Democracy and political parties

Indian ParliamentIndia is the largest practicing democracy in the world. The electoral process is well developed with free and fair elections at all levels, right down to individual villages, with universal adult suffrage. General elections, 14 of which have taken place in the 60 years of independence, are held every 5 years.

India is a federal polity, with a Central government at New Delhi, the capital of the country and 28 State governments and 7 Union Territories. India’s constitution is the longest and most detailed in the world at 395 articles and 10 schedules. It also has had the most amendments (77 times from 1950 to 1995).

The Constitution provides for the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The Executive comprises the President, the Vice-President and the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. All executive powers are vested in the President, who acts on the advice of the Council of Ministers.

India is a secular country with no official religion. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to the people, including freedom of speech, occupation and religion. The Constitution of India has clearly demarcated the powers of the Centre and the States in the form of three lists – the union, state and concurrent lists. The Centre and State governments pass legislation on subjects under the union and state lists respectively. However, for subjects on the concurrent list, where both Centre and the States can enforce laws, the decision making powers of the Centre supersede those of the States.

Parliament

The Union Legislature (Parliament) comprises two houses – the Lok Sabha (Lower house, elected directly by the people of India) and the Rajya Sabha (upper house, elected by the State legislatures which in turn are elected directly by the people). The Parliament is responsible for enacting the Central legislation.

Indian symbolDifference between Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha:

  • Members of Lok Sabha are directly elected by the eligible voters. Members of Rajya Sabha are elected by the elected members of State Legislative Assemblies in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote.
  • The normal life of every Lok Sabha is 5 years only while Rajya Sabha is a permanent body.
  • Lok Sabha is the House to which the Council of Ministers is responsible under the Constitution. Money Bills can only be introduced in Lok Sabha. Also it is Lok Sabha, which grants the money for running the administration of the country.
  • Rajya Sabha has special powers to declare that it is necessary and expedient in the national interest that Parliament may make laws with respect to a matter in the State List or to create by law one or more all-India services common to the Union and the states.
Lok sabha state-wise seats

A similar structure exists in the States, where the head of the Executive is the Governor, who is appointed by the President of India. The Council of Ministers is headed by the Chief Ministers is headed by the Chief Minister and is responsible to the State Legislature (Legislative Assembly). The people of each State elect the Legislative Assembly, which performs functions similar to those performed by Parliament.

Main political parties in India

Reservations

Certain areas have a lot of SC or ST or NT population, hence ECI nominates those areas as reserved. For eg, Dharavi vidhan sabha in Mumbai is reserved for SC and Palghar Lok sabha seat in Maharashtra is reserved for ST.

In municipal corporation elections (for Mumbai) 33% is reserved for women, 33% for OBC and about 2-3% for SC/ST. Rest is available for open category candidates. The reservation for OBC and women is chosen by a lottery system, every 2 electoral terms.

Basic concepts of campaigning

A few days are given for the candidate to withdraw after the candidate fills up his/ her nomination form, after which the campaigning can officially start. Elections are fought almost entirely on manpower strength (and money power to a certain extent). Each candidate typically has a team which can be classified as:

Election In-charge or Campaign manager

As soon as the campaigning starts, the candidate is so tied up with meeting people that it is almost impossible for him to put on the thinking cap. This has to be done by the campaign manager who is the Coach of the team. He  decides with the ‘Path yatra In-charge’ on the route and which party workers/ volunteers can be involved where. A variant of this is the door-to-door path yatra. The rath/ jeep used for the yatra needs to be decorated with election material.

Sabha (public meetings) In-charge handles the organization of the sabha, like stage, chairs, back-drop, invitation cards, etc!  Street-corner meeting In-charge arranges mini-sabhas at various street corners. For sabhas, path yatras and corner meetings, permissions are required from authorities like BMC/ Police/ traffic police. Details like location, exact time, number of participants etc have to be provided. It can be a full time job.

Office In-charge

Can also double as a scheduler. He acts as a Messenger of important information to the entire team. He also co-ordinates Pamphlet and Voters slip printing and distribution; booth-wise sorting; Furniture of the office; vehicles (campaign and voting day) and Food for the team members. This person also handles other staff members like Typist and Peons.

Treasurer

Reporting to the Election Commission’s Returning Officer is quite important the expense reports are submitted to the Returning office on regular basis, as per the schedule provided by Election Commission of India.

Media In-charge

News releases and events calendar have to be sent out everyday in English/ Marathi/ Hindi/ Gujarati etc. by fax or email. Photographer/ Videographer can be appointed, who can send out a picture daily to the media offices. A Media file of newspaper clippings can be maintained to be on the lookout for any adverse stories.

VOTING DAY Booth In-charge

A booth is a place where the voter actually goes into vote. This volunteer is in-charge of getting voters down to vote. This is the most important function for the voting day.

Voters list files to be used on voting day tables are also to be prepared ahead of time. Tables are arranged at street corners (after requisite permissions) to enable voters to find their names on the voting list. Party symbols can not be used here. Food Packets are also arranged to be dropped inside the polling booth. Co-ordination of vehicles for voting day is important.

VOTING DAY Polling Agents In-charge

Inside the voting booth (polling booth), each candidate can have a polling agent (list to be submitted a few days before the election day). This polling agent must verify that the EVM (Electronic voting machine) is not tampered with before voting starts. Can also verify the authenticity of the voter, by asking him/her to produce ID, to avoid bogus voting.

Counting

The EVM’s are stored under strict government supervision till the counting day. Chief counting Agent of each candidate leads a team of counting agents to witness EVM’s being opened, after the seal is checked to be intact. For eg a vidhan sabha counting may have 12 counting agents, inside the counting room.

Election Code of conduct

  • Campaign period starts from 9 am till 10 pm only (with a 3 hour break in the afternoon). Campaigning from a day and half before voting day is not allowed. Plus on voting day, no tables can be set up within 100 meters from the polling station.
  • Permissions are required from the police/ traffic police and local government for the campaigning.
  • If banners are to be put up in private buildings, then society or landlord permission is required.
  • There is a limit for spending per candidate (depending on type of election).
  • Its illegal to distribute money or make promises, once election is declared.
  • Its illegal to ask for votes on basis of religion or caste.
  • Candidate must use maximum vehicles, only as specified by the ECI
  • Candidate can not open more campaign offices, than specified by ECI.
  • Candidate can criticize opponents track record (not private life)

Other stuff

  • If a party gets 6% vote share in a general election, then it can be allocated a permanent symbol.
  • Once a candidate is elected through a political party, he/ she cannot join any other party mid-stream. They have to quit the party and then re-contest the election.
  • A party may decide to change alliances mid-stream. Also, if 2/3rd of a party’s elected representatives chose to split the party and change alliances, this also may work.
  • A candidate cannot be an MP and a MLA at the same time. But can be an MLA and a ward Councilor simultaneously.