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Credibility of Internal Party Polls

GS Paper – 2: Constitutional Bodies, Representation of People’s Act, Transparency & Accountability

Why in News?

  • Recently Congress’s group of 23 reformists (G-23) have raised the issue of internal democracy and transparent organisational polls.
  • Also, a former Youth Congress leader moved the Delhi High Court to direct the Election Commission of India (ECI) to regulate the internal polls of all political parties.

Court’s Response

The court issued notice to the ECI after hearing the public interest litigation (PIL) plea of C Rajashekharan, a former general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC).

What is wrong with Internal Polls of Political Parties

  • It is obvious that institutional intermediaries in a representative democracy must themselves be democratic. However, beyond the rhetoric, internal democracy in a political party is less straightforward.
  • Most internal polls just work as an “eyewash” and most parties had a “feudal” character.
  • Although most political parties provide for elections through the provisions, said elections are often an eyewash for established political families within the said parties to continue to retain power as the top leadership of the said party.
  • The continued sidelining of the political process has been made possible on account of the lack of regulatory oversight and uniform norms of internal democracy applied to political parties.
  • The lack of internal democracy in political parties, as opposed to other private organisations/ institutions, has a significant bearing on the nation’s governance, as the lack of transparency and internal democracy in political parties are often reflected in similar non-democratic governance models.

Difference Between Democracy in a Country and in a Political Party

  • Democratic accountability in a political party is qualitatively different from that in a country.
  • While democracy at the level of the country is a bottom-up opportunity to change direction altogether, democratic accountability in a political party exists within an ideological framework.
  • Any suggestion to achieve internal democracy in a political party must be evaluated within this context.
  • The purpose of a political party is the acquisition of state power. Democratic functioning may be an ideological imperative, operational choice, or legitimising tactic but it is not an end in itself for a political party.

Challenges Before Political Parties in Establishing Internal Democracy

  • First, proponents underestimate the ability of existing repositories of power to subvert internal institutional processes to consolidate power and maintain the status quo.
  • Second, the assumption that the lower levels would be independent and hold the higher levels of leadership to account glosses over the many ways power asserts itself.
  • The likely outcome instead is alignment at all levels to allow for vertical consolidation of factional power.
  • Third, the outcome of internal elections is contingent on the independence and quality of the electorate.
  • In indirect elections (through delegates), the electorate would likely mirror the existing balance of power.
  • In direct elections, there is a concern of ideological dilution and/or capture through opportunistic membership. Donald Trump hijacking the Republican Party through primaries is a recent example.

The Another Way to Decentralize Power

  • Instead of looking at internal party processes, one way to decentralise power is by getting rid of the anti-defection law.
  • The need to canvass votes in the legislature will create room for negotiation in the party organisation too.
  • Moreover, the electoral process will be independent of the party machinery and internal coalitions will evolve in a more measured manner than in one-time organisational elections.
  • Most importantly, this reform will impose a similar burden on all political parties and may create space to change the overall political culture.


Indian PolityTo achieve internal democracy there has to be a transparent mechanism for conducting internal elections for leadership positions within the party. Fairly elected representatives will not just be grounded themselves but will also hold the leadership accountable for its shortcomings.


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