The move of the Election Commission to tighten the norms for recognition of parties should be welcomed in the overall electoral context. A party, for instance, could claim to be called a national party only if it has some pervasive influence or presence in certain States in the country so that it could claim the privileges that go with it. At present, it has been laid down under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order that a party could be recognised as a State level party and allotted a common symbol for its candidates throughout the State if it had been engaged in political activity continuously for five years and had got in a general election at least one member per 25 members of the Lok Sabha or at least one member for every 30 members of a State Assembly or it had secured not less than four per cent of the total valid votes cast in the elections in the State. If a State party satisfies these conditions in four or more State it is recognised as a national party while those satisfying the conditions in less than four States are treated as State level parties.
The point that the Commission is now trying to make is that the four States, for instance, could be as small as Mizoram, Meghalaya, Goa or Manipur and the question is asked whether obtaining the prescribed percentage of votes in these States alone should qualify a State level party to be categorised as a national one. There is some force in the argument presented by the Commission and it has, therefore, suggested that even for recognition as a State party the percentage of votes it should get in the election should be doubled. Even this number looks somewhat insignificant considering the huge electorate but the Commission is perhaps anxious to tread cautiously. Similarly it has been proposed that if a State party is recognised as such in six or more States as against the present four then only must it get the status of a national party.
This too seems to be reasonable, although both the changes are certainly going to be opposed by parties which on account of the proposed change in criteria might lose their national status. A national party has a definite advantage in that it enjoys much bigger status than what is just a State party. Many regional parties are content to style themselves as only State parties because they do not claim to have any pervasive influence over the electorate in other States. But not so the national parties which want to have their influence felt all over the country. If such parties are reduced to the level of State parties following the stiffening of norms their prestige will suffer a big blow besides ofcourse their losing certain privileges that go with their status.
At one time, there were eight national level parties and 38 State level parties recognised as such by the Symbols Order. At a time when a large number of voters still vote on the basis of symbols which have acquired a special position in the scheme of elections, if a national party loses this privilege even to a limited extent it will certainly be placed at a great disadvantage, and this very fact might even harm its prospects in an election. It is, however, important as the Election Commission seems to belive in perventing the proliferation of frivolus parties which creates administrative problems and makes the entire system cumbersome.
The E.C. is seeking powers to amend the rules relating to the registration of parties in consultation with the Union Government There was a time when the Election Commission toyed with the idea of assuming powers for derecognition of parties under certain conditions but this was givben up. If the EC is trying to streamline the functioning of parties, its effor ts should receive nationwide support.