Tenth Schedule

The Constitution of India did not make a reference to political parties when it was adopted. A reference was made when the Tenth Schedule was included in the Constitution by the Constitution (Fifty-Second) Amendment Act 1985. However, even though the Constitution on its adoption did not make a reference to political parties, statutory provisions relating to elections accorded considerable importance to political parties, signifying that political parties have been the focal point of elections.

Symbols Order

The ECI notified the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order 1968 in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 344 of the Constitution read with Section 29A of the RPA and Rules 5 and 10 of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961. In terms of the provisions of the Symbols Order, the ECI shall allot a symbol to every candidate contesting the election.

The Symbols Order classifies political parties into recognised political parties and unrecognised political parties. The difference in the procedure under the Symbols Order for allotting symbols to recognised political parties, registered but unrecognised political parties and independent candidates indicates both the relevance and significance of political parties in elections in India.

A party is classified a National or a State recognised party based on the total percentage of votes secured at the last general elections and (or) the number of candidates who have been returned to the Legislative Assembly. Symbols are reserved for allocation to recognised political parties. All candidates who are being set up by a national or a State recognised party are to be allotted the symbol reserved for that party for the purpose of contesting elections.

Symbols other than those reserved for recognised political parties shall be available for allotment to independent candidates and candidates set up by political parties which are not recognised political parties in terms of the Symbols Order. Candidates set up by a registered but unrecognised political party may also be allotted a common symbol if they fulfil certain conditions laid down in the Symbols Order.

Thus, the Symbols Order creates a demarcation between candidates set up by political parties and candidates contesting individually. Political parties are allotted a Symbol such that all candidates who are set up by that political party are allotted the Symbol of their political party while contesting elections.

Even within candidates who are set up by political parties, the Symbols Order creates a distinction between unrecognised but registered political parties and recognised political parties. Recognised political parties shall continue to be allotted the same symbol for all General elections until the time these political parties fulfil the conditions for recognition under the Symbols Order.

The effect of the provisions of the Symbols Order is that the symbols of certain political parties, particularly those which have enjoyed the status of a recognised political party for long are entrenched in the minds of the voters that they associate the symbol with the political party.

For unrecognised but registered political parties, though a common symbol is allotted for all candidates being set up by the political parties, the symbol is not “reserved” for the Party. The ECI could allot different symbols to that political party in each General election. The candidates of a registered but unrecognised political party may be represented by a common symbol but the people would not attach a specific symbol to the political party because the symbol by which it is represented may change with every election.

The purpose of allotting symbols to political parties is to aid voters in identifying and remembering the political party. The law recognises the inextricable link between a political party and the candidate though the vote is cast for a candidate. The literacy rate in India was 18.33 percent when the first General Election was held in 1951. Most of the voters identified a political party only with its symbol and this still continues to the day.

In a few cases, the voters would not possess any knowledge of the candidate being set up by the political party. They would vote solely based on the symbol which is allotted to the political party; knowledge of which they have obtained through campaigning activities or its sustained presence in the electoral fray.

Gayatri Devi, the third Maharani consort of Jaipur who was later set up as a candidate by the Swatantra Party, recalls in her Autobiography that her team spent hours trying to persuade the voters that they had to vote for the Symbol Star (which was the symbol of the Swatantra Party) and not a symbol showing a horse and a rider because she also rode a horse:[1]

“Since most of India is illiterate, at the polls people vote according to a visual symbol of their party. […] The Swatantra Party had a star. Baby, all my other helpers and I spent endless frustrating hours trying to instruct the women about voting for the star. On the ballot sheet, we said, over and over again, this is where the Maharani’s name will appear and next to it will be a star. But it was not as simple as that. They noticed a symbol showing a horse and a rider, agree with each other that the Maharani rides so that must be her symbol.

Repeatedly we said, “No, no, that’s not the right one.” Then they caught sight of the emblem of a flower. Ah, the flower of Jaipur – who else could it mean but the Maharani? “No, no, no, not the flower.” All right, the star. Yes, that seems appropriate for the Maharani, but look, here is the sun. If the Maharani is a star, then the sun must certainly mean the Maharaja. We’ll vote for both. Immediately the vote would have been invalidated. Even up to the final day, Baby and I were far from sure that we had managed to get our point across.”

Symbols also gain significance when the names of political parties sound similar. For example, political parties by the names of “Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam”, “All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam”, “Dravida Kazhagam”, “Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam”, “Makkal Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam”, “Kongu Desa Makkal Katchi”, “Kongunadu Makkal Desia Katchi”, and “Kongunadu Makkal Katchi” contest elections in Tamil Nadu. The names of all the political parties bear similarities due to the usage of the same words with certain additions or deletions.

The allocation of Symbols to political parties would help voters identify and distinguish between political parties which have similar sounding names. It is precisely because of the close association of the symbol with the political party by voters that both factions of the party vie for the symbol that is allotted to the Party when there is a split in a recognised political party.

First past the post form of election

India follows the open-list first past the post form of election in which votes are cast for a candidate and the candidate who secures the highest number of votes is chosen to represent the people of that constituency. It could be argued that this system of elections gives prominence to candidates and not political parties unlike the system of closed list of elections where the voters do not have any knowledge of the candidates that are set up by the Political Party.

However, it cannot be concluded that the decision of voting is solely based on the individual candidate’s capabilities and not the political party merely because the voter has knowledge of the candidate who has been set up by the political party.

Such a conclusion cannot be definitively drawn particularly in view of the design of the electoral voting machine which has a list of the names of the candidates who are contesting the election from the constituency along with the symbol of the political party which is fielding the candidate. Voters casts their votes based on two considerations: the capability of the candidate as a representative and the ideology of the political party.

Electoral manifestos

Political parties publish electoral manifestos containing the ideology of the party, major policies of the political party, plans, programmes and other considerations of governance which would be implemented if they came to power. While political manifestos do not necessarily always translate to policies when the party is elected to power, they throw light upon the integral nature of political parties in the electoral system.

By publishing an election manifesto, a political party communicates to the voters that they must accord preference to the political party. Party manifestos prod voters to look away from a candidate centric and towards a party centric perception of elections.

Westminister system of government

Lastly, the prominence of political parties as electoral units is further heightened by the form of government in India. India follows a Westminister system of government which confers prominence to political parties without strictly separating between the legislature and the executive. The time-honoured convention of the cabinet form of government is that the leader of the political party with absolute majority must be called to form the government.

The Council of Ministers is appointed by the President on the aid and advice of the Prime Minister. Political parties are intrinsic to this form of government because of the very process of government formation. The recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission on the exercise of discretion by the Governor when no single political party commands an absolute majority, which has been given judicial recognition in Rameshwar Prasad v. Union of India,[2] also prioritises political parties making them central to the governance structure.

The centrality of political parties in the electoral system is further accentuated by the inclusion of the Tenth Schedule. The Tenth Schedule deals with disqualification on the ground of defection from the political party which set up the elected individual as its candidate. Paragraph 2 provides the following grounds of defection:

a. Voluntarily giving up membership of the political party; and

b. Voting or abstaining from voting in the House contrary to direction issued by the political party without obtaining prior permission from the political party and when such voting has not been condoned by the political party.

The underlying principle of anti-defection law which has been recognised by a seven-Judge Bench of the Court in Kihoto Hollohon v. Zachillhu,[3] is that a candidate set up by a political party is elected on the basis of the programme of that political party.

In the course of years, while deciding disputes related to the Tenth Schedule, judgments of the Court have further strengthened the centrality of political parties in the electoral system.

In Ravi S Naik v. Union of India[4], the Court observed that voluntarily giving up membership of a political party has a wider connotation and includes not just resignation of the member from the party and an inference can also be drawn from the conduct of the member.

In Subash Desai v. Principal Secretary, Governor of Maharashtra,[5] a Constitution Bench of this Court while interpreting the provisions of the Tenth Schedule held that the political party and not the legislature party (which consists of the members of the House belonging to a particular political party) appoints the Whip of a political party for the purposes of Paragraph 2(1)(b) of the Tenth Schedule.

[1] Gayatri Devi and Santha Rama Rau, A Princess remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur, (Rupa

Publications 1995) [301].

[2] (2006) 2 SCC 1

[3] (1992) Supp (2) SCC 651 [4]

[4] AIR 1994 SC 1558

[5] WP (C) No. 493 of 2022