Millennium Post

Party time

Whether it’s a ‘frying pan’ or ‘saving a jilted lover’, world’s biggest parliamentary election currently being held in India has it all – when it comes to ‘registered unrecognised parties’ and their manifestos.

Over the years, political participation is no longer restricted only to the national/state-level parties but also has seen a corresponding rise in the number of ‘registered unrecognised parties,’ especially in the last 25 years. Though majority of them have failed to make any firm foray into the national platform, they have made things difficult for the national as well as state-level parties by ‘messing with the poll arithmetic’.

In the ongoing Lok Sabha poll, nearly 1,687 ‘registered unrecognised parties’ took part, each with their own agenda and cause célèbre. While some want to eradicate corruption, others want to fight for the emancipation of cows. There is even a party called the ‘Lovers’ Party’ which claims to be desi version of the Hollywood film Hitch.

Many feel that these parties’ weird concept of ‘development’ through bizarre promises is nothing but a pitch for greater social acceptance in their respective localities and collecting donations in the name of fighting the election. However, a section of people also think that the emergence of such extreme fringe parties is an attempt to focus on specific ‘neglected’ communities and to raise awareness on their issues across the country. ‘This was more evident from 1980s onwards in the wake of much too interference by the Central government in the affairs of the states. ‘Class bias gave birth to few of these parties, which fought for the cause of a particular region or community,’ Biswajit Bhattacharya, an election expert and lecturer in political science at
Calcutta University, said.

Even today, political leaders like All India Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee sound alarm at excessive central intervention into state politics. This trend is nothing new and some political commentators feel that this could be another reason behind the rise of such smaller parties in post-Independence India.

‘Among other reasons, why too many of these registered unrecognised parties are coming up is because they want a tax-exempted income,’ Anand Pradhan, professor at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, said. ‘Political parties are exempted from tax on their income through section 13A of IT Act 1961. They have to, however, maintain a book of account for donations or income above Rs. 20,000.  Also, the worrying trend is that there are parties which had emerged on religious basis, which might hamper the harmony of country,’ Pradhan said.

Only in 2014, in less than seven days (between 21 - 26 March 2014), nearly 34 such parties got themselves registered with the Election Commission (EC). As per rule, if parties don’t fight elections for six consecutive years, they are supposed to be taken off the registered list.

Many political experts questioned their credibility and claimed that these parties get themselves registered to make some money. However, there also exist such parties, which are supported by the bigger national as well as state-level parties to split votes, making it difficult for their rivals difficult to get past the first hurdles.

From 1989 to 2014, India witnessed a major leap in the emergence of such parties. In 1989, the number of such unrecognised parties stood only at 85, while in 1996 it climbed to 171. In 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014, the figure gradually rose to 122, 702, 1035 and 1,627 respectively.
As per the EC data, there are six national political parties, including Indian National Congress, Bharatiya  Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India [Marxist] (CPI-M) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). In addition, there are 54 state parties, who are contesting for the 16th Lok Sabha election.

The ‘registered unrecognised parties’ have to register themselves with the EC  by paying Rs 10,000 as a one-time fee, and garnering a minimum strength of 100 members in their party list. Many of them have been active in politics for several years, even though they haven’t been able to win a single seat, while some have entered the fray for very first time in 2014. Their budgets may be small, but that doesn’t hamper their spirit and don’t steer them away from taking on the political heavyweights all across the nation.

In Delhi alone, nearly 13 such parties had contested the seven parliamentary seats. Despite frugal election budget, their undaunted spirit challenging the biggies has been noted by all. For example, Jai Maha Bharat Party (JMBP), which was born on 18 January 2010, has fielded its candidate Mohammed Afaq against union law and telecom minister Kapil Sibal and BJP’s Delhi unit chief Harsh Vardhan from the Chandni Chowk seat. ‘I admit small parties like us have a less of a chance at winning seats. But for us, it is about the passion to work for society and raise our voices against crucial issues that are against our countrymen and women,’ Afaq, the JMBP candidate, said.

JMBP’s office is at 11 Hanuman Road in Delhi and its founders are Vaikuntiya Maharajarajshri Subbana Deva, Vaikuntiya Mahamaathashri Narasamma Devi and Maharajarajshri Anantha Vishnu Deva. JMBP’s slogan is: ‘Dil to Hai Bharath Ka, Ab Nirman Kare Nav Bharath Ka. (Though my heart belongs to India, let’s make a new India)’.

Interestingly, this trend has spawned clones within Bollywood as well. Actress Rakhi Sawant floated her own party Rashtriya Aam Party (RAP) on 28 March 2014. She is contesting from Mumbai North West constituency on a ‘green chilli’ symbol. People within the film industry claim that for Sawant, coming to politics is purely a move to stay in the limelight. Given that the actress has had a rough career patch vis-a-vis films and television reality shows for a while now, this is not beyond reason. Sources feel that Sawant’s RAP cannot be compared with other ‘registered unrecognised parties’. ‘But everybody has their own agenda and motto as per their respective region, religion, issues and need,’ Bhattacharya said.

Some of the parties that have gained spotlight over the years are Bharatiya Muhabbat Party, The Religion of Man Revolving Political Party of India, Free Thought Party of India, Indian Oceanic Party, Jago Party, Jagtey Raho Party, among others.

While Pyramid Party of India wants Indians to become vegetarians, West Bengal-based Religion of Man Revolving Political Party of India is looking for both class elimination and poverty eradication! On the other hand, Bharatiya Muhabbat Party was established on 14 February 2012, on the occasion of Valentine’s Day. It pledges to help lovers. Jagte Raho Party was launched by social worker Praful Desai, whose main agenda is to fight against corruption.

There are other regional parties and independent candidates in India whose journey into the political hinterland is as interesting as that of the ‘registered unrecognised parties’.

In 1980, Baba Jai Gurudev founded the ‘Doordarshi Party’ after a stint in prison during the Emergency. After being released from jail, he decided to take the plunge into politics and founded the party. Because it failed to secure a single seat, in 1997 he decided to quit politics. Meet the 78-year-old Shyam Babu Subudhi. He has been contesting the LS election since 1962, but forget about winning a seat ever: he has never even managed to save his deposit. Undeterred, this time, too, he is contesting the polls from two constituencies, including Berhampur and Aska in Odisha!
Subudhi is a homeopathy practitioner in Berhampur and despite losing his deposit in every previous election, he is confident of a win some time. His one-page election manifesto even claims that there is chance of him to become the prime minister of India! He also fought election against former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, even though he lost the battle.

During 1980s, India witnessed some of the interesting terminological developments related to such parties under the banner of ‘Dharti Pakad’ (Grasp the Earth). Leaders including Kaka Joginder Singh, Mohan Lal, Nagarmal Bajoria, among others, who had contested unsuccessfully in several elections against top political leaders but never won, came together under that banner.

Kaka, whose family used to run a textile mill in Bareilly, has contested more than 300 elections, including the presidential poll, as an independent candidate and always lost. Similarly, Lal, a cloth merchant from Bhopal, contested elections against five different prime ministers, but unfortunately, he, too, failed to manage a single term.

‘Bajoria, a septuagenarian trader from Bhagalpur in Bihar who used to ride on donkeys for his campaigning, has also contested for 278 times, right from the presidential elections to the civic polls. But he too failed to make any mark. So, there are different reasons behind the emergence of such parties and leaders. Some fight for social acceptance, while some for converting black money to white and some for actual social cause irrespective of results,’ Pradhan said.
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