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‘National’ status up for review for four parties

Being a national party entitles a party to a common and permanent symbol across states, and also space for a party office in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi and free airtime on public broadcasters during elections

india Updated: May 29, 2019 10:49 IST
Abhishek Jha
Abhishek Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
National parties,Congress,BSP
A 15 March, 2019, notification by the Election Commission of India (ECI) lists seven national parties in India. They are (in alphabetical order): AITC, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), BSP, CPI, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Indian National Congress (INC) and NCP.(File photo)

The election commission will begin next month the process of reviewing the status of political parties — whether they qualify to retain their regional party and national party status — based on their performance in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls. According to an official aware of the developments, the poll body will assess the performance of each recognised regional and national party based on their results in two consecutive elections.

Previously, the poll body used to assess the eligibility based on the performance in one election, but in 2016, it altered the rules to expand the assessing period to two elections (this could be one general election and one state one; or two general elections; or two state ones) after the one in which it was granted a national party or regional party status. “If a party was given a regional or a national party status based on their results in 2014 (or later), then they won’t come up for review (now),” said the official on condition of anonymity.

Their poor showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections notwithstanding, the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) will thus continue to be national parties, although all four will have to meet the criteria in the next election they face.

For the NCP, for instance, this will be as soon as this year — the state elections in Maharashtra. It could be that for the BSP too, if it decides to contest in the western state; otherwise, the party has a lifeline till the 2022 state elections in Uttar Pradesh. And for the CPI and the AITC, it will be the state elections in West Bengal in 2021.

If the 2016 change had not happened, the four parties may have ceased to be national parties after this Lok Sabha election itself.

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Being a national party entitles a party to a common and permanent symbol across states, and also space for a party office in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi and free airtime on public broadcasters during elections.

A 15 March, 2019, notification by the Election Commission of India (ECI) lists seven national parties in India. They are (in alphabetical order): AITC, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), BSP, CPI, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Indian National Congress (INC) and NCP.

According to The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, a political party can be recognised as a national party if it fulfils any of the flowing three conditions.

First, its candidates secure at least 6% of votes polled in four or more states in Lok Sabha or assembly elections, and, in addition, it has at least four members in the Lok Sabha. Second, it has at least 2% of the total Lok Sabha seats and its candidates come from not less than three states. Third, it is recognised as a state party in at least four states.

Being recognised as a state party requires that a party fulfils any of these five conditions. One, the party gets at least 6% of the votes and wins at least two seats in the assembly election. Two, it gets at least 6% of the votes polled and has at least one MP in the Lok Sabha. Three, it has at least 3% or three MLAs in the assembly, whichever is more. Four, it has at least one Lok Sabha member for every 25 assembly members or any fraction thereof allotted to the state. Five, it has at least 8% of the total valid votes polled in the state in the previous election to the Lok Sabha or assembly in the state.

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At this point in time, none of the parties other than the Congress and the BJP satisfy the first two criteria for being designated national parties. The question is whether they are eligible for state party status in at least four states.

Except in West Bengal, the AITC does not have 8% vote share in any other state in the country. It also does not have any Lok Sabha member outside West Bengal, and any MLA except in West Bengal and Manipur.

AITC leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said: “So far, the EC has not intimated us about any change in our national status. We have fought in a few states and we are confident that we have got the required number to retain our status.”

The BSP qualifies as a state party in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan (six MLAs in the assembly, which is exactly 3% of the strength of the assembly), but is still short of the four-state threshold.

The CPI fulfils the criterion of being a state party in Kerala (19 MLAs in 2016), Tamil Nadu (1.28 Lok Sabha MPs for every 25 MPs from the state) and Manipur (8.3% vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha).

CPI leader D Raja said: “Elections come and go. We have lost ground in one election, we may regain in another poll. You must remember that out party is working since 1925 and our symbol has never changed. We are a mainstream party influencing and shaping national policies. So far, the election commission has not said anything to us regarding our national status.”

The NCP does not fulfil any of the conditions to be designated a state party except in Maharashtra.

Only the CPI(M) makes the cut

It is eligible for state party status in West Bengal (26 MLAs), Tripura (16 MLAs), Kerala (58 MLAs) and Tamil Nadu (1.28 Lok Sabha MPs per 25 MPs allocated to the state)

The CPI(M) leadership refused to officially comment on the issue. A politburo member, however, said on condition of anonymity that the party was calculating its numbers to ensure it fulfilled the conditions of being a national party.

The BJP’s dominance has clearly narrowed the political space for several national parties. For the AITC, BSP, CPI, and NCP, the next election they face will decide whether they remain national parties or not.

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First Published: May 29, 2019 07:51 IST