This year has a series of Assembly elections lined up, with several political analysts calling it “semi-finals” before the Lok Sabha polls in 2024. The Assembly elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Gujarat, Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur.
The year-long farmers’ agitation, thankfully is over. But as we look back, we realise that the protests were primarily political in nature with the objective to push the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments at the Centre and states on the back foot, especially in the coming elections.
In this backdrop, I see a real need for ‘One Nation One Election’. We cannot afford to subject the entire country to such disruptive agitations for electoral benefits every now and then. After all, every year, there are elections in one state or the other.
The present government at the Centre recognises this and professes a desire to have simultaneous elections throughout the country. That is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi frequently emphasises the importance of this requirement. In November 2020, he campaigned for 'One Nation, One Election,' claiming that it is necessary for India because polls every few months have an influence on development efforts.
The notion of 'One Nation, One Election' or 'Simultaneous Elections' indicates that elections to all three tiers of constitutional institutions (Centre, state, and local body) take place at the same time. This basically implies that voters vote on a single day to elect members to all levels of government.
In the post-Independence period, the first general elections to the Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies were conducted concurrently in 1951-52. This method was used in three consecutive general elections in 1957, 1962 and 1967. But the cycle was interrupted because of the early dissolution of several legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969, and things never returned to ‘normalcy’ thereafter.
The ruling BJP, which has revived the need for ‘One Nation, One Election’, has lately begun discussions and webinars about having elections for local/urban councils, Assemblies, and the Lok Sabha at the same time. According to the party, having elections is not the primary goal of a society, but rather effective administration. The BJP has also suggested constitutional amendments to establish fixed terms for the Lok Sabha and legislative Assemblies.
It is not unreasonable to say that the Indian political system is perpetually in election mode throughout the year. Except for a few years during the Lok Sabha’s usual five-year term, the country has elections in 5-7 state Assemblies every year. According to one research, during the March-May 2014 elections for the 16th Lok Sabha, Andhra Pradesh (undivided Andhra), Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha also went to polls. This was followed by other state Assembly elections: 1) September-October 2014: Maharashtra and Haryana; 2) October-December 2014: Jharkhand and J&K; 3) January-February 2015: National Capital Territory of Delhi; 4) September-November 2015: Bihar; 5) March-May 2016: Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. It's obvious that, in addition to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, they held elections for 15 state Assemblies between March 2014 and May 2016. Elections for state Assemblies were conducted in March-May, September-October, and October-December in 2014. Elections to Assemblies have occasionally occurred within a month after the conclusion of elections to other state Assemblies.
Adding elections of the third tier of government (panchayat/municipal bodies), by-elections, and so forth, the number of elections in any given year would skyrocket. Frequent electoral cycles have a detrimental impact on administrative and development efforts in polling states/regions, as well as the wider government process in general due to the model code of conduct in place.
Since the 1980s, numerous stakeholders have highlighted a significant need to establish a mechanism to stop these repeated election cycles, most recently following the 2014 general election. As a potential solution to the aforementioned difficulty, the notion of holding simultaneous elections is being actively studied. Several major political figures have also regularly expressed their support for this proposal in a variety of settings. In the past, certain expert panels looked at this specific topic.
The Law Commission of India, led by Justice BP Jeevan Reddy, proposed simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies in its 117th Report on Reform of Electoral Laws in1999 while exploring methods to improve the country's electoral system. In its 79th report (presented to Parliament in December 2015), the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice investigated the possibility of conducting the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies elections concurrently. The Committee proposed a more practical approach of organising simultaneous elections.
The notion of holding simultaneous elections was first proposed by the Election Commission in 1983. The Law Commission stated in its 170th report in May 1999: “We must return to the scenario where elections to Lok Sabha and all legislative Assemblies are held at the same time.”
To counter claims that such a method would give national parties or parties with strong leadership an advantage, Odisha went for the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls simultaneously in 2014. While for the national elections, the BJP performed well, while for the state polls, the ruling BJD did well. In another case, in UP by-elections held concurrently with the 2014 general election, the BJP lost legislative seats while winning all Lok Sabha seats on the same seats. In our nation, participatory democracy has become strong enough for voters to distinguish between various election groups. Therefore, such fears are unfounded.
Meanwhile, the BJP has already begun to work on the concept. The party is hosting webinars with famous legal and constitutional academics such as Soli Sorabjee, who stated in one of these webinars, “I think simultaneous elections to my opinion is a desirable practice to follow.”
Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash Kashyap, who also contributed to the Law Commission's 2018 report on concurrent elections, stated that there have been several committees and seminars on the necessity for concurrent elections. The resistance to the notion was generally political, as regional parties feared a mingling of local and national concerns.
The late Ram Jethmalani put up the matter forcefully in favour of a single election, calling it “One People, One Poll”. He also stated that the concept was not new in the country and did not necessitate drastic change.
The major negative consequences of the current electoral cycle may be generally classified as follows, which are also supported by the NITI Aayog's study on the subject:
* The Election Commission’s implementation of the Model Code of Conduct has had an impact on development initiatives and governance.
* Frequent elections need large expenditures by the government and other stakeholders.
* Because the country is always in election mode, the country's peace is being disrupted by competing political views.
* Extensive use of security personnel for extended periods of time
* Aside from the government, candidates for elections and political parties spend a lot of money. Candidates typically incur expenses for a variety of required factors such as travel to constituencies, general publicity, and arranging outreach activities for electorates. Whilst political parties pay expenses to manage the party's electoral apparatus during elections, star leaders campaigning, and so on.
* The overall cost expended by political parties in elections might amount to several billion rupees.
In terms of government spending, the following framework applies for determining cost-sharing rules between the Union government and the states:
* The Government of India bears the whole expense on actual election conduct, as well as such expenditure on election to state legislatures by the individual state governments when such elections are conducted independently.
* If Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections are held concurrently, the expense is split between the Government of India and the relevant state governments. The initial expense is borne by the individual state governments, and the Government of India's portion is repaid upon submission of the audited report.
Expenditure on items of common concern to the Union and state governments, such as regular election establishment, preparation and revision of electoral rolls, and so on, is shared 50:50, regardless of whether such expenditure is incurred in connection with Lok Sabha or state legislature elections. Even though the election is to the Lok Sabha, expenditure on law and order is solely the responsibility of the various state governments.
As a result of the main takeaways from the context and sources cited above, we may conclude that the 'One Nation One Election can save us from squandering and disruption of social harmony to the country which is otherwise at a nosedive spree at present.
The writer is a researcher with NIT Surat. Views expressed are personal.