Over the past few years, BJP has been raising its pitch in favour of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and the state assemblies – also called one nation, one poll. It has been suggested that the polls to those state assemblies which are completing their five-year term within two and half years of the due date of next General Elections, slated to be held in April/May 2019, should be held simultaneously with Lok Sabha elections. And, for the remaining states, the elections should be held during 2024 Lok Sabha elections by extending their terms to that date if need be. The rationale given for this suggestion is that currently elections are held so frequently in India that the country is always in an election mode. If elections are held only once in five years, the governments will devote more time and energies to their primary task, which is to govern, and spend less time and energy to fighting elections.
On the face of it, there is merit in the above argument. But many people doubt the intentions of BJP. They think that in reality, BJP wants to make full use of the undeniable popularity of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Since most voters tend to vote for the same party at the centre as well at the state level if the elections are held simultaneously, Modi’s popularity can help BJP overcome the unpopularity of its chief ministerial candidates in the states. If that be the case, the BJP has not thought through its proposal as this strategy can backfire. It is possible that instead of Modi helping the BJP win in the state assemblies, the local unpopular cm candidates might damage the prospects of Modi as the PM candidate in the simultaneous elections.
Apart from the matters of governance and political considerations that come into play while analysing this proposal, there are some practical difficulties in implementing it. For example, if Lok Sabha or some of the state assemblies return with fractured mandates and no party or coalition of parties can form the government, will the country or the concerned states be compelled to have caretaker governments for four or five years till the next elections become due?
Nonetheless, to address the fundamental issue that governments at the centre and the states should devote more time to governance than to fighting elections a better proposal will be to hold elections only once a year. This should be done in a given time frame, say during the two months of October and November. This is a good time for electioneering, especially weather-wise. Also, being a festival season, a good time for the people to choose in the stress-free socio-political atmosphere. This way the terms of some state assemblies may have to be curtailed or advanced, but only by a few months.
To minimise the need for holding by-polls the law should be amended that a minister, Chief Minister or a Prime Minister can only be elected from among the elected members. This way no outside person can be sworn in as a minister, and there will be no need for him or her to get elected in six months of being sworn in. In any case, it is an insult to the electorate, as well as the elected members, when an outsider is thrust upon them as their leader. This practice must stop. All by-polls necessitated by death or resignation of some members too should be held only during October/November when yearly elections become due. This way a caretaker government, if it gets formed anywhere, will have to govern at the state level or the centre at the most for a year which is manageable.
The benefit of holding once-a-year elections, and that during the given period, will be that the governments can devise their governance agenda in a manner that does not get affected by any election code of conduct as they will know in advance when the code of conduct will be coming into effect. The Election Commission too can plan its activities and make its preparations more effectively. The EVMs and the VVPAT machines, which are prone to malfunction in hot weather, can also be expected to perform more smoothly when the weather is mild in October and November.
The above suggestion, if implemented, will result in a win-win situation for all concerned, be it the political parties, the candidates, the public and the Election Commission of India.