“One Nation, One Poll” - Should We Welcome?

Published : Jul 21, 2018 07:29 am | By: M D Sridharan

The proposal to conduct Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections simultaneously, has gained momentum with the ruling BJP and the Prime Minister Modi keen on “One Nation, One Poll” concept, there exists lot of questions that need to be answered whether One

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been emphasising the idea of “One Nation, One Election” for long. Perhaps, since NDA came back to power in 2014.   His idea of “One Nation, One Poll” – that is  conducting simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and State assemblies, has been received with mixed reactions both from the opposition parties and NDA constituents as well. Actually, L K Advani, Senior BJP Leader floated the idea of simultaneous elections long back when he was the Deputy Prime Minister of India. Since then, simultaneous polls has been a subject of debate for several years. Now, once again the “One Nation, One Poll” concept has become hot topic after Prime Minister again floated the idea.

In fact, the idea of simultaneous polls is not new to India as the first general election to the Lok Sabha was held simultaneously with all State Assemblies in 1951-52.  Indeed, the  practice of simultaneous elections continued till the general election of 1967. But, due to premature dissolution of some State Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and subsequently even the Lok Sabha itself was dissolved prematurely in 1970, the system was discontinued and since then the elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies are being held separately.

Further, the President Ram Nath Kovind endorsed the idea and even the veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee also supported the idea of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies when he was the President.  There are reports that Law commission and the Parliamentary standing committee have also favoured simultaneous elections.

Considering the size of the country, conducting elections have always been a massive exercise that involves money, people and logistics. It is a human-resource intensive task of mammoth proportions that cost thousands of crores of rupees every time. Being the world’s largest democracy, Indian elections are always looked upon as the ‘greatest’ democratic carnival in the world by the international media.

Taking into consideration of the number of issues associated with conducting elections in India, it has always remained as a debatable question whether it would be prudent to hold general and assembly elections simultaneously.  However, having simultaneous general and assembly elections will have some pros and cons and have to weigh the merits accordingly. It will be a win-win move to have simultaneous elections for public treasury and effective governance.

Advantages of  “One Nation, One Poll”

The main idea to conduct simultaneous polls is a fact that the country is witnessing one election or the other somewhere across its vast length and breadth throughout the year.  If the elections to the local bodies are also included, then it is a continuous process. Even majority of the people want this   vicious circle of continuous elections needs to be broken.

First and foremost is the cost of an election. Every election has two expenditure components: the one incurred by the Election Commission and the other the expenditure incurred by the political parties. Besides, a large number of government employees and public buildings are diverted from their regular responsibilities for election duties. So, doing away with the several separate elections every year will not only reduce the expenditure substantially but also reduce diversion of human resources for election duties. Further, having simultaneous election would free central armed forces and manpower that is deployed at regular intervals for election duty.

Model Code of Conduct (MCC) comes into effect in the poll bound state/constituency.  The imposition of MCC curtails the development programs and implementation of new schemes of both the centre and the state Governments. Frequent elections leads to imposition of MCC for prolonged periods affecting the overall governance. There is also an apparent problem of taking populist measures before elections such actions eventually hurt the socio-economic and political fabric of the country and disturbs the harmony of the society.

The general acquisition is that politicians focus more on winning by participating in election speeches and rallies. The tall political leaders such as PM and CMs are often seen    along with their prominent ministers engaged in campaigns, thus forcing the political parties to be in election mode perpetually. If all elections are held in one particular year, it will give a clear four years to the political parties to focus on good governance.

Simultaneous election promotes national perspective and allows the government to take difficult and harsh decision in larger interest of the nation. It is an important aspect for the welfare of the people and also for the unity of the country.  Overall, having simultaneous elections will be a win-win move for public treasury and effective governance which will lead to economic growth.

Disadvantages of  “One Nation, One Poll”

Besides all these advantages there are some factors that work against   holding simultaneous elections. The foremost fear is that since the centre and states are equal and sovereign within their jurisdiction, the concept of federalism may be affected as simultaneous elections may reduce the importance of state elections. As a result, the regional issues may get suppressed. Critics also say state and national elections are often fought on different sets of issues — and in simultaneous elections, voters may end up privileging one set over the other in ways they might not have done otherwise.

While simultaneous elections will certainly reduce the expenditure incurred by the Election Commission, there is no guarantee that expenditure of the political parties will reduce.

Article 83(2) and Article 172 of the Constitution requires that the Lok Sabha and State legislatures be in existence for five years from the date of its first meeting, “unless dissolved earlier”. Simultaneous elections ignore this phrase, as there would be no opportunity to dissolve Lok Sabha or State Assemblies.

Under the proposed “one nation, one poll ”concept, it is not clear  that  what will happen if a state government falls within a year of coming to power? Would the state continue to be under President’s rule for the next four years? Second, if two different parties with contradictory ideologies are at the Centre and the state, then in case of President’s rule, the Centre’s ideology could prevail in governance.

Simultaneous elections negates the concept of ‘no confidence motion’ and can work only if governments last for a fixed tenure of five years even if the ruling party is reduced to a minority in the Lok Sabha or the state legislature Especially, in today’s increasing fragmented mandate and coalition governance, it will be difficult to amend a fixed tenure for the government both at the centre and the state.

Further, implementing “one nation, one Poll”and holding elections across the length and breadth of India simultaneously demand mammoth logistics operations that include organising greater security forces.

Should we welcome “One Nation, One Poll”?

Though, the “One Nation, One Poll’ concept has been in air for quite some time,  with the BJP’s  new found drive it seem to be well on its way. However, the Constitutional experts points out that more than the benefits h may arise due to implementing “One Nation, One Poll’, the damage it can cause to the cardinal principle of the  Indian democracy: “Rule by the majority”,  will be far more than the huge savings to be realised to the public exchequer.

Further, such step may also pave way for dictatorial tendencies in the government of the day by reducing their accountability to the Lok Sabha or the state assembly since they cannot be removed from office even after losing the confidence of the House.

Also, if Lok Sabha and Assembly elections happen to coincide, it is a natural process. But if it is imposed only to reduce the number of elections and cut costs, it is highly undesirable, because it privileges monetary concerns over democratic principles. There is hardly any doubt that the fewer the number of elections, the lesser would be the expenses. But, it is not about  saving the money spent by political parties and candidates, but by the Election Commission.

Simultaneous elections resulting in better governance is another argument that has been put forward.

Another contention is the Model Code of Conduct. There is an argument that Model Code of Conduct prevents the government from initiating new projects and ultimately slows down development work. While this is true, the fact remains that the Model Code of Conduct is applicable only in the states/constituencies where elections are to be held and the rest of the country need not come to a standstill, without any policy decisions. For example, when there assembly election is conducted in Tamil Nadu, there is restriction on the Delhi government or Gujarat government to announce new schemes.

However, even now there is a provision in the Model Code of Conduct that the government can consult the Election Commission about policy decisions and if the decisions are not likely to have any implications for the electoral outcome, the Commission can permit the government to take those decisions.

Most importantly, “one nation, one poll” undermines the federal structure of the constitution.  Under the federal structure, the constitution recognises the existence of 29 States and the union territories. When elections are held for state legislative assemblies and the parliament separately, the voters are better placed to express their voting choices keeping in mind the need of the country and the state.  Accordingly, people will be exercising their franchise. But,  when voters are made to vote for electing the electing the State government as well as the central government at the same time and on the same day,  there may evolve a  tendency among the people to vote for the same party both for the MLAs and the MPs.

Statistics reveal that holding simultaneous elections will impact voter behaviour.  Out of the 31 occasions when simultaneous elections for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha were held in the states, the major political parties polled almost a similar proportion of votes both for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha in 24 occasions and the choice of voters was different only in 7 instances.

In other words an analysis of all simultaneous polls held since 1999 up till 2014reveals that there is a 77 percent chance that the average voter will vote for the same party at both the Centre and the state, with the voter favouring the ruling party at the Centre. On the contrary, the trend of choosing the same party has only increased with time, from 68 percent in 1999 to 77 percent in 2004 to 76 percent in 2009 and 86 percent in 2014. The voter is not discerning between voting for his state representative and national representative.

Though Indian Constitution makes it possible to dissolve an Assembly before the expiry of five years, it is against the basic tenets of federalism to dissolve an assembly like this as it has been elected for a period of five years.

The Election Commission also backs simultaneous polls and recommended some changes. The Election Commission said terms of state legislatures could be extended, or curtailed, to coincide with LS polls. Article 83, dealing with duration of Houses of Parliament may need amendment.  The Election Commission said, "In order to avoid premature dissolution, it may be provided that any 'no-confidence motion' moved against the government in office should also necessarily include a further 'confidence motion' in favour of a government to be headed by a named individual as the future CM and voting should take place for two motions together."

While Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi  Adityanath has   univocally supported the idea and despite holding  power  till 2021 willing to forego power, many other Chief Minsters are  weighing  the proposals.  Constitutional experts points out that if the general election coincides with the assembly election then it is fine to conduct both simultaneously. But, if not then the centre cannot force the state to dissolve. 

If at all simultaneous elections were to happen, the centre first needs to resolve some of the teething issues.  Considering the federal structure of our system of governance, it is imperative that consensus of all state governments is to be obtained. The state governments need to agree to the untimely dissolution of the assemblies and also the question of what happens if a government falls without completing its term and several such issues. This is an important point of view that only serves to underline the need for a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament for any sweeping changes in the electoral calendar. Accordingly, the government should bring in the requisite legal laws and amendments.

Besides, the Niti Aayog has also been pushing the case for simultaneous elections and suggested “fixed tenures” for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies to “sustain the electoral cycle”.

In the meanwhile, the Law Commission and the Parliamentary standing committee have also favoured “One Nation, One Poll” idea. The Law commission also held deliberations with all recognised national and state political parties on the concept of holding simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.  While the Law Commission is working on the draft of the guidelines to ensure concurrent terms for the Lok Sabha and Assemblies, the fact that some political parties have given their nod, gives the impression the centre is inching towards implementation of “One Nation One Poll”.

 

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