Political parties are supposed to submit their election expenditure statement within 75 days of the completion of a Assembly general election and within 90 days of the completion of the Lok Sabha General Election. The National People’s Party founded by former Lok Sabha Speaker, P A Sangma became the first political party whose recognition is suspended for failing to submit the election expenditure statement despite reminders.
While the Election Commission of India (ECI) is widely known conducting free & fair elections, it has always been in the dock for not taking action against candidates and parties who flout various laws. It is in this context, that the ECI’s action to suspend the recognition of the National People’s Party of P A Sangma assumes significance. It is for the first time that the recognition of a party has been suspended by the Commission.
The Supreme Court of India issued directions in 1996 in the case of ‘Common Cause Vs Union of India’ to the extent that the ECI has the authority and can issue directions to the political parties requiring them to submit details of the expenditure incurred by them in elections.
Following this order, the ECI had earlier issued instructions to all the political parties to file their election expenditure statement within 75 days in the case of a general election to an assembly and within 90 days in the case of a general election to the Lok Sabha.
What happened now?
The National People’s Party (NPP) was established by the former speaker of the Lok Sabha, P A Sangma in 2013. It contested the Meghalaya assembly elections in 2013 and won 2 out of 60 seats and close to 9% of the total vote share. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, P A Sangma won from Tura in Meghalaya. Hence the NPP was recognized as a state party in Meghalaya. (What is a recognized state party? Read here)
The ECI had issued instructions to all the parties to file their Lok Sabha 2014 election expenditure statement by 26th August 2014 (the end of the 90 day period). The ECI had issued two reminders to the NPP to submit the expenditure statement to which there was no response. Finally, the ECI issued a show cause notice on 17th March, 2015 to NPP asking them as to why action should not be taken under para 16A of The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 for failure to follow the lawful directions of the ECI.
What is Para 16A of The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order?
Para 16A of the said order empowers the ECI to suspend or withdraw the recognition of a recognized political party if the ECI is satisfied that a national party or a state recognized party has failed to follow its lawful instructions/directions.
The NPP on its part has asked for time from the ECI on receipt of the show cause notice and promised to file the expenditure statement by 15th April, 2015. The party asked for a further extension up to 15th May, 2015. Even after the revised timeline, the party did not honour the deadline.
What will happen now?
The ECI in its order dated 12th June, 2015 suspended the recognition of NPP as a state party in Meghalaya as per para 16A for failure to follow its lawful directions. The order also asked NPP to show cause within three weeks as to why the recognition should not be withdrawn.
Suspension is not permanent withdrawal of recognition. It is only a temporary measure. The recognition of NPP can still be reinstated, provided the ECI is satisfied with the explanation of NPP. This action of the ECI is not only rare, but, the first of its kind in its history. Let’s hope the ECI uses the powers at its disposal more regularly.