In May last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi created flutters among the political circle by floating a very pertinent idea of having simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. In India, we have a three tiered democracy and if the elections to the local bodies till the district level are included then one finds that there is no year without some elections taking place. Time has come to break this vicious circle of continuous elections in the country. This vicious circle is directly detrimental to the stability of the governments, without which, there can neither be economic development nor a satisfactory law and order situation.
The kind of electoral exercise that one witnesses in India is unmatched in whole of the world. Due to the sheer size of electorate and the expanse of our democracy, this electoral exercise doesn’t only scales the height of vastness; it also incurs heavy electoral expenditure. The ever-increasing electoral expenditure due to separate elections for Lok Sabha and state assemblies, in the long run can prove detrimental to our governance and developmental goals.
Organising free and fair elections is one of the most important aspects of our democracy but this is being threatened by the ever rising cost of contesting an election. The candidates or for that matter political parties look for alternative routes to recover these costs which eventually leads to corrupt political practices. The Election Commission of India is burdened with ever-increasing administrative responsibilities due to these frequent elections. Along with our Prime Minister simultaneous elections at the Parliament and state assemblies’ level have been mooted out by many as a remedy to this problem of Indian democracy.
In a peper published by Niti Ayog, authored by Bibek Debroy and Kishor Desai, gives an thoughtful insight into the problem of not holding the election simultaneously for Lok Sabha and state assemblies’. this article has borrowed extensively from the paper.
It won’t be unreasonable to state that the Indian polity is perennially in an election mode. Barring a few exceptional years within a normal 5 year tenure of the Lok Sabha, the country witnesses, on an average, elections to about 5-7 State Assemblies every year. The elections to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha were held by the Election Commission over the period March 2014 – May 2014. Along with elections to the Lok Sabha, elections for constituting the State Assemblies of 4 states were held. Those comprised: Andhra Pradesh (undivided Andhra. Telangana got created as a new State later in June 2014 following the provisions of Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Bill 2014), Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha. This was followed by the following State Assembly elections Maharashtra and Haryana; Jharkhand and J&K; Delhi; Bihar; Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
As a matter of fact besides Lok Sabha elections in 2014, polls to about 15 State Assemblies were held during March 2014 – May 2016. In 2014 alone, elections were held in March – May, September – October and October – December timeframes. In some cases, elections to State Assemblies were announced within a month of concluding elections to other State Assemblies. Add elections to the third tier of Government (Panchayati Raj institutions / Municipal bodies in rural and urban areas), bye-elections etc., and the number of elections in any given year would increase substantially. Such frequent electoral cycles ends up negatively impacting administrative and developmental activities in the poll bound states / regions and the larger governance process in general as well.
As a result, a serious need to evolve a mechanism to end this vicious cycle of frequent election has been gaining ground in the political arena of the country. The idea of undertaking simultaneous elections is being seriously considered as a potential solution to the above problem. Some expert committees have also examined this particular issue in the past. In the year 1999, the Law Commission of India headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy in its One Hundred Seventieth Report on Reform of Electoral Laws recommended simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies while examining measures for improving the electoral system in the country. The Department related Parliamentary Standing committee on Personnel, Public grievances, Law and justice in its 79th report (submitted to the Parliament in December 2015) had also examined the feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. The Committee recommended an alternative and practicable method of holding simultaneous elections.
It is interesting to note that the concept of simultaneous elections is in-fact not new to the country. Post adoption of the Constitution, the elections to Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously between 1951 till 1967 when the cycle of synchronized elections got disrupted. The first general elections to Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies were held together in 1951-52. That practice continued over three subsequent general elections held in the years- 1957, 1962 and 1967. However, due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969, the cycle got disrupted for the first time. In 1970, Fourth Lok Sabha was itself dissolved prematurely and fresh elections held in 1971. Thus, First, Second and Third Lok Sabha enjoyed full five year terms. The term of Fifth Lok Sabha was extended till 1977 under Article 352. After that, the Eighth, Tenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Lok Sabha could complete their full five year terms. Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth Lok Sabha were dissolved prematurely. Various State Assemblies also faced similar issues over a period of time. As a result of all such premature dissolutions and extension, the cycle of simultaneous elections has been firmly disrupted.
Our Constitution makers have given us a “quasi-federal” parliamentary democracy. This system worked fairly well with the Congress dominating the political scenario for the first two decades since Independence. But with the emergence of various regional parties giving voice to regional aspirations, this dominance collapsed. With the advent of more and more regional parties, with substantial strength in Parliament, how can a stable and efficient governance can be brought about in the country?
Fortunately, the normal duration of elected bodies is five years. Article 83 of the Constitution of India provides for the tenure of both Houses of the Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha). Article 83(2)11 provides for a term of five years for Lok Sabha, from the date of its first sitting unless dissolved earlier. Similar provisions under Article 172 (1) provides for five year tenure for State Legislative Assembly from the date of its first sitting. Further, the proviso to Article 83 (2) of the Constitution provides that when a proclamation of emergency is in operation, the term of the House may be extended for a period not exceeding one year at a time by Parliament by law and not extending in any case beyond a period of six months after the Proclamation has ceased to operate. Similar provision also exists for State Legislative Assembly under the proviso to Article 172 (1) of the Constitution.
However, earlier dissolution, which breaches the principle of simultaneous elections, is brought about by several methods. Article 85 (2)(b) of the Constitution of India provides the President with the power to dissolve Lok Sabha. Similar provision for dissolution of State Legislative Assemblies by the Governor of State is provided under Article 174 (2)(b). Further, in respect of premature dissolution of a State Legislative Assembly, Article 356 is also relevant. In the event of a State being under President’s Rule as provided under Article 356, the Legislative Assembly of the said State may be prematurely dissolved by the President. While there have been several cases of proclamation of President’s Rule in States under Article 356 in the past, pre-mature dissolution of State Assemblies has been made significantly stringent in the light of Anti-Defection Act 1985 and the judgement by the Constitutional Bench of Supreme Court of India in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India.
As N. M. Ghatate, senior advocate and former vice chairman of Law Commission of India opine in Indian Express that the dissolution of the assembly can be affected by an another method i.e. “by passing the no-confidence motion against a government or defeating the government’s confidence motion. In either case, the president/governor invites the opposition leader to form the government. If no government is formed, the president/governor dissolves the house and orders midterm elections as the last resort.”
“To avoid frequent elections it is necessary to have stable elected bodies. It is pertinent to note that a no-confidence motion is not mentioned in the Constitution or any law, for that matter. It finds place in Rule 198 of the Rules and Conduct of Business of the Lok Sabha, which states that 50 or more members can move a no-confidence motion. If it succeeds, the government has to resign and if no other party or parties can form the government, premature elections follow. The Law Commission of India in its report of 1999 has dealt with the problem of premature and frequent elections. It had recommended an amendment of this rule on the lines of the German Constitution, which provides that the leader of the party who wants to replace the chancellor has to move the no-confidence motion along with the confidence motion. If the motions succeed, the president appoints him as the chancellor. If such an amendment to Rule 198 is made, the Lok Sabha would avoid premature dissolution without diluting the cardinal principle of democracy that is a government with the consent of the peoples’ representatives with periodical elections. It will also be consistent with the notion of collective responsibility of the government to the House as mentioned in Article 75 (3) of the Constitution.”
This proposal has several advantages. The country will always have a government which enjoys the confidence of the Lok Sabha. People will know in advance who is going to be the next PM and avoid the uncertainty as to who will lead the government. It will help ensure Lok Sabha complete its normal term of five years, as contemplated in the Constitution. If this proposal is applied to the states and local bodies, we can have simultaneous elections.
In India, politicians of all hue and colour give first priority to winning the elections which eventually hampers the efficiency of the government. This results in bureaucracy taking the country’s reigns in their hands and attending to people’s grievances take a back-seat. In addition, because of the enforcement of the moral code of conduct during elections, the pace of economic development is hampered. 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.
By Nilabh Krishna