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The Concept Of Simultaneous Elections Needs To Be Discussed Holistically

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In recent months, “One Nation, One Election” concept is being widely discussed in newspapers article and tv news debates. The idea of simultaneous elections is not new in India. The first election in 1952 was conducted simultaneously. The same procedure was in practice till 1970, i.e. 1952, 1957, 1962 & 1967. This concept was ended when fourth Lok Sabha was dissolved early. , and the idea is also supported by the former President Pranab Mukherjee and current President Ram Nath Kovind.

What Is “One Nation, One Election” ?

In India, every year one or the other state is geared up for an election. This process of campaigning is often very tiring & the cost incurred is also very high. By this, the election fest likely becomes a never-ending process. Simultaneous election or the concept “One Nation, One Election” means a single voter will vote for both Lok Sabha elections as well as State Assembly elections on the same day, and elections can be conducted in phase wise manner in all the states. It aims for an election season for a fixed period instead of moving into the election fest in every year in different states.  If we look into the current election system, there is a lot of wastage of money & time because we know that elections are held in every five years of every state & whole country. It looks like rest of five years in one state, but if we see all states of India, it seems like the election is happening in every year & money is also waste for conducting every election separately.

Who backs in favour & who are against of the proposal?

Political parties are divided into the two groups, where some have supported the proposal, while others have called the proposal “impractical & unconstitutional”. After the Law Commission meeting, held on the first week of July of this year, the commission got a mixed response on ‘one nation, one poll’ concept. NDA ally Shiromani Akali Dal, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Samajwadi Party (SP) & Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) supported the idea. However, BJP ally Goa Forward Party opposed the concept, as did the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), All India Forward Block (AIFB), All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) & the Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS). Later, Rajinikanth Supports ‘One India, One Election’ Proposal as mentioning that  ‘One India, One Election’ is a good idea as it would save time & money of political parties. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar from JD(U) also extends support to the proposal & said that a consensus will have to be achieved before implementing this decision & it may take time even till 2024.

Here it is important to mention that the principle opposition party Indian National Congress, said it will consult other Opposition parties on the issue & they will exchange the notes & then will take the decision.

Meanwhile, the TMC, represented by MP Kalyan Bandhopadhyay, had opposed the concept stating that national issues would overshadow regional matters, and national parties with their “money power” would steal a march over smaller players.

Arguments in favour of simultaneous elections :

  1. Holding simultaneous elections will ensure consistency, continuity & governance, & elections then will only be the means to achieve this and not an end in themselves.
  2. Frequent elections pose a significant burden on resources — both human and financial resources. Security personnel and government officials are effectively put on election duty for many months in a year. If this proposal comes into effect, definitely this burden will reduce.
  3. Election days would be reduced & therefore working days would increase.
  4. If elections are held simultaneously to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures the ministers and MPs & MLAs will be free for at least four years to devote to their official duties and constituencies.
  5. There will be only one season of the election in every five years, so that development programme will likely get more importance by breaking the Endless Cycle of Elections & It will be less time-consuming.
  6. Improved governance, less wastage of government machinery. Efficient & effective implementation of government schemes due to of model code of conduct deployed only once.

Arguments in against of simultaneous election :

  1. The federalism of Indian polity has a unique character with every state evolving its specific format & time-table of political competition & throwing up its own set of priorities & issues. Meanwhile, the idea of simultaneous elections threatens to re-arrange, curb and flatten out this plural federalism by giving it a more presidential & unitary character.
  2. Rule by majority is the cardinal principle of Indian democracy. The concept “one nation. One election” goes against this principle since if elections are held simultaneously then house can’t be dissolved or there will be the problem to dismiss the government before the completing full five-year-term even if the ruling party is reduced to a minority in numbers.
  3. Even if elections are conducted simultaneously in the future, the events of the administrative rule if the government fails to run, no-confidence motion against the government will surely disrupt the balance. Which will not be good for India’s democratic system.
  4. As we know that India has 29 states and each state is having its own elected government, given the constitutional division of power, which gives the country a federal character. But simultaneous elections would hurt the smaller regional parties & we might see them disappearing from the political scene. The regional parties are the essence of the expression of regional needs & aspirations & issues relating to marginalised people, who have felt left out of the country’s development process.
  5. Center and states are equal and sovereign within their jurisdiction. Simultaneous elections may reduce the importance of the state elections, where regional issues will be ignored against of national issues. It may mix up issues of local and national issues in the minds of the voters. This may give a boost to regional & local matters, while national issues can take a set-back & it affects the concept of federalism.
  6. Simultaneous elections will relegate local issues or issues of the state importance to the background. This completely ignores the diversity of the country.
  7. The federal structure of India also might get compromised due to the possible domination of the national party democracy & regional parties may lose out in this format of the political competition.
  8. According to the Indian constitution, elections to Lok Sabha & Legislative assemblies have to be held within six months (respectively) of dissolving either of them. This is not possible if elections are held only at fixed durations. Also, if elections are not held within six months, it would be standing against India’s long-term democracy norms.

 I too have some questions :

The idea of Simultaneous Elections has been in discussion since long. Definitely, the Idea is sound well in theory, but there are certain problems associated with simultaneous election such as:

  1. If midterm elections then?
  2. If an assembly is dissolved earlier then?
  3. If a voter is not able to distinguish between national and local issues?
  4. Do state and national governments always last for five years?
  5. What happens if many state governments fall at the same time? Does that trigger nationwide elections?
  6. What happens if a state government falls before five years? Does the state wait for the next election cycle to elect the next government?

In my view, simultaneous election overlapped with the national and regional issues. India is a diverse country, and very region has their indigenous concerns where some get less importance, while some don’t get minimum focus. Along with this, Regional parties would find it difficult to grow at the national level.

If it’s the promise to minimise the cost of elections and to increase the work programmes, then I must say that public money can be saved easily by reducing wastage and eliminating corruption. Cost of elections are meagre when compared to scams like 2G and CWG, or Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya fleeing away with thousands of crores. On the other hand, to make the work culture better, there is a need for ‘goodwill’ to serve the people better, changing election practice might not help anymore. Also, the gimmicks like GST, Make In India, etc, have failed to live up to their tall promises.

To conclude, the Election Commission of India has given the idea a green signal and suggested five constitutional amendments to make simultaneous elections legal. There are a few advantages like saving money, spending less time campaigning, focusing on development but there is the lot of problems to introduce this proposal. In my views, this will worsen the central-state relations and affect the political, administrative and fiscal decentralisation. There are lots of pro & cons on this proposal, and lawmakers should take time to think on all the aspects of this proposal and deliver the perfect justification on the implementation of the proposal where India’s democratic and federal set up must be respectful. It should not be the ‘demonetisation’ kind of idea, where the public has to face brunt.

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