Why Simultaneous Elections In India Are Destined To Fail

Posted by Adarsh Singh in Politics
February 6, 2018

Almost half a century ago, John Kenneth Galbraith, the US ambassador to India and a renowned economist, had called India a “functioning anarchy” while commenting on its state of affairs.

It’s 2018 now, and things are still pretty much the same, where governments come and go at a moment’s notice, where accountability to the taxpayer’s money is still a battle to be fought every single day and where inefficiencies and corruption are as commonplace as it was 50 years ago. In the 70 years of our existence, every strong leader (be it a man or woman) has stood before the masses promising to deliver goals that were promised during the first general elections back in 1952. Over the years, illustrious academicians, scholars and politicians have pointed out the many ills of our country to justify the case of unfulfilled promises. They have pointed fingers at one thing or the other, but no one seems to call out the real culprit, i.e. the political system that governs us.

Of late, there has been a constant realisation among the political elites in Lutyens that the system in its current form has long outlived its purpose as the frailties of the system are coming out in the open. This is especially true in the case of the 25-year-long volatile coalition government that witnessed in the 1990s – or the rise and dominance of one party in the Parliament, which is also riding roughshod over the other miniscule ‘minorities’.

Whatever the case be, it was indeed refreshing to see the ruling class wake up to the impending doom and go back to their drawing boards thinking of an alternate system of governance. In the babble of voices that followed, the ruling party and the Prime Minister threw caution to the wind (logic, in this case) and instead voiced for simultaneous Lok Sabha and State elections to be held in the country. According to them, this saved the exchequer a ton of money as the election cycle gets reduced. Along with that, the paramilitary forces and state police will be better utilised, and all the cabinet could focus on their work and not be digressed by the continuous moral code of conducts that the EC imposes every now and then.

So much is the need for change that the ruling dispensation is actually calling out to other parties to form a ‘political consensus’ and has even asked for a public debate on the matter. Well, towing the Prime Minister’s line I will add to the public discourse and simply tell you why this proposed system is destined to fail.

Post Independence, our country adopted the Westminster form of governance wherein people elect their representatives who then select a leader among themselves to govern on their collective behalf. In the years that followed, the nature of our democracy evolved from a single party dominance to that of a thriving multi-party system with the rise of various regional parties which changed our national politics forever. Even in the current Lok Sabha where the BJP enjoys a comfortable majority, a staggering total of 36 parties constitute the entire house which clearly shows the fragmented nature of our Indian polity.

The idea of simultaneous election is not something new and unique (after all, our first three elections took place simultaneously) but in such a scenario it would be nothing more than tomfoolery to expect elections to yield miraculous results when we know for a certain that it will produce inconclusive outcomes. To their credit, those now rooting for simultaneous polls have proposed a new notion of ‘constructive vote of no confidence’ to negate the effects of a hung house. This implies that no opposition government would be able to table a no-confidence motion unless it can simultaneously form an alternate government.

Even if this were the case, it will become more problematic as parties will be more reluctant to support each other, since they may not be able to influence the government. I’m sure we can all agree here that an executive, howsoever problematic and dysfunctional, is far better than a non-existing one. If and when parties do come to the realisation that no government can be formed and that re-elections are the only option left on the table, will it mean re-elections for all the states as well? Even when there’s a comfortable government in a state?

Leaving aside the theoretical nuances of the argument, let’s talk about democracy and the effects this will have on it. Simultaneous state and general elections will damage not only the democratic nature of our country but the federal structure as well. Regional issues will overlap national issues and vice versa. In fact, it is this continuous chain of elections which works – as a referendum, while also keeping the government on its toes (thereby making them more responsive to the ground realities) – as was witnessed in this year’s Budget, post the Gujarat elections.

Yes, elections do cost a lot – and the police can invariably be used in much better ways. But, in the end, the question we all need to ask here is not the cost – but at what cost? No amount of money can actually justify the reduction of elections into a once in a five-year cycle that makes our already incompetent, uncompassionate political class a more apathetic one. As Mr Shashi Tharoor points out, “democracy is not just about elections every five years but actually what happens in between.”

The US is the world’s oldest surviving democracy and has an electoral cycle more hectic and gruelling than anything we witness here.Yet, they have retained it – not because they are entitled to do so, but because they know it’s the right way to do it. As for the claims that the code of conduct hinders our very able and dedicated executive’s work – let’s all be very sure of one thing that they will find it in their heart to not prioritise or announce policies in areas where the code is imposed and for the time being. They won’t even shower their benevolence on other parts of the country where elections are still a few years away.

There can be no doubts regarding the shortcomings of the current system but simply tinkering with it and making quick fixes is not the solution in itself. What we all really need is a radical change and an alternate system on the lines of the US Presidential system, wherein the end focus is to deliver on promises and not just stay in power. Perhaps it’s time to pay heed to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the country’s 10th Prime Minister, who saw the perils of the system from close quarters and had this to say about our system of governance:

“I often wonder whether the Westminster model has been defeated by the Indian reality. Is it time to think in terms of a second republic? … Let there be a serious nationwide debate… We should not shy away from discussing the merits of even the presidential system of government.”