Soon after assuming his second tenure in the office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked up his pet idea of ‘One Nation, One Poll’ as the top priority of the new government. With the announcement of an expert committee to look at the critical issues involved in the concept, the Modi government appears to be determined to get the ball rolling on the controversial idea. The previous term of the Modi government saw hectic activities including the consultation and recommendations by Law commission, NITI Aayog, Standing Committees of the Parliament, Election Commission among others to get this going.
Proposals among others included shifting of elections in various phases, through which elections to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies and Union Territories were to co-occur by 2024. This required alteration in the duration of governments in various states and constitutional amendments and political consensus was furthermore imperative. Another interesting proposal was the plan to synchronize elections in two batches.
Yet, the idea of simultaneous elections is not new to the country. In fact, the idea was propped up during the Vajpayee government in 1999 when the Law Commission Report suggested to conduct simultaneous elections. In a coalition environment, the idea never saw the day light.
WHAT ARE SIMULTANEOUS POLLS
Currently, elections to the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held separately — that is whenever the incumbent government’s five-year term ends or whenever it is dissolved due to various reasons. This applies to both the state legislatures and the Lok Sabha. The terms of Legislative Assemblies and the Lok Sabha may not synchronise with one another. For instance, Rajasthan faced elections in late 2018, whereas Tamil Nadu will go to elections only in 2021
But the idea of “One Nation, One Election” envisages a system where elections to all states and the Lok Sabha will have to be held simultaneously. This will involve the restructuring of the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to the states and the centre synchronise. This would mean that the voters will cast their vote for electing members of the LS and the state assemblies on a single day, at the same time (or in a phased manner as the case may be).
BACKGROUND OF SIMULTANEOUS ELECTION
Simultaneous elections are not new to India. They were the norm until 1967. But following dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and that of the Lok Sabha in December 1970, elections to State Assemblies and Parliament have been held separately.
The idea of reverting to simultaneous polls was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999.
After Mr. Modi floated the idea once again in 2016, the Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017. In the working paper that the Law Commission brought out in April 2018, it said that at least “five Constitutional recommendations” would be required to get this off the ground. The final decision on holding simultaneous elections is yet to be taken.
One Nation, One Election’ is the method of holding single elections for both Lok Sabha and States instead of separate and continuous elections. Four reasons have been cited for the same:
- Huge burden of the Exchequer and massive expenditure in elections.
- Diversion of security and civil staff from primary duties to election duties
- Impact on governance and fresh policies due to the model code of conduct
- Disruption to normal public life, issues like noise pollution, traffic jams etc.
ADVANTAGES OF SIMULTANEOUS ELECTION
During elections money is spent on an array of activities like on Security, Booth Management, Election personnel management etc.
- Saving cost:The election procedure is not only tiresome and hectic but also expensive. Parties individually spend a lot on election campaigning, the amount that could be put to better use if they have to do that only once for the general election as well as the state election. Government also spares no expense when it comes to wooing the votes of the supporters during the times of elections.
- Saving time:Half of the year is spent by politicians concentrating on strategies for the upcoming election in one or the other state and debating the actions of the competing party. The name calling and blame game take a lot of time that could be used for something productive. On the part of common people too, it would be time saving to cast both the votes together.
- Shunning the vote bank:When elections are around the corners, most political parties throw gimmicks to gain vote bank or to destroy the reputation of the other party. They use issues to frame policies that would gain the upper hand at the elections. People are aware of this and more importantly they are tired of this. Building roads and developing infrastructure all seem to happen only when elections are around the corners.
- Encouraging policymaking: The fear of losing voters prevent politicians from encouraging the passage of policies that require immediate attention. They are never united in their decisions because they are always worried of how best of appease the people they are expecting highest votes from. A combined election procedure would give them ample time to concentrate on policymaking without having to worry about the votes being gained or lost.
- Lowering vices:Casteism, communalism, corruption and partiality prevails because of so many elections that happen almost every year. This would only stop if elections are held jointly and odds of gaining or losing prevail at once and for all. The rest of their term of career, they wouldn’t try inciting the evil that destroy the peace of the nation.
- Model code of conduct: When elections take place, a Model code of conduct is applied, during which a reigning government cannot launch any new schemes or make any transfers or appointments. With simultaneous elections, the time for the model code will get reduced and a simultaneous election reduces policy paralysis.
- Less intrusive and Hassle free method: Simultaneous elections bring less disruption to public life, less road traffic and less loss to our economy. As all the government staff can be used at a single time, we can also increase vigilance, and factors like black money, booth capturing, etc. can be reduced.
- Affects Education: Over a crore government employees, including a large number of teachers, are involved in the electoral process. Thus, the continuous exercise causes maximum harm to the education sector.
- Security Concerns: Security forces also have to be diverted for the electoral work even as terrorism remains a strong threat to India.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST SIMULTANEOUS ELECTION
- Less public-politician interaction: Frequent elections in the country bring the politicians back to the public frequently whereas cutting down elections would mean such interaction is lost at least for the rest of the term in office.
- Lack of Uniformity: The terms of different state governments are ending on separate dates and years. To hold simultaneous elections, the Centre will have to make some states agree to curtail the terms of their houses while others to extend theirs. While extension may not be a problem, curtailment of Assembly terms may be a major issue.
- Mixing up the national issues: Holding both the elections together will also mean mixing up of the national issues with those of the state. The national issues would overpower the state which in turn would get less priority from the politicians.
- Regional Political Parties may be at some loss: Regional political parties, local small parties and individual candidates may not be able to match the campaign of the national parties and may lose in the process. It would be against the principles of democracy that flourishes on participation.
- Same Party Rule at the Centre and States: Voter behaviour can get affected and the same party (Mostly National Parties) may return both at the centre as well as in various states. This may downsize the overall opposition in the country that is detrimental for the cause of democracy.
- Political autonomy: Under a simultaneous elections regime, the State will be beholden to the Union government for elections to its State, which goes against the very grain of political autonomy under the federal structure.
- Voter Rights: The right of a voter to exercise her choice twice in a span of five years and hold governments accountable is much more important than just casting vote onceand having no option to express opinion for the next five years.
- Makes them keep up the good work:Not many good works go into their books but the ones they do are usually during elections. Cutting down on elections would mean making them lazy for the rest of the term and suddenly becoming overactive during the election year.
- Cost can still be cut down:By putting a strict cap on the election costs for all parties, the overall dilemma associated with the expense of holding elections separately can be done away with. They are usually seen spending before the model code of conduct comes into play. If that can be restricted, there is no way the costs would exceed normal.
|Law Commission of India views on the Subject
If all political parties cooperate, the necessary steps can be taken. Maybe, a constitutional amendment can solve the problem. Such an amendment can also provide for extending or curtailing the term of one or more Legislative Assemblies if it is necessary to achieve the said goal. However, more appropriate solutions may be needed.
|Association for Democratic Reforms views on the Subject
Simultaneous elections would reduce disruption in governance, as governments would not be driven by populist measures and would not be hindered by the MCC, reduce the burden on the exchequer and increase voter turnout. The concept of a constructive vote of no confidence needs to be implemented to provide stability of the tenure to governments.
One India One Election would be a good change if it could be carried out with the proper implication of policies and rules and taking care of the rising need for good administrative staff and security officials. Without the required facilities, it is bound to create more problems than it would solve. The initiative is well received and supported by many. Only if it gets the right requisites, there is no reason why it wouldn’t prove to be good for the electoral procedures of the country.
To conclude, the intricacies attached with conducting simultaneous elections are not yet comprehensively elucidated by the government. While setting up an expert committee is a good idea to study and explore different facets of this complex public policy issue, the idea needs extensive deliberations and consensus. So far, the debate has lacked this.