On this Constitution Day when Prime Minister Modi in his address to All India Presiding Officers Conference reiterated the idea of “One Nation One Election” and renewed the push for having a single voter list thereby saving the nation’s time and resources, has once again got the debate rolling. Simultaneous elections is one of the promises mentioned in BJP’S manifesto and there have been attempts in the past to build consensus among political parties when in 2014 an all-party meeting was called which was skipped by most of the left parties.
It is interesting to note that India held simultaneous elections for around 20 years after independence i.e 1951-52, 1957, 1962 and 1967. However in 1968 and 1969 the cycle got disrupted due to premature dissolutions of some Legislative Assemblies. In 1970 Lok Sabha got dissolved prematurely and fresh elections were held in 1971. Since then there has been separate elections of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. In the year 1983, the idea was again revived by the Election Commission and in 1999 when Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy headed Law Commission in its 170th Report said “we must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”. The consensus and support was bolstered when in 2017 the Parliamentary Standing Committee also favoured the idea.
In a good sense, simultaneous elections means elections of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies and doesn’t take into account the elections of local bodies as it is a state subject and comes under the purview of State Election Commissions. Simultaneous elections enables a voter to vote for both elections on the same day at the same time which also in a way increases the voter turnout.
It is noteworthy that India is constantly in election mode and holds some or the other elections every 3 months. Holding frequent elections is a costly affair. The expenditure includes setting up of polling station, payment TA/DA to polling staff, transport arrangement, communication infrastructure, electrical fittings, election material like indelible ink, ammonia paper and other miscellaneous expenses for running smooth elections. If elections are held simultaneously, except for additional EVMs and election material there shall be no extra expenditure. Lest to forget it shall also curb incidence of black money and corruption.
With frequent elections the governments are more focussed and invest their time and energy in winning next electoral battles and a turn a blind eye to the crucial national and governance issues. Indian politics is well stocked with examples of governments taking up populist measures promising individuals with sops and subsidies. Such practices shake the roots of free and fair elections and affects the wisdom of voters. Far dated elections shall support the governments to focus more on public welfare at large and to take up measures in the nation’s interest. Miscellaneous issues like communalism, casteism, regionalism shall also be curbed.
It can be beautifully summed up as “during elections private schools go ahead with classes but government teachers are preparing electoral rolls”. It is important to note that lakhs of civilian and police officers are deployed every 3 months for administration and security which not only affects their normal duties but also the normal functioning of the governments. All developmental activities and programmes are pushed to the background and the common man suffers. Also during the period when Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is imposed governments can’t announce financial grants, lay foundation stones, promise the construction of roads which hinders the developmental process. The recurring political rallies also disrupts road traffic and causes noise pollution.
It is argued that simultaneous elections shall lead to autocracy without any counterbalances and national issues shall prevail over local issues. But it is pertinent to note that in 2014 when the political winds were in favour of BJP, the regional party Biju Janta Dal (BJD) in Orissa increased its vote share from 37.23% in 2009 to 44.77% in 2014 in Lok Sabha elections, conflicting with the national trend. The fact that BJP had won all the 7 seats in Delhi during the general elections was refuted when after few months in 2015 there was a clean sweep by Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi elections. This implies that voters are extremely clear and can differentiate between local as well as national issues and are prudent about the governments they wish to see at state and centre.
The concept of simultaneous elections is already present in countries like South Africa, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Germany which helped them to reduce expenditure, focus on governance and development and vouch for national identity. Constitutionally it shall require amendments in articles 83 and 172 which deals with tenure of house of people and state assemblies respectively. Ratification by not less than one half of the states shall also be required as laid down in article 368.
After considering all the legal and constitutional feasibility and after receiving suggestions and opinions from various stakeholders Law Commission believes that now is the right time to implement the idea of “One Election One Nation” for a greater cause of nation building. The process of building consensus among political parties and public must start from now because as Chanakya in Arthashastra says, “the happiness of the king vests in the happiness of his subjects, and he must see his interest in the interest of his subjects.”