number of seats in the House of the People, any fraction exceeding half being counted as one, and the Party’s candidates have been elected to that House from not less than three States; or
(iii) The party is recognized as State party in at least four States.

6C. Conditions for continued recognition as a National or State Party. – If a political party is recognized as a State party under paragraph 6A, or as a National Party under paragraph 6B, the question whether it shall continue to be so recognized
after any subsequent general election to the House of the People or, as the case may be, to the Legislative Assembly of the state concerned, shall be dependent upon the fulfillment by it of the conditions specified in the said paragraphs on the results of that general election.

The above rules are well laid out. The 6% mark has been recognized as an indicator of electoral legitimacy accorded by the electorate on a Party. While the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party are far above the 6% mark in almost all states in India, the National Party recognition of some parties such as the NCP is "suspect".

The following analysis will show that a legitimate case can be made for a set of Parties that are simutaneously "smaller" than the National Parties while "bigger" than the State Parties. These are the parties that wield an ideological hold over the electorate on a regional basis. I would like to call such parties "Regional Parties" (overriding the colloquial usage of the term regional party). While the National Parties enjoy considerable advantages during the election time, the "Regional Parties" can be deemed to enjoy advantages smaller in number than the National Parties, but at the same time be better off than the State Parties.

Here is the table of % of valid votes polled in the nation as a whole from the House of People (Lok Sabha) 2009 Elections: Linky

Party name, No. of seats won, % of valid votes polled
Bahujan Samaj Party 21 6.17
Bharatiya Janata Party 116 18.80
Communist Party of India 4 1.43
Communist Party of India (Marxist) 16 5.33
Indian National Congress 206 28.55
Nationalist Congress Party 9 2.04
Rashtriya Janata Dal 4 1.27

Clearly, BSP, BJP and INC are >6% mark, while the CPI(M) comes close to that magic 6% number. Note that RJD, NCP and CPI are far short of the 6% mark. While the Election Commission of India de-recognized the RJD because of failure to meet the stipulations, the CPI and NCP continue to wield the recognition of National Parties.

A more detailed breakdown of the list of states where >6% valid votes were secured by the above parties in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections: Linky
1) BSP: Uttar Pradesh (27.42%), Chandigarh (17.88%), Haryana (15.74%), Uttarakhand (15.24%); Madhya Pradesh with 5.85% share and Punjab with 5.75% vote share get rounded out to 6%. While Chandigarh cannot be legitimately considered as providing a moral sanction on a National Party given the microscopicity of the UT of Chandigarh relative to the Indian Union, the far-more populous states of UP, Haryana, Uttarakhand, MP and Punjab accord a moral legitimacy to BSP's status as a National Party. This is also confirmed by the 6.17% national vote share by BSP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
2) CPI: As of 2008, the CPI had state party status in West Bengal (essentially piggy-backing on the CPI(M)-led Left Front's performance in the 2004 elections), Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu (piggy-backing on the DMK's performance in the 2004 elections) on the basis of its representation in Parliament, while in Manipur and Kerala the party is recognised on the basis of its presence in the State Assembly. While the % vote share of CPI in the 2009 elections are not available to me in West Bengal and Jharkhand (I do not expect the numbers to be >6% since the Left combine took a beating in both West Bengal and Jharkhand), its numbers in Manipur and Kerala are 14.92% and 7.44%, respectively. Other states with decent vote share in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections include Tamil Nadu (2.85%) and Orissa (2.57%). In addition to these facts, the CPI as the founding Communist Party in India has historical roots in Andhra Pradesh and the tribal areas of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh where activism against the land-owning zamindars and as a forerunner to the mobilization of the workers' and laborers' unity has put it in a good light. Despite all these claims to being a National Party, the CPI can boast of no more than 1.43% of the national vote share, which casts serious doubts on its National Party credentials. In fact, the CPI fits to a T the status of a duopolistic regional contender with one regional focus being along the West Bengal-Tripura-Manipur axis and another in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh-Jharkhand axis.
3) CPI(M): Tripura (61.69%), West Bengal (33.10%), Kerala (30.48%). The only other states with >2% vote share are Andaman & Nicobar Is (4.23%) and Tamil Nadu (2.20%). Clearly, the regional footprint of CPI (M) is visible with a Kerala-Tamil Nadu front on the one hand, and a West Bengal-Tripura-Andaman & Nicobar Is. front on the other. This picture is somehow lost when the 5.33% national vote share of the CPI(M) is seen. Thus, one has to be careful as statistics can lie too, as is well-known.
4) NCP: Lakshadweep (46.87%), Goa (23.28%), Maharashtra (19.28%), Meghalaya (18.78%). Manipur with 5.96% vote share gets rounded out to 6%. The only other reasonable vote shares are seen in Daman & Diu (3.15%) and Andaman & Nicobar Is (2.76%). It is patently clear that the NCP has achieved the recognition of a National Party by exploiting the well-articulated rules. Clearly, Lakshadweep, Goa, Meghalaya, and Manipur are small states, and the only big state where the NCP has a legitimate claim is Maharashtra. This is also seen in its national vote share of 2.04%, far short of the 6% moral legitimacy mark. While the NCP may have milked the system, it does not have the moral legitimacy of a National Party in lieu of its >6% vote share only in small states. On the other hand, NCP clearly has a regional footprint by its due importance in political matters in Goa, Maharashtra, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep (on the one hand), and Manipur, Meghalaya, Andaman & Nicobar Is. (on the other hand). NCP makes a perfect case for a "Regional Party."
5) RJD: Bihar (19.31%), Jharkhand (5.33%), Manipur (0.36%), Nagaland (did not contest). State Assembly polls of Bihar in 2005 (23.45%), Manipur in 2007 (6.67%), Nagaland in 2008 (6.56%), Jharkhand in 2009 (5.03%). While de-recognition of the RJD is within the rules, RJD as seen by its vote-share clearly has a regional role in Bihar and Jharkhand.

Moral: The cases of CPI(M) and NCP clearly expose the pitfalls of using numbers to categorize National and "Regional Parties." Somehow, a more sensible and rational choice than the one that is currently used should be arrived at. But such a choice should not be as temporal as a decision that is based on the most recent electoral trends and some "generous" leeway should be bestowed to historical roots and legacies, long-standing credibility, etc. As an officially bipartisan organization, the ECI has its hands tied in terms of revolutionizing (see Footnote 1) the Symbols Order of 1968 as its role is limited to validating and implementing the Symbols Order alone.

A case in point is that in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 General Elections, CPI(M) was de-recognized by the ECI in accordance with the statutes, but CPI(M) bounced back with its most respectable performance in the 2004 elections. Needless to say, the loss of its electoral symbol must have dealt a fairly decent blow to the CPI(M) in the 2004 elections and must have put it at some degree of a skewed electoral field, all the while when clearly regional outfits such as NCP had enjoyed the same benefits that were denied to the CPI(M).

Footnote 1: The ECI's role also includes modifying the Symbols Order as the case may be within a narrow interpretative confine (which precludes any hope of revolutionizing the Symbols Order). For example, the Election Commission of India had issued a notice to CPI in 2004 to explain why its National Party recognition should not be withdrawn. But the Commission modified its guidelines in 2005 giving the national status to a party recognised as a State Party in a minimum of four states, thus enabling CPI to keep its status as is.

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