Understanding the Role and Regulation of Political Parties in India

Understanding the Role and Regulation of Political Parties in India



The Election Commission of India (ECI) recently highlighted concerns regarding violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by political parties, specifically emphasizing the role of star campaigners in maintaining societal harmony.

  • This development has reignited debates about the ECI’s powers to address such violations effectively and underscores the broader issues related to the regulation and functioning of registered political parties in India.



GS-02 (Polity)


Dimensions of  the Article:

  • What is the Topic About?
  • About Registered Parties
  • Challenges and Issues
  • Suggested Measures



What is the Topic About?

  • The discussion revolves around the registration, recognition, and regulation of political parties in India, particularly focusing on the challenges and issues arising from the existing legal framework.
  • It also explores the significance of these regulations and suggests measures to enhance the effectiveness of political party oversight.


About Registered Parties:

Registered Parties:

  • Political parties in India must be registered with the ECI under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act). To obtain registration, a party must submit a copy of its memorandum or constitution, affirming its commitment to the Constitution of India and adherence to the principles of socialism, secularism, and democracy. Additionally, the party must uphold the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.
  • Registered political parties enjoy several legal benefits:
    • Tax Exemption: Donations received by these parties are exempt from tax under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
    • Common Symbol: Registered parties are entitled to a common symbol for contesting general elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
    • Star Campaigners: They can designate up to twenty ‘star campaigners’ during election campaigns.
  • Currently, there are 2,790 active registered political parties in India.


Recognised Parties:

  • Registered parties that meet certain criteria become recognized as ‘national’ or ‘State’ parties under The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 (Symbols Order). Recognition depends on the party winning a requisite number of seats or obtaining a required percentage of votes in general elections.
  • National Parties: There are six national parties in India.
  • State Parties: Sixty-one parties have been recognized as State parties.
  • Recognized parties benefit from additional privileges, such as having a reserved election symbol and the ability to appoint forty star campaigners.


Challenges and Issues:


Low Participation of Registered Unrecognised Political Parties (RUPPs):

  • Despite the large number of registered parties, less than a third of RUPPs actually contest elections. This situation raises several concerns:
  • Lack of Accountability: The RP Act does not grant the ECI explicit powers to de-register parties that fail to contest elections, conduct internal elections, or file required returns.
  • Misuse of Privileges: There are fears that some RUPPs exploit their registration status to misuse tax exemptions and channel donations for money laundering.


Legal Limitations:

  • The Supreme Court, in the case of Indian National Congress vs. Institute of Social Welfare & Ors (2002), ruled that the ECI lacks the authority to de-register political parties under the RP Act. De-registration is only permissible under exceptional circumstances, such as registration obtained by fraud, the party ceasing to adhere to the Constitution, or being declared unlawful by the government.


Model Code of Conduct (MCC) Violations:

  • The MCC aims to ensure fair and peaceful elections by prohibiting actions such as:
    • Using caste and communal sentiments to secure votes.
    • Bribing or intimidating voters.
  • However, recognized political parties frequently violate the MCC, with the ECI’s response often limited to short-term bans on campaigning by individual leaders. Such lenient measures fail to deter repeated violations.


Suggested Measures:


Empowering the ECI:

  • Amendment for De-registration: The ECI has proposed legal amendments to empower it to de-register non-compliant parties. The Law Commission, in its 255th report (2015) on electoral reforms, recommended similar amendments, suggesting de-registration for parties that do not contest elections for ten consecutive years.
  • Strengthening MCC Enforcement: Under Paragraph 16A of the Symbols Order, the ECI has the authority to suspend or withdraw the recognition of parties that fail to observe the MCC or comply with the ECI’s lawful directions. This provision has been rarely used; stricter enforcement could ensure better adherence to the MCC.


Implementing Reforms:

  • Amend the RP Act:
    • Incorporate provisions allowing the ECI to de-register parties that fail to meet participation criteria or misuse their registered status.
    • Establish clear guidelines for internal party democracy and transparency in financial reporting.
  • Enhance Monitoring and Accountability:
    • Develop robust mechanisms for tracking party activities, including their election participation and financial transactions.
    • Introduce penalties for parties that violate MCC provisions or fail to file accurate returns.
  • Promote Ethical Campaigning:
    • Educate political leaders and star campaigners about their responsibilities in maintaining societal harmony during campaigns.
    • Encourage political parties to adopt codes of conduct that go beyond the MCC, emphasizing ethical and respectful campaigning practices.
  • Public Awareness and Engagement:
    • Increase public awareness about the role and regulations of political parties, empowering voters to hold parties accountable.
    • Encourage civil society organizations to monitor and report on party compliance with legal and ethical standards.



  • The effective regulation of political parties is crucial for ensuring the integrity and fairness of the electoral process in India. While the existing legal framework provides a foundation for such regulation, significant challenges remain.
  • Empowering the ECI with the authority to de-register non-compliant parties, enhancing monitoring mechanisms, and promoting ethical campaigning are essential steps towards addressing these challenges.
  • For India’s democracy to thrive, it is imperative that political parties operate transparently, adhere to democratic principles, and respect the rules governing the electoral process. By implementing these reforms, India can strengthen its democratic institutions and ensure that its elections remain free, fair, and representative of the will of the people.