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New Delhi: The Election Commission (EC) on Monday provided relief to political parties who were at risk of losing their national status after the drubbing they suffered in the 16th general election.

It amended the rules to say that performance over two consecutive general or assembly elections, as opposed to one, would be the measure to determine their status.

The immediate beneficiaries are the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI).

Denial of national status, among other things, would mean the potential loss of their existing symbols to any other political party the EC may recognize.

The amendment is retrospective in nature and is effective from 1 January 2014, which is months ahead of the 16th Lok Sabha election in which all three political parties performed poorly.

The EC had served them notices in 2014 on the issue.

Currently, there are six national parties: Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, BSP, NCP, CPI and Communist Party of India (Marxist); and 64 recognized state parties in India.

The poll watchdog has amended Section 6C, which deals with conditions for continued recognition as a national or state party under The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.

The amendment says that “if a political party recognized as a state party or national party fails to fulfil the conditions... at the next general election” to Lok Sabha or state assembly “shall continue to be treated as recognized state party or national party”, according to the notification issued by the EC on Monday.

A political party shall be eligible to be recognized as a national party if it fulfils one of the three conditions:

1. The candidates fielded by the party, in any four or more states, at the last general election to the Lok Sabha, or to the legislative assembly of the state concerned, have secured not less than 6% of the total valid votes polled in each of those states at that general election, and, in addition, it has returned at least four members to the Lok Sabha at the aforesaid last general election from any state or states.

2. At the last general election to the Lok Sabha, the party has won at least 2% of the total number of seats in the Lok Sabha, any fraction exceeding half being counted as one, and the party’s candidates have been elected to that House from not less than three states.

3. The party is recognized as a state party in at least four states.

On the same lines, there are detailed criteria prescribed by the EC for assembly polls to be recognized as a state party.

“It will help some political parties and give them immediate relief. The useful part is that it will allow political parties to have a long-term perspective because they have 10 years to retain their status. However, whether it will be used productively in that spirit by political parties cannot be speculated,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder-member of the New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

“It would have been useful if the EC in its notification had clarified the reason or rationale for taking a step like this because this is what transparency is all about. If it is not in public domain; one does not know why it is being done,” he added.

The key benefit of being a national or state party is that it allows its candidates to use a uniform party symbol in any election, state or national.

In addition, they also get dedicated broadcast slots on national public broadcasters such as Doordarshan and All India Radio during the general elections.

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