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Unequal Access to Political Parties in India

Open access to political parties, which strengthens the democratisation process in a country, has declined in India during the last few decades. The contributing factors to this transformation are the personalisation of leadership based on family, kinship or primordial identities, lack of open membership or democratic decision-making within a party, unusually high cost of electioneering in contemporary times preventing average citizens from taking the plunge into party politics, and parties moving away from a culture of service to that of rent-seeking groups, whether in power or in opposition.

 

Political parties are supposed to be the instruments of democratisation. They are expected to mediate between citizens and the government through the electoral process. Most contemporary definitions of political parties highlight the alternative choices provided to the electorate. But, the role of political parties to train the citizens to participate in politics is often underemphasised.1 There is hardly ever any debate on the process of democratisation within the political parties. An average citizen’s access to political parties is not clearly spelt out.2 Whether a party is open or closed often depends on its own historical evolution in a particular context.

The origin of the first political party in India—the Indian National Congress (INC) or the Congress party—was associated with freedom movement against the British rule and was, therefore, not consciously designed for electoral purposes. The avowed goal of this party was to make itself stronger by expanding its membership. Democratisation within the party organisation was a conscious choice to make itself acceptable to the large and diverse population of India. Membership drives, factional conflicts and internal democracy in pre-independence India are well-documented. A party of consensus emerged where anyone volunteering to work for the party was welcome, and thus, many leaders rose from the rank and file. The above characterisation is broadly true about most of the parties in pre-independence India.
Parties were accommodative, had a mass base and respected the opinion of the members.

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Updated On : 2nd Mar, 2020

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