This analysis focuses on one particular dimension of the internal dynamics of Indian parties, namely the process of nominating candidates for the parliamentary elections to the lower house (Lok Sabha). The aim is to give an overview of the internal processes and relate them to nomination outcomes. For our analysis, we compare the pattern of nomination in each election with the previous election, over time and in the context of our knowledge about the nomination processes in the 2004 and 2009 with key party functionaries involved.
In a heterogeneous society like ours, nominations are also significant for representational outcomes. Out of the three most important types of parties in India we focus on two, catch-all parties and ideological parties. Amongst the ideological parties of the left and the right we focus on the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while the Indian National Congress (INC) falls under the category of a catch-all party. The three selected parties are national parties. For the CPI (M), we have analysed the nomination processes only in its three stronghold States of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.
Election Nomination Process in Indian Parties
The nomination process for the last Parliamentary elections for the three selected national parties pieced together from the interviews with key party functionaries is as follows.
The INC has an elaborate system in place whereby observers are sent to each of the 543 constituencies. The observers are tasked with preparing a detailed report regarding potential candidates both for the District Congress Committee (DCC) and the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC). The DCC and the PCC give their inputs to the State Election Committee (SEC). It is the SEC which sends a panel of names with the pluses and minuses for individual candidates to the All Indian Congress Committee (AICC). The AICC constitutes a Screening Committee for each State comprising of important party leaders, senior members of the working committee, two senior leaders from outside the State, the State Congress chief and the leader of the party in the legislative assembly. The Screening Committee prepares a docket listing not only the pros and cons but also the essential particulars about each potential candidate. This docket is forwarded to the Central Election Committee (CEC), It is the CEC which makes the final decision about the nominations.
In the case of the BJP, there are two levels of decision making — the SEC and the CEC. The SEC is the final authority for the elections to the State assembly and local bodies. The SEC plays largely a recommendatory role, and the final authority lies with the CEC. Earlier the recommendation of the SEC was deemed to be final. However, there has been a marked shift since the 2004 parliamentary elections, where the SEC has merely forwarded the names to the CEC. The CEC too was largely ignored by informal “core groups” for each State comprising of a few selected party functionaries both at the centre and the State level. It was the “core group” which made the final selection, which was approved by the CEC. The process started more than six months before the elections, and remained largely a chaotic and a centralised affair.
There has been a marked shift within the BJP since 2000 from a field-oriented nomination and internal evaluation process that gave preference to chances of victory, to a much more centralised nomination process. The caste dimension has come to play an important role especially for the northern Indian States, Assam and Orissa.
In the CPI (M), it is the State Committee which draws up the list of potential candidates and forwards the same to the Polit Bureau of the Central Committee. The (State) Committee Secretariat prepares a list of candidates largely on the basis of names forwarded by the District Committees (of the party). In the case the West Bengal, the State Committee comprises of about 80 members, including seven or eight MPs and 25-30 MLAs. The composition of the State Committee is much smaller in the cases of Kerala and Tripura. Unlike any other party, in 2012, the CPI (M) proposed a two-term limit for MPs, and this has already been accepted by the Kerala State Committee.
Being a cadre-based political party, the key criteria within the CPI (M) remains the work done by a member in their area. Prospective candidates need to have gained recognition in their chosen area of work from the party’s many mass organisations and front. The party does give some consideration to caste/community dynamics, but less in the case of West Bengal and more in the case of Kerala. However, what is of utmost importance is the previous record of the potential candidate in party related activities. There is a very high repetition of candidates and winners by the party and mostly from the same constituencies.
The nomination data on INC, BJP and CPI (M)
For the entire period 1957-2009, the Congress party has nominated 38 per cent of its candidates of the preceding election [Tables 1 and 2]. The party has largely adhered to the ‘sitting-getting’ thumb rule, the total percentage of winners getting re-nominated being 57 per cent. However, the fact that 43 per cent of the incumbents weren’t re-nominated shows that the party nomination process drops incumbents and brings in fresh faces to a certain extent.
In 1989, faced with a united opposition, the Congress party under Rajiv Gandhi re-nominated 68 per cent of its incumbents. Since then party has consistently repeated more than 60 per cent of its incumbents. This is especially true for the elections held in 1996, 1998 and 1999. As these elections happened in quick succession, the party found it much more expedient to have known faces rather than going in for fresh faces and risking dissidence. There is a significant rise in the number of incumbents getting re-nominated in the time-period 1991 to 2009, when compared with 1957 to 2009: the two percentages are 68 per cent and 57 per cent respectively. What perhaps explains this is the relative decline in the Congress’ fortunes in the early 1990s and the party finding it difficult to win elections, and greater reliance on the incumbent to help it sail through the elections.
From 1991 to 2009, the BJP has re-nominated 76 per cent of its incumbents [Table 3]. This was certainly the case in 1991, 1998 and 1999 when the parliamentary elections were held in quick succession. Therefore, just like the Congress it made sense for the BJP not only to renominate a substantial minority (43 per cent) of its candidates but also a great majority of incumbents to avoid dissidence. Thus the current prospect of winning remained an important criterion, along with the underlying principle of ‘sitting-getting’. However, one must underline the fact that 24 per cent of its incumbents were not given the ticket. This could be because of the BJP’s efforts at expanding its social base and also attracting allies.
The CPI (M) is one party that has consistently re-nominated a very high percentage of former candidates compared with other political parties [Table 4]. The party has nominated 73 per cent of its incumbents since 1971. This probably reflects the fact that since the CPI(M) has primarily contested in its stronghold States of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, where the party has either been in power or was in power for a considerable period (West Bengal and Tripura), or alternated on power every term (Kerala since 1982). Thus probably the party allows continuity to facilitate political careers and become the recognisable face for the party in a constituency.
Comparative Picture of the Congress, BJP and CPI (M)
The Congress Party has re-nominated 57 per cent of it incumbents over the 1957-2009 period, the post-Congress domination period [since 1989] witnessed a rise to 68 per cent. The BJP, on the other hand, has re-nominated 76 per cent of its incumbents for the period 1991-2009 and the CPI (M) 73 per cent over 1971-2009. Clearly, ‘the sitting-getting’ rule of thumb applies to the nomination of incumbents for the parties with an institutionalised selection criteria that starts from the bottom.
However, barring the CPI(M) which has re-nominated 56 per cent of its candidates since 1971, the ‘sitting-getting’ thumb rule doesn’t seem to apply to the BJP or the Congress, except for occasional years such as 1989 for the Congress since 1957, and 1999 for the BJP since 1991. Thus the ‘sitting-getting’ criteria at least for the candidates seeking re-nomination remains at best a starting point, and the actual criteria remains the current victory prospects of the candidate and applying this criteria, a large majority of former losing candidates tend to get eliminated at some stage. Thus the number of incumbents being dropped is high, especially for the Congress and the BJP, perhaps one of the reasons for this, gleaned from the interviews conducted, is if the incumbent’s current victory prospects look poor, or if the party wants to expand its base and include new sections of the electorate.
The early or snap elections have witnessed a higher repetition of incumbents. This is true for the Congress in 1971,1980,1991,1998 and1998, and the CPI (M) in 1971, 1980, 1991 and 1998. For the BJP, the re-nomination was highest in 1991, 1998 and 1999. The ideological parties like the BJP and the CPI (M) have a relatively high rate of re-nomination of incumbents. One has to make allowances for the relative stability of their core voter base balanced against the largely institutionalised process of selection.
Thus a noteworthy feature across the three parties gleaned from our data set is that when the parties renominate either candidates or incumbents, they tend to renominate them overwhelmingly from the same constituency. Likewise, a very small percentage of politicians have defected to, and obtained nominations from, other parties. The three parties have largely adhered to the ‘sitting-getting’ thumb rule for incumbent re-nomination, though not for candidate re-nomination. The timing of the election and the institutionalised internal selection processes has tended to result in higher rates of repetition of incumbents.
Tables: Number of MPs re-nominated by political parties
(This analysis is based on shortened version of a paper published in Commonwealth and Comparative Politics . The particulars are as follows: A. Farooqui& E. Sridharan (2014) ‘Incumbency, Internal Processes and Renomination in Indian Parties’, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics ,52:1.78-108, DOI: 10.1080/14662043.2013.867690)
( Adnan Farooqui is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. His areas of interests are institutional and political processes in India. He may be contacted on [email protected] )
(E. Sridharan is the Academic Director, University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India, New Delhi. He may be contacted on [email protected] )