In a couple of quick interviews to Zee News and Times Now, Prime Minister (PM) Modi has made it pretty clear that the BJP is all for holding simultaneous elections (that is, synchronised elections for the national and state legislatures, panchayats and urban local bodies).
The PM pointed out that continuous elections hamper the development agenda of the government. He also mentioned the large amount of money which could be saved by simultaneous elections.
This is not the first time someone has come up with this idea. In fact, from 1952 to 1967, India witnessed simultaneous elections. However, this ended as the assemblies and the parliament were often dissolved before their constitutional term of five years.
And this is the same problem which PM Modi fails to address. What happens if a state’s legislative assembly dissolves before five years? Presently, this is handled by Article 172(1) of the Indian Constitution, which states :
“Every Legislative Assembly of every State, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer and the expiration of the said period of five years shall operate as a dissolution of the Assembly.”
The key phrase to note here is – ‘unless sooner dissolved’. Today, if a state’s assembly is dissolved, as was the case in Delhi in 2015, fresh elections are scheduled for that state. However, if simultaneous elections are to be held, this will be a major problem, since fresh elections for a single state will take away all the benefits of simultaneous elections.
Similarly, what happens if the Lok Sabha is dissolved before five years? This is stated by Article 83(2) of the Indian Constitution :
“The House of the People, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer and the expiration of the said period of five years shall operate as a dissolution of the House”
Thus, presently, simultaneous elections seem to be constitutionally invalid, since they violate articles 83(2) and 172(1) of the Indian Constitution. However, they can be held by amending the above-mentioned articles, along with the Representation of the People Act and other similar laws. The Election Commission doesn’t seem very optimistic about this, saying that it will take a lot of time to prepare the legal framework for holding simultaneous elections.
However, we still haven’t heard – either from the PM or the Chief Election Commissioner – on how these amendments may solve these problems, or how they may change our elections system.
Also, it must be noted that these amendments (if done) may possibly be challenged in the courts, since they seem to fundamentally alter the Constitution’s democratic and federal character.
Despite this, Modi seems hell-bent on implementing simultaneous elections. We shall see in the coming future how successful he’ll be.