On 12 April, India surpassed Brazil to record the second-highest COVID cases thanks to super-spreader events and uncontrolled election rallies and campaigns. The election commission imposed virtually no restrictions on the campaigning of political parties.
The worst part was the irresponsible statement by the Prime Minister while campaigning in West Bengal. He said, “Today, in all directions, I have seen such a rally for the first time…today you have shown such a force, such power…wherever I see, I just see people.”
With these words, it can be understood that even people holding key offices under the constitutions give precedence to winning votes rather than protecting the country. Of course, appealing to people is the right of any party person. But is this the way to do it, without any consideration of the present situation?
Another debatable aspect is the involvement of key central level executives (executive refers to the Council of Ministers headed by the PM) in campaigning for state assembly elections. The involvement is quite normal, irrespective of the party in power. But the COVID world proves to be a war-like situation every day for the frontline workers, government officers and the people.
So even in these situations, should the persons holding important executive offices under the constitution prioritise campaigning for state elections for their party, overlooking the constitutional obligation and the mandate given by the people in 2019?
Even in normal circumstances, frequent elections at states and subsequent involvement of central level executives for campaigning disrupts the governance at the centre. This leads to the case of Government deficit. To address these governance deficits, there are two solutions:
Let’s see the possibility of both the solutions.
No. But Why?
For reducing the frequency of elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier pitched for simultaneous elections (one nation, one election). A simultaneous election is defined as structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner such that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronised together.
The reason sought by the proponents of the simultaneous election was that there would be only one election, meaning there would be minimal disruption in governance. But simultaneous elections are not the solution. It has many difficulties in implementation, such as the scope of holding bye-elections, security problems and the need for a constitutional amendment.
But at the top of all, simultaneous elections undermines federalism. It deters people from distinguishing between national and regional problems. In a diverse country like India, every region of the country faces different regional problems. But simultaneous elections will undermine local issues. People will tend to give more importance to national issues, thus, electing the candidates from the same national party for both Lok Sabha and Legislative assemblies.
So, reducing the frequency of the elections should not be the option in a country like India. The solution to address this governance deficit should be worked out by restricting central-level executives’ involvement in the campaigning of state elections.
The answer to the following question will decide the future course of action: In any situation, what relation should the executive of the central government have with their party when state elections are due?
One may argue that this restriction will give the opposition party an undue advantage as they can campaign with popular faces, while the party in power cannot. But it should be noted that once implemented, in a long-term perspective, it will be applied to any party that will be in power in the future, not only to the party in power at present. Thus, the implementation has a long-term benefit for the country as it directly affects the country’s governance.
One general understanding is that any decision regarding reforms in this matter, and in general, will not have 100% acceptability. If the benefit outweighs the cost, then any reform should be proceeded with by seeking ways to offset the concerns of the affected.
Here the concerns of the ruling party can be offset by some inherent advantages the solution has. If the opposition party has the advantage of using popular faces in campaigning, then the party in power still has a greater advantage of attracting votes as an effective administration by the executive even prior to the elections will increase the trust of people in the government. And the state-level head of the political party could take more responsibility in campaigning to offset the absence of popular faces.
It should be clarified here that the argument here is not to prevent the entire party in power from campaigning for state elections. But the argument is to limit the involvement of those who have much higher responsibility in governance.
But the solution stated above is not feasible unless and until there is an all-party consensus. Any party in power will not take a step on its own to initiate this kind of reform. A law in this regard cannot be expected anytime, sooner or later. There may be a bunch of counter-arguments against a solution of this kind.
But understanding this in the context of COVID will help. The effects of COVID will have a huge impact on many years to come. Uninterrupted governance is needed for the sustainable development of the country.
The discussion here is only regarding the involvement of national-level executives in state elections. The discussion can be further extended in general to the involvement of central and state-level executives (atleast the very important ones) in the campaigning of any elections, whether centre or states. The mature phase of a reform of this kind will be the “Separation of Government from Party”.
Though the reform seems to be a distant dream, any reform starts with a debate.