It’s advantage Shinde, for now - Hindustan Times
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It’s advantage Shinde, for now

ByHT Editorial
Feb 19, 2023 08:58 PM IST

The ECI’s Shiv Sena order raises key issues of inner-party democracy but the final verdict on the row may come from the electorate

As the 1960s came to a close, the Indian National Congress was in turmoil. A tussle between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and a group of old party leaders, led by then-party chief S Nijalingappa, was roiling Indian politics. An unprecedented presidential election saw Ms Gandhi’s nominee VV Giri secure a narrow victory against the party’s official nominee, N Sanjiva Reddy, precipitating Ms Gandhi’s expulsion and a vertical split in the party. Both sides rushed to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and then the Supreme Court (SC), and out of these proceedings emerged a triple test to determine which faction in a party split would gain control of the party. Half a century later, this doctrine was put to use by ECI on Friday to resolve the most fractious political factionalism dispute in recent years — that of the vertical split in the Shiv Sena, which brought down the government in Maharashtra last year.

Given the emotional connection in Maharashtra to the name and symbol of the Sena, this is a definite advantage for the Shinde faction ahead of crucial municipal elections in Mumbai (HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
Given the emotional connection in Maharashtra to the name and symbol of the Sena, this is a definite advantage for the Shinde faction ahead of crucial municipal elections in Mumbai (HT PHOTO)

ECI considered the claims made by rival camps — one headed by Maharashtra chief minister (CM) Eknath Shinde and the other by party founder Bal Thackeray’s son Uddhav Thackeray — on three benchmarks. On the first test — objectives of the party constitution — the poll watchdog found that the 2018 document adopted by the party was undemocratic, concentrated power in the hands of a few and brought back provisions deemed unacceptable by ECI in 1999. The second test —- that of the majority in the party’s organisational wing — was also deemed insufficient because of unclear data about office bearers and the finding that the national working committee was largely nominated. Therefore, based on the third prong — the test of majority in the legislative wing — the poll panel awarded the name of the original party and its bow and arrow symbol to the Shinde faction.

Given the emotional connection in Maharashtra to the name and symbol of the Sena, this is a definite advantage for the Shinde faction ahead of crucial municipal elections in Mumbai. But another observation merits a note — ECI’s warning to political parties to clean up their internal processes, draft democratic constitutions and engender transparent functioning. Given the opaqueness with which most parties function (and the associated murkiness of financing and campaign laws), this appears a real stretch. The Thackeray faction may contend that to term the Sena constitution undemocratic when most family-run parties function as fiefs is unfair, and that ECI’s decision was influenced by pressure from the Union government, but this is for the SC to adjudicate. Ultimately, in a democracy, the majority rules. And whether in 1971 or 2023, that verdict will come from the electorate, the ultimate arbiter of who the inheritor of the Thackeray legacy is.

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