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One Nation, One Election: The Case Against Simultaneous Election

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Before proceeding on the discussion of simultaneous election, let me cite an instance from our Constituent Assembly debate, to show how they had already foreseen the problem we are dealing with today. While discussing Article 289 of the Draft Constitution Prof. Shibban Lal Saksena stated, “Our Constitution does not provide for a fixed four years election cycle like the one in the United States of America. The elections will probably be almost always going on in some province or the other. We shall have about thirty provinces after the States have been integrated. Our Constitution provides for the dissolution of the Legislature when a vote of no confidence is passed. So, it is quite possible that the elections to the various Legislatures in the provinces and the Centre will not be all concurrent. Every time some election or other will be taking place somewhere. It may not be so in the very beginning or in the very first five or ten years. But after ten or twelve years, at every moment some election in some province will be going on. …in our Constitution all the elections will not synchronise but they will be at varying times in accordance with the vote of no-confidence passed in various Legislatures and the consequent dissolution of the Legislatures.[i]

The One Nation, One Election policy has been one of the foremost objectives of the NDA government. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister has, on several occasions, pitched his support in favour of simultaneous election. After attaining sweeping mandate in the 17th Lok Sabha election, the question of a simultaneous election has been one of his priorities. On 19th June he called for the meeting of all the parties to discuss the subject of the “implementation of simultaneous election”. However, the policy of “one nation, one election” is not feasible, and what we instead need is “one nation few elections.”

The NITI Aayog, in its discussion paper, has already pitched its support in favour of the simultaneous election. The Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievance, Law and Justice (Parliamentary Committee) in its 79th Report (2015) also spoke in favour of simultaneous election. The reasons cited by both the reports include: reduction in economic expenditure in conducting separate elections, frequent Model Code of Conduct (MCC) implementation leas to policy paralysis and government deficit, disruption of public life and suspension of essential services and availability of manpower for other purposes (since a large number of personnel are deployed in every election like CAPF, home guards etc.)

However, it needs to be remembered that even NITI Aayog and parliamentary committee advocated for simultaneous election in two phases. Phase I, which was to be held with 2019 Lok Sabha election, wherein the elections of all the state Legislatures whose term was expiring close to the Lok Sabha election was to be held with General Election. The Phase II was to be conducted 30 months from the 2019 general election, i.e. in October-November 2021. The word “simultaneous” is thus interpreted in the broader sense and not literal sense.

The simultaneous two-phase election does remedy a few criticisms against it; however, it doesn’t appear to be the best alternative. Election Commission of India while giving its recommendations[ii] on conducting simultaneous election observed that “….it is considered that the above proposals for having uniform and synchronised term for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies are not feasible, an alternative proposal would be to consider provisions to have all elections, falling due in a year together in a particular period of the year. In this arrangement, the advantage would be that the general elections to various Legislative Assemblies falling due in a year will be held together and not at different periods in the year. In the year in which the Lok Sabha election is due, all the Assembly elections of that year may also be held. This arrangement will also require the amendments discussed above as well as extension or curtailment of the term of some of the Houses as a one-time measure.” Hence ECI has favoured the model of one election per year.

The Law Commission of India in its draft report on the simultaneous election (August 30, 2018), while citing various options also advocated the Election Commission’s view of holding one election in each year. This model can help in attaining the objective of the simultaneous election.

One Nation Few Elections

Almost 4–5 elections happen in our country every year—disrupting the various governmental machinery and public life. The remedy for this problem is discussed and debated on many occasions. One such solution—as advocated by our Prime Minister and later President himself—is a simultaneous election. However, the solution comes with its own sets of fallacies. Therefore we need something that was recommended by ECI as discussed above, that is, one election for one year.

The list below provides a tentative list of simultaneous election for different states from 2019 to 2024:

Starting from 2020, the ECI can hold the election of four states together at such time of the year factors that will facilitate the carrying of an election in such areas, like climate conditions. However, the organization of election once in a year will also require extension/curtail of the terms of various State Legislatures. The guidelines provided by Election Commission and Law Commission regarding amendment of Constitutional and statutory provision shall be followed for the purpose. This is required for first time synchronization of state elections.

Preventing Policy Paralysis And Government Deficit

As soon as the date for the election is announced, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is applicable in the entire state/union; MCC is a set of guidelines which parties have mutually agreed to abide by. The application of the Model Code of Conduct refrains the government from:

  1. Announcing any financial grants,
  2. Laying foundation stones for any scheme, project etc.,
  3. To make any promise of providing any facility to the area in future or
  4. Make any ad hoc appointments in any public undertakings, government etc.

However, MCC applies only to state or constituency, which is going for the poll and not applicable in providing emergency services to the public. MCC doesn’t result in complete administrative paralysis, but the government still refrains from introducing any scheme/policy.

Niti Aayog points out that roughly two months are wasted because of MCC. The one election per year policy will thus result in loss of almost 10 months to the ruling government in one term of the Lok Sabha. However, given the complexity associated with “one election”, this bargain needs to be adopted.

Securing Federal Character Of The Country

One of the major criticisms against the simultaneous election is that it will damage the federal character of the country. The national parties, such as the ruling/governing party, would use the benefit of one significant election once in five years. Since national parties are more economically robust and simultaneous election will lead to the marginalization of regional parties. Additionally, it is also argued that the election will only be contended on national subjects and state subjects will lose the importance they hold in a state election.

A study published by IDFC institute concluded that there is an average of 77 % chance that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both state and centre when elections are held simultaneously. The author took the help of the data of four Lok Sabha elections 1999, 2004, 2009 and 201,  and data of the states whose election coincided with Lok Sabha election. The trend of choosing the same party has gone from 68% in 1999 to 77% in 2004 to 76% in 2009 to 86% in 2014. In 2019, Lok Sabha election coincided with the state elections of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim, wherein the following trends were seen:

The above data conclusively proves the IDFC finding and thus showing that simultaneous election results in one-party rule in both state and centre. Therefore conducting one election at one time will lead to bringing one-party rule all over India, thereby weakening the federal structure and creating a situation of autocracy.

Efficient Utilization Of Personnel

Conducting elections is a mammoth, complicated and time-consuming process. The ECI deploys various polling officials and armed forces for conducting a smooth election. As per Home Ministry, 2019 Lok Sabha elections witnessed the highest number of security official deployment for any election in India. Over 2.7 lakh paramilitary personnel and over 20 Lakh state police personnel and house guards were deployed for the purpose. The state of Jammu and Kashmir and Bengal witnessed a massive deployment of personnel including companies of Border Security Forces, Central Reserve Police Force, Sashastra Seema Bal, Central Industrial Security Force, and Indian reserve battalion of different states.

Conducting simultaneous election would require the war-like deployment of personnel. Since certain parts of India require special attention like J&K, Bengal, Assam and tribal states; the demand for armed forces is going to increase manifold. This would entail calling the paramilitary, state police, home guards and military to monitor the situation. This, in turn, will make the borders wore susceptible to external aggression compromising the security of the nation.

Yearly election balances both the scale of regular involvement of armed forces in the election and total deployment of armed forces in one election. This would allow the utilization of armed forces for other purposes for the remaining period of the year.

Economically Feasible

Strategic Plan 2016–25, published by ECI states that, “Indian general election are the largest event management exercise on earth during peace times”.[iii] ECI has to employ various resources for conducting election like:

  • Polling officials for supervision and conduct of election,
  • Supply of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), including Central Units (CUs), and Balloting Units (BUs) for voting at each polling situation,
  • Transpiration and storage of poll-related materials: EVMs, inks, paper for electoral rolls, VVPATs, digital camera etc.
  • Transportation requirement
  • Secure room for the storage of EVMs till counting, and other resources may be required as well.

Conducting simultaneous election would require investment on all the above fronts. A rough assessment of the 2014 Lok Sabha election indicates that approximately two EVMs per polling station is required. Now the simultaneous election would require buying more such EVMS by ECI. The NITI Aayog study points out that for conducting Phase 1 election (Lok Sabha+14 State Assemblies), ECI needs to purchase an additional 8.6 lakh BUs and 8 lakh CUs. The Parliamentary Committee report also mentions that ECI expects an expenditure of 9300 crore for procurement of EVMs and VVPATs. Expenditure of such magnitude will put pressure on the state exchequer. The Law Commission in its draft report also points out that apart from EVM other infrastructure also needs a considerable overhaul, such as warehousing facility.

The EVMS are, however, reusable and have a life span of 15 years. Burdening the state and the Union exchequer with such huge sum may not be a feasible option. As India is still in developing state with current agrarian and economic crisis, an additional burden may lead to unwanted events. The monetary expenditure distributed within five years will not be a burden for the state. The infrastructure for polling can also be developed without compromising the efficiency of the election procedure.

The First Annual Report of the Election Commission of India 1983, 170th Report of Law Commission of India, report of the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution 2002, 255th Report of the Law Commission of India, 79th Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee 2015, Working paper of Niti Aayog, and the draft report of the Law Commission of India 2018, all this literature discuss the concept of simultaneous election in detail and answer the possible constitutional and statutory solution to the problem of regular election. However, one thing that is agreed to is that “simultaneous election” should not be construed in a literal sense. Having one election for the entire nation will be against our unique federal structure. One election for one year provides for the smooth functioning of the country, where we need few elections in our nation…

[i]Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. VIII, 15th June 1949 available at Assembly_On_Elections.pdf.

[ii] 79th report of Department related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievance, Law and Justice.

* J&K Assembly is currently under Governor’s rule

[iii] Paragraph 10.0 Strategic Plan 2016-2025 published by Election Commission of India

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