One nation one election

One nation one election

On 25 Jan 2017, President Pranab Mukherjee, in his customary eve of Republic Day address to the nation, came out in support of simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. President Mukherjee said simultaneous elections may be advantageous to the nation and that political parties and the Election Commission, should work towards it.

Would simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies benefit India?

On 25 Jan 2017, President Pranab Mukherjee, in his customary eve of Republic Day address to the nation, came out in support of simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. President Mukherjee said simultaneous elections may be advantageous to the nation and that political parties and the Election Commission, should work towards it.

The BJP-led NDA Government has already set the ball rolling with the ‘One Nation One Election’ slogan and PM Narendra Modi is slated to hold all all-party meeting, shortly. The vision is to conduct state assembly elections with the general election scheduled for 2024 but some BJP ministers have even suggested introducing the new norm, as early as 2019. The CEC Nasim Zaidi has said that such a proposal is feasible but would require constitutional amendments and political consensus.

What are the Benefits of the Proposal?

In the present system, some form of election is being conducted in different parts of the country, round the year. Conduct of each election is a logistic and security challenge involving continuous redeployment of resources and associated expenses. Conduct of frequent elections, also disrupts the normal system of governance because of election code of conduct restrictions. More importantly, elections involve considerable expenditure by prospective candidates, most of which is unofficial (black money). Conduct of simultaneous elections is expected to bring more controls over black money, though as we have seen with demonetization this may be easier said than done.

Did India Hold Simultaneous Elections Earlier?

Yes, after Independence, the first four general elections were held simultaneously. This was changed in 1971 by PM Indira Gandhi.

What are the Drawbacks of the Proposal?

Bringing Down Governments. In our present system, legislatures have power to bring down governments and force mid-term polls disrupting the system of simultaneous elections. Thus, to ensure continuity of the system, it could mean fixed tenures for the parliament and the assemblies. Dr. Bhimrao Amebedkar, the Father of the Constitution had articulated between ‘stable’ governments and ‘responsible’ governments. He said that having both were impossible. If India were to fix the term of the elections, we may end up with governments guaranteed to last their five-year term but without much in the name of accountability. Perhaps, poor governance and corruption may only get worse in the new system.

Undermining of Federal Power. In recent years, issues affecting the states have gained in political value, which is demonstrated with more regional parties forming state governments. AIDMK in Tamil Nadu, Telegu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, Trinamool Congress in Bengal, PDP in J&K, JDU in Bihar, SP in UP and there are more. By holding simultaneous elections would the federal election over shadow the state election? Would we be undermining federalism so fundamental to our Constitution, for a stronger Central government?

Other Elections. Besides Parliamentary and Assembly elections, we also have local, panchayat, municipal, Rajya Sabha and Presidential elections. Can we introduce these elections also, in the election festival?

Assessment

There are tangible benefits from holding simultaneous elections; particularly in bringing in election efficiency and removal of election disruption from governance. However, the proposal may violate the federal character of our Constitution and necessitate Constitutional amendments. More important, with so many regional parties holding power in the states, it may be unrealistic to secure the necessary consensus for the amendment.

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