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Why Simultaneous Elections In India Are Destined To Fail

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.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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