One Nation, One Election: Is It Time For India To Reinvent Its Election Process?

The idea of reintroducing simultaneous polls has left the public opinion divided with debates ranging from its feasibility to accusations of the government trying to sabotage the parliamentary form of democracy. People supporting the move argue that having simultaneous polls ensure smooth functioning of the government while its critics claim that such a move would undermine the federal spirit of our constitution. Arguments and counter-arguments are necessary for a vibrant democracy to sustain. Being the world’s largest democracy and one the fastest growing economies, is it time for India to reinvent its election process? The answer to the one nation, one election issue lies in this very basic question.

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The proposed one nation, one election deals with conducting parliamentary elections and state assembly elections at the same time (panchayat, municipal elections are excluded). The idea got momentum after the National Democratic Alliance came to power in 2014. Even though from 1952 to 1967 the Lok Sabha elections and state elections were held together, the cycle got disrupted following the political havoc in certain states. With growing clout of the regional parties, the hegemony of Congress party was challenged, and the then Congress central government constantly interfered in the state affairs with Article 356 (state emergency).

The idea of simultaneous polls came again in 1999 when it was suggested as a remedial method to improve nation’s election process in a report by the law commission of India headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy. But this idea was kept in cold storage since the government had coalition pressure to dodge the proposal. In 2015, the parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice, in a report to Parliament examined the feasibility of holding simultaneous polls.  Later in August, another report was released by the Law Commission which studied the constitutional and legal aspects of holding simultaneous polls. Immediately after returning to power in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave an aggressive call for clubbing Lok Sabha elections with state elections.

In a paper handed over to NITI Aayog, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai state in the introduction itself that It won’t be unreasonable to state that the Indian polity is perennially in an election mode. Barring a few exceptional years within a normal 5-year tenure of the Lok Sabha, the country witnesses, on an average, elections to about 5–7 State Assemblies every year”. With constant elections, developmental works take a side seat, and the entire politics gets driven by populism which political analysts sarcastically call as “good politics and bad economics”. Since Model Code of Conduct gets activated once Election Commission declares the dates for the poll, the developmental works largely remain on a standstill till the formation of a new government.

Political parties spend a massive amount of money for their campaigning, which can be relieved by simultaneous polls, and also, it is not necessary that people will choose the same party for both the tiers. For example, Odisha assembly elections and Indian Lok Sabha elections happened simultaneously, and there were pockets where BJP won the Lok Sabha seat while Biju Janata Dal won the legislative assembly seat. This clearly underlines the fact that Indian voters are mature enough to make their choice separately for the two tiers of governments. Also, simultaneous elections are more convenient for people, especially for people working in far off places so that they can also exercise their franchise without wasting it.

Even though simultaneous polls have their own benefit, their feasibility remains under the scanner. Having Lok Sabha elections and assembly elections together will eventually result in logistical problems like requiring double the number of voting and VVPAT machines, its transportation and safe storage. Even though the representatives of the Election Commission of India categorically briefed the media that the commission is very much equipped to hold simultaneous polls, its accuracy can only be tested with a thorough study. Additional polling stations and officers would be needed, which would result in a more complex election management mechanism. With large scale accusations by opposition parties of the central government trying to sabotage elections and asking for the reintroduction of the ballot paper, it wouldn’t be a wise move to club all the elections together for the time being.

To have a consensus on the issue, PM had invited leaders of 40 main parties of India to have a discussion. Out of them, 21 party heads attended the meeting while the rest of them abstained and a new committee was constituted to study the feasibility of simultaneous polls. When a large number of opposition parties give the discussion a miss, it would be much difficult for the government to galvanise support base—since simultaneous polls require constitutional amendment with a special majority. Since the government lacks the numbers in Rajya Sabha, for the time being, it rather remains unrealistic. In addition to a special majority in parliament, the constitutional amendment needs to be rectified by at least half of the state assemblies, which even complicates the matter further.

Many of the regional parties consider simultaneous elections as a threat to their existence. Since elections to Lok Sabha and state assembly would be held together, they fear that the national issues might overrule the regional politics making their brand of politics irrelevant. MIM chief Assaduddin Owaisi has called the proposed simultaneous polls as a “solution in search of a problem”. While political parties like Biju Janata Dal, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, AIADMK supported the idea of clubbing polls, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Indian National Congress opposed the idea vehemently.

As per the ECI, there are 2200 unrecognised political parties in India (i.e. neither national parties nor state parties). Many of these parties are confined only to a few geographical localities and are operational just for money laundering purposes, making use of the tax exemption clause associated with the funding of political parties. Maybe simultaneous polls can permanently put an end to misusing of political parties.

The opposition has raised the issue of federalism with simultaneous polls. They claim the idea as an assault on the constitution which calls India a “Union of State” where states are constitutional administrative units. Questions are being raised on an event where no single party or a coalition gets the majority in the Lok Sabha or state assembly election. What will happen if the central government or state governments of certain states fall within a few months after its formation? Can a state be kept under governor’s rule for say four years? Does the constitution permit it? If the state has to undergo mid-term polls, wouldn’t it be a financial burden to have it for a period less than five years? These are valid questions before the establishment to address.

Beyond doubt, it could be stated that a simultaneous poll is a vibrant idea which has the potential to revolutionise India’s electoral system. Even though the idea is contested raising concerns about its feasibility, being a powerful nation with deeprooted commitment towards democracy, India can prove its critics wrong. To make the polls smoother the elections can be held in multiple phases which channelize proper deployment of security personals and officials for smoothly conducting elections.

India has lost many years of its glory due to coalition governments which lasted just for a couple of months. Simultaneous polls can encourage people not to give a split verdict and have governments  formed with required numbers which ensure stability. Opposition parties shying away even from a wider discussion on the very same topic is unhealthy for the spirit of democracy. If the present government can make consensus across the political spectrum, one nation, one election is an idea which will remould India’s political landscape to suit the world of progress and aspirations.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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