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One Nation, Many Elections: Will The BJP Maintain The Win They Devised So Carefully?

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Admittedly, I am what you could call a ‘right wing’ supporter in the Indian context. However, over the past few years, the reactionary nature and functioning of the current government has baffled me. Whether their handling of issues like campus protests, academic appointments or something else, everything seems more a game of “tu-tu, main-main” than constructive policy.

A race to beat their predecessors in their own game – fueled by vengeance more than anything else. In a bid to outdo all wrongs committed by their earnest opponents in the past, instead of a refined and nuanced structural reform all that seems to be coming is a shrill, reactionary response. I’d love instead – a well-thought formulation which would outlive the messiah PM Modi, and stay in place even when mere mortals take office. So let’s talk in terms of hypothetical situations they’d be able to relate with.

First and foremost, historically, India began with a synchronised election schedule. So, why didn’t it work? Because in a parliamentary democracy like ours, we’ve traded stability for democracy. For those interested, there were a number of debates where JRD Tata argued for a presidential government in India, and later elsewhere Dr Ambedkar explained why the constituent assembly chose ‘democracy’ over ‘stability.’

In that stride, over the years various governments have been reduced to a minority and thus push for elections without completing their term, while some elections have thrown up results with no front runner. A good example would be Karnataka, where since the 1980s, Mr Siddaramaiah was the first CM to complete a full five-year term. In the 1990s, India saw a string of unsuccessful coalitions till NDA I completed its five-year term in 2004.

So, what are the possibilities?

Case I: One Nation, One Election

The case the government seems to be pushing for. It suggests that (gradually? Or in the near long term?) all elections right from the panchayat to the central elections be conducted together. The argument being that just the way states like Delhi, Karnataka (in the past), Odisha, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh have cross-voted, the country can access whom they want at whichever level they choose.

Let’s take a hypothetical case, that the current Karnataka government of the opportunistically stitched JDS-Congress falls. What is your suggestion? Hold the elections in Karnataka till 2024? A full five years? In those five years, who rules Karnataka? Raj Bhavan?

How do you expect a political retiree with no knowledge of the grassroots, no plan for long term goals to lead? If you think you’ll allow your Superman Modiji to come to rescue you from Delhi. Let’s flip the situation. This time, the government in Delhi is led by another opportunistically stitched alliance with Madam Mamata as Home Minister? Even in our wildest dreams – God bless Karnataka.

Now let’s turn the situation, the Vajpayee government falls after just 13 months in power. So, effectively the country is rudderless for a full three years and 11 months? Somehow, lets parachute the Congress sycophant and former president Zail Singh across time to the situation. Effectively, you’ve handed the government on a silver platter to your worst dreams. God bless India.

Case II: One Nation, Two Elections

A case similar to the American system. Where right in the half-time of a president’s rule you have a round of gubernatorial and congressional elections. Sounds better? But, then as I said- India has traded stability for democracy. In this case, again, imagine the above case except now four or five years have been replaced by two and a half or three years. How does it seem? Once again, Mamata Banerjee is our HM, say a Vajpayee like situation occurs again? Again, God bless Karnataka and India.

Case III: One Nation, Three Elections

In this case, if a coalition fails, on average you have a state or the nation rudderless on average for little more than a year and a half. Good enough? I personally don’t think so.

Case IV: One Nation, Four Elections

In this case, on average you have a government rudderless for at most, a year. This seems okay, right? I mean, on average, it seems even if some coalition breaks down, it’s not too long till the next election?

But… alas! This is exactly the system that is existing! In engineering terms, this is the natural frequency to which a system returns when all external forces cease to act. So much for the love of nature, our electoral system has found its natural frequency.

So here’s my take – the government has seriously identified a legitimate concern. But then, the solution seems more a knee-jerk reaction than a constructive policy. If we go down the lane of history, dismissing governments, suspending elections have had catastrophic effects.

In Kashmir, it pushed till the radical outfits and militancy broke out. In states like Punjab, it pushed away from the political mainstream and grew a distrust towards what is seen as the Delhi Durbar. Subverting of democracy during the emergency, gunning down opponents and students by calling them Naxals, and widespread rigging and violence under Congress’ Siddhartha Ray Sarkar brought the rule of CPM to Bengal. In states like Assam, it could well bring back insurgents like ULFA. Not to mention the disasterous effect – Maharashtra polls and Gujarat polls would no longer be about “Marathi manoos,” or “Gujarati asmita.” State issues would always drown in the ensuing chaos and frenzy of national rhetoric.

Increased digitalisation, better logistics, clubbing more elections together by extending some governments by a few months, and cutting short the term of few by a few months may be our best bet at the moment!

Featured image source: Vijayanand Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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