Intra-party Democracy and Indian Political Parties

This report examines the status of intra-party democracy in the two major political parties of India — the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It focuses on understanding the inclusiveness and decentralisation in two main aspects of intra-party democracy: the candidate nomination process and the selection of leaders and office bearers. Analyses presented in this report are based on an extensive literature survey, data analysis and interviews conducted with party officials, former Election Commissioners and representatives of civil society organisations. The need to conduct the study stemmed from the idea that the roots of many pertinent problems faced by Indian democracy can be partly traced to the lack of intra-party democracy in political parties. Though the working of internal democracy may be debatable, all political parties that contest elections have some organisational structure in place. Analysis of nomination processes shows that both the national parties are largely centralised and adopt a top-down approach in decision-making. The information provided to the Election Commission of India(ECI) on internal elections for party positions is superfluous and does not help in drawing conclusions about the quality of these elections.

What is interesting, however, is that some new experiments were conducted prior to the Lok Sabha 2014 elections, such as the primaries held by the INC, and larger studies are required to evaluate their effectiveness. Though the INC suffered a historic loss in the 2014 elections, which was attributed to reasons like anti-incumbency, corruption and the economic slowdown in the country, the primaries may have helped in addressing dissent among party workers. Similarly, though the BJP won the elections, the exercise of holding primaries may have reduced internal dissent. Some other remedial measures that need to be taken are to improve the nature of internal elections held by parties and provide an effective regulatory framework to make the nomination process more inclusive and egalitarian.

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