Many ordinary citizens consider democracy equal to political parties, which is one of the most visible institutions in a democracy.
A group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government constitutes a political party.
Political parties promote the collective good by agreeing on some policies and programmes for the society.
The three components of a political party are the leaders, the active members and the followers.
In most democracies, parties contest elections among the candidates put up by political parties, in different ways.
Voters choose from different policies and programmes put forward by parties.
Parties play a decisive role in making laws for a country.
Parties form and run governments.
Those parties that lose in the elections form opposition to the parties in power.
Parties shape public opinion by raising and highlighting issues.
Parties provide people access to government machinery and welfare schemes.
If parties did not exist, every candidate in the elections would be independent and no one would be able to promise people about any major policy changes.
How many parties should we have?
At least two parties must be allowed to compete in elections and have a fair chance to come to power, in a democracy.
Several other parties may exist, contest elections and win a few seats in the national legislatures.
In India there were three such major alliances in 2004 parliamentary elections– the National Democratic Alliance, the United Progressive Alliance and the Left Front.
India has evolved a multiparty system because the social and geographical diversity in such a large country is not easily absorbed by two or even three parties.
Popular participation in political parties
Political parties are said to be facing a crisis because they are very unpopular and the citizens are indifferent to them.
Countrywide parties, which are called ‘national parties’ and have their units in various states.
All these units follow the same policies, programmes and strategy that is decided at the national level.
There were seven recognised national parties in the country in 2017, according to this classification, some of which are:
All India Trinamool Congress (AITC):
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP):
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP):
Communist Party of India (CPI):
Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M):
Indian National Congress (INC):
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP):
The state parties are commonly referred to as regional parties, although they are not regional in their ideology or outlook.
Some parties have national level political organisation with units in several states parties like the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Challenges to political parties
Lack of internal democracy within parties
Growing role of money and muscle power in parties, especially during elections
Parties do not seem to offer a meaningful choice to the voters, very often: IN order for this to happen, parties must be significantly different.
How can parties be reformed?
In order to face these challenges, the recent efforts and suggestions in our country to reform political parties and its leaders include:
Many elected representatives were indulging in defection in order to become ministers or for cash rewards.
The Supreme Court passed an order to reduce the influence of money and criminals.
The Election Commission passed an order making it necessary for political parties to hold their organisational elections and file their income tax returns but sometimes it is done out of formality.
A law should be made to regulate the internal affairs of political parties such as maintaining a register of its members, following its own constitution, having an independent authority, acting as a judge in case of party disputes, and holding open elections to the highest posts.
Political parties should compulsorily give a minimum of one-third tickets to women candidates and have a quota for women in the decision making bodies of the party.
The State government should fund elections to support their election expenses. This support could be given in kind: petrol, paper, telephone etc. or in cash on the basis of the votes secured by the party in the last election.
People, especially ordinary citizens, pressure groups and movements and the media, can put pressure on political parties through petitions, publicity and agitations.
Political parties can improve if those who want this join political parties instead of criticising it from outside.