Besides reiterating its support for holding simultaneous elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has also suggested a plan B – a ‘one year, one election’ plan. The Commission suggests that all the elections due in a particular year be held together. According to a news report, “currently, the Commission currently conducts elections together for states where the term of assemblies end within a few months of each other. This is because Section 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits the EC from notifying elections more than six months before the term of a state assembly is about to expire.”
But why is there much ado about simultaneous elections, and how did it come about in the current mainstream political discussion?
According to another article, “the Election Commission had suggested as early as in 1983 that a system should be evolved so that elections to Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies could be held simultaneously.” However, the official discussions between lawmakers began much later. In December 2015, a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice recommended that the terms of current Assemblies be curtailed or extended to align with the new simultaneous election-cycle. Former President Pranab Mukherjee too expressed his support for holding simultaneous election in a joint parliamentary session.
President Ram Nath Kovind, in his customary address to the Parliament during the Budget session, asked the political parties to come at a consensus regarding this issue. NITI Aayog, too, prepared a paper summarising the arguments in favour of simultaneous election. Not surprisingly, PM Modi and the BJP has supported the idea of ‘one nation, one election’.
Nevertheless, holding simultaneous elections will require major changes to the Constitution of India. According to a Financial Express report, “Article 83, which deals with the duration of Houses of Parliament, will have to be tweaked, along with Article 85 (dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President), Article 172 (duration of state legislatures), Article 174 (dissolution of state assemblies) and Article 356 (President’s Rule), to facilitate simultaneous polls.” In this context, The Chairman of the Law Commission of India, former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice (retd.) B S Chauhan informed The Indian Express that it will require amendments in the Representation of People’s Act as well.
However, for me, all the reasons cited by the government seem to be unconvincing when weighed against the arguments against it, such as,
1. Massive expenditure
The Election Commission spends approximately ₹ 8,000 crores are spent on all state and federal election in five years. In a country with 600 million voters, this sum is not huge at all and a basic calculation shows that ₹27 per voter is spent, if the given sum is to be believed. On the other hand, holding simultaneous elections in 2019 will require two sets of 24 lakh EVMs and VVPATs.
2. Keeping security and civil staff away from their primary duties
Simultaneous elections will require hordes of security and civil staff members to control the chaos and ruckus that may happen in such an election. Considering the size of our country and the number of government workers, one can only wonder how the demands will be fulfilled without stopping the workers from performing their duties.
3. Impact on governance due to the Model Code of Conduct
The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicks in as soon as an election is announced in a particular state by the ECI. Currently, the MCC in one state does not disrupt the activities of parties in other states not going into their polls. However, this problem with the MCC must be resolved by reforming this particular criteria and not the entire electoral process.
4. Flow of black money and disruption of normal public life
This can only be stopped if the political parties keep self-checks. They should also balance and regulate their actions during campaigning. Simultaneous elections will not change the scenario in any way.
Praveen Chakravorty, while writing for The Hindu, cites his research to state that in the case of simultaneous election, national issues will likely dominate over the particular issues in the states, which may well be neglected. According to him, voters often tend to vote for the same party at the state and the central level. If this is to be believed, the concept of simultaneous election is anti-democratic, which also impinges on the political autonomy of the state and the federal structure of the country.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.