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Want to join a political party? You won’t believe things you have to do, like quit booze

Congress and BJP want their applicants to make numerous pledges, while Communist parties have a long, complicated process. SP, NCP, Trinamool much easier to join.

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New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi’s who-all-are-here-to-drink question had caused many blushes at a meeting of state Congress chiefs a fortnight ago. It was in keeping with his old stand that denying party membership to someone who drinks — a condition that has been there in the Congress constitution since pre-Independence times — was impractical and outdated. Typical of the Congress, a decision on this issue was left hanging as the party launched its membership drive from 1 November. 

So, if you are an aspiring politician and love the company of Bacchus and his pards occasionally, the Congress is not the party for you at this point of time. Nor is Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Both of these political parties stipulate in their membership clause that to be a member, one must abstain from alcohol. Incidentally, those aspiring for RJD’s membership should also support Prohibition even though the party has been demanding a review of the law in Bihar.

ThePrint takes a look at the constitutions of different parties to see the “pledges”, “conditions” and other requirements that an aspiring politician must meet to become a member.

Pledges and commitments galore

As it is, the easiest parties to join seem to be the SP, the BSP, the AIMIM, the NCP and the Trinamool Congress while the most tedious are the CPI and the CPI(M). 

The common condition for all parties’ membership is that the applicant should be 18 years old. The only exception is the RJD, where the minimum age is 15 years. Another common condition put up by most parties is that the applicant should not be a member of any other political party (or ‘communal’ party in the SP’s case).

For membership of the Left parties, an applicant must be recommended by two members to the party bench, following which, the application is forwarded to a higher committee. The applicant then goes through a trial period as a ‘candidate member’ for a year for the CPI(M) and the six months for the CPI, during which they get ‘elementary education’ on the party constitution, values and policies. At the end of the year, the CPI(M) committee decides whether the person is ready and worthy of being a member of the party. In case of the CPI, the elementary education period of six months can be extended by another six months if the party is not satisfied with the applicant’s progress.   

If joining the CPI(M) was not hard enough, all members must also pledge to “strive to live up to the ideals of Communism and shall selflessly serve the working class and the toiling masses and the country, always placing the interests of the party and the people above personal interests”.

The joining process is much simpler for the Congress and the BJP, but they exact a lot of commitments from the aspiring members. Apart from no-drinking and no-intoxicant commitment, the Congress has eight more “conditions” for membership in its constitution.  The applicant has to be a “habitual weaver of certified khadi”, believe in an integrated society without distinction of religion or caste, undertake to perform tasks including manual labour, have no property in excess of ceiling laws, and must promote the principles of secularism, socialism and democracy. Besides, the applicant mustn’t practice untouchability.  

Speaking to ThePrint, senior Congress leader and MP Manish Tewari said the party constitution was drafted at a different time in history and things had moved rapidly in the past century. “There is a need to update the party constitution,” he said. 

Alluding to the provision of abstaining from alcohol and weaving khadi and partaking in manual labour, Tewari also said the party needed to rethink how viable many of the provisions are, as social realities have changed. “At that time, khadi was inserted as it had a very different connotation. We need to contemporise the party constitution as a whole,” he said.

The BJP, which claims to be the world’s largest party with 18 crore members, also expects a lot from its members, but more in terms of beliefs than lifestyle adjustments.   

The BJP’s eight-point “pledge” in its membership application form includes belief in positive secularism (sarv dharma sama bhava) and integral humanism (the applicant must understand this philosophy even before joining), commitment to nationalism and national integration. The applicant must subscribe to the Gandhian approach to socio-economic issues, leading to the establishment of egalitarian society. The applicant must also have belief in value-based politics and subscribe to the concept of secular state and nation not based on religion. An aspiring BJP member shouldn’t also believe in discrimination based on caste, sex or religion.  

Speaking to ThePrint, BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal said integral humanism, the concept propounded by Deendayal Upadhyaya, was essential to the party as it placed the human being at the centre of all concerns. 

“Any ideology driven party will want its members and cadres to follow certain ideals. BJP stands for non-appeasement, non-corruption and justice for all. We follow our ideology in the written form as well as practice,” he said. “The BJP is consistent about its beliefs, not like the Congress, which vacillates from one end to the other without any clarity on what it believes in.”

Mittal also took a dig at the Congress’ constitution, saying a party constitution is not a static document but a dynamic one, and therefore should change from time to time. 

“The Congress has outlived its utility. The party is very different now, compared to what it was when its constitution was drawn up. It is trying to encash on the legacy of the freedom movement and there are many things which are not relevant anymore,” Mittal asserted. 

Also read: Prashant Kishor’s prediction about BJP is bang on. India’s opposition has a lot to do with it

What other parties do

Most political parties demand allegiance to the Constitution of India and its principles such as socialism, secularism and democracy. Regional or state-based parties demand a promise for development of the region and people of the state. 

For example the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu mandates the promotion of Tamil language, culture and values, and adherence to all five of M. Karunanidhi’s slogans. Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal asserts building an Odisha that lifts all Odias and their self-respect and working towards a corruption-free and welfare state.

A person can join the Nationalist Congress Party’s “journey” by making a donation, while anyone who is 18 or older can walk into the Trinamool Congress, because it has no conditions or pledges. 

Aam Aadmi Party, which is now looking to make inroads in states such as Goa, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat after Delhi — also has a detailed constitution. This stands out for its stipulation that a person is only eligible to be a member of the party if they have “not been convicted of any offence involving moral turpitude”. It also provides that a person’s “membership shall cease if they have been convicted by a court of law for a crime involving moral turpitude”. 

Somnath Bharti, one of the founding members of the AAP, explained to ThePrint that moral turpitude means someone accused of something which is not acceptable in society — “an offence that is women-related, corruption-oriented, murder etc.”

“Our party was born in the fight against corruption and crimes related to it, therefore we take such offences very seriously,” he said. 

Listing examples of Sandeep Kumar, Asim Ahmed Khan and Jitender Singh Tomar, who were removed from the party, Bharti said all of their offences were against moral turpitude. 

Tomar was caught in a fake degree controversy; Kumar, a former Delhi government minister was suspended over an ‘objectionable CD’ that showed him in a compromising position with a woman; while Khan was suspended over allegations of taking a bribe to allow construction in his constituency. 

Among the parties that is most flexible in its membership rules is Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which has no fixed requirements. Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party mandates that all members work towards the development of Andhra Pradesh and the upliftment of Andhraites.

‘Party constitutions like mad jigsaw puzzle’

Speaking to ThePrint, social scientist Shiv Visvanathan explained that across parties, individual constitutions were more like a mad jigsaw puzzle that were not normative and had no vision. 

“Today, party politics and their constitutions are utterly disappointing. There is no vision, no imagination and no normativity. And you need these three for a consistent weave,” he said. 

Speaking about the Congress particularly, Visvanathan referred to its constitution as a “costume ball at a fancy dress party”. Highlighting the provisions of khadi and manual labour, he said these in today’s time are either “too ideological or too cosmetic”.

Speaking about the NCP and TMC and how their constitutions come across as “more flexible”, Visvanathan said both Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee were “desperately seeking power” and opting for a more tactical and pragmatic approach. 

Decoding the BJP’s style of working and its party constitution, Visvanathan said: “By making the RSS a mirror of civil society, the BJP has destroyed civil society. For the BJP, there is only the State and the RSS.”

AAP has now become a party dancing on thin ice, according to Visvanathan. He explained that the clause about moral turpitude is to fight a style of life that evokes corruption. “In present times, there is no party or political constitution which looks promising,” he opined. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s impending return as president is a win-win for both Congress and BJP


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