The Election Commission of India’s recent decision to suspend the recognition of P A Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP) — a state party in Meghalaya — for failing to file its expenditure statement for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is meant to send out a message to political parties that the poll watchdog means business, and that repeated violations will not go unpunished.
For political parties who routinely miss the deadline for filing statements, this action came as a surprise. But the rulebook lays it down clearly: All political parties who contest the Lok Sabha elections are mandated to file their election expenditure statement within 90 days of the completion of the polls.
The deadline for Assembly elections is 75 days after the poll process. Failure to comply with this can result in political parties losing their election symbol, and thereby their recognition.
For now, the NPP’s recognition has been suspended. A loss of recognition not only strips the party of its election symbol but also leads to loss of privileges — such as requiring only one proposer for filing nominations, entitlement to two sets of electoral rolls free of cost, and broadcast and telecast facilities over All India Radio and Doordarshan — that recognised parties enjoy.
But election after election, most national and state parties, with a few exceptions, consistently flout these rules. After the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, of the recognised national parties, only BSP, CPM and NCP filed their expenditure statements before the August 26 deadline (BJP, Congress and CPI filed their statements after the due date). Only 15 state parties stuck to the deadline.
The EC, until now, had chosen to wait patiently, getting parties to comply by wielding the stick but not actually using it. That changed on June 16 when Nirvachan Sadan (the EC headquarters) came out with its order on Sangma’s party. The order, the poll body hopes, will be a watershed and drive home its point: failure to comply with rules will attract strict penalty.
The process for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was completed on May 28 that year. Political parties were given a deadline of August 26, 2014, to file their expenditure statements. Six parties — Sangma’s NPP, Aam Aadmi Party, Haryana Janhit Congress (BL), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Kerala Congress (M) and People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh — had failed to meet the deadline.
In March this year, these six parties were issued show-cause notices, asking why their recognition should not be cancelled. While the other parties responded and filed their statements, Sangma’s NPP sought time, first until April 15, and then until May 15, to file the statements. It missed the May 15 deadline too.
The NPP has, since the suspension, made representations before the EC top brass — including Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi — trying to explain its stance. The party has argued before the EC that its failure to comply with the rules was more of an “oversight” than a case of “deliberate defiance”.
“Our party incurred nil expenditure during the last Lok Sabha polls. Our candidates spent individually on their poll campaigns and submitted their respective expenditure statements with their Returning Officers. Since the party had not incurred any expenses, we did not file the statements. It was more a case of oversight… an honest mistake,” NPP national secretary and treasurer Alok Goel said.
Amidst all this confusion, Sangma’s NPP has got a breather: the Election Commission has allowed it to use its symbol, the book, for the upcoming June 27 by-election in Chokpot.