One nation one election, What the Fuss?
The country is continuously, for the last few years, been hearing the clamour for ‘simultaneous elections.’ It is because there is a proposal to conduct the elections to the Lok Sabha and a State assemblies at the same time.
An all-party meet was convened recently to explore the possibility of simultaneous elections, but the oppositions dilly-dallying on the matter stalled it again. However,the push for “One nation, one election” came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016. Ever since, there have been widespread discussions on holding simultaneous polls, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party making a strong pitch for it.
Taking it a step further, the Law Commission submitted a draft report to the government on August 30, 2018, endorsing the proposal. It even recommended changes to the Constitution and the electoral law so as to enable holding simultaneous polls.
The idea of One Nation,One Election
Currently, elections to the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held separately — that is whenever the incumbent government’s five-year term ends or whenever it is dissolved due to various reasons. This applies to both the state legislatures and the Lok Sabha. The terms of Legislative Assemblies and the Lok Sabha may not synchronise with one another. For instance, Rajasthan faced elections in late 2018, whereas Tamil Nadu will go to elections only in 2021.
But the idea of “One Nation, One Election” envisages a system where elections to all states and the Lok Sabha will have to be held simultaneously. This will involve the restructuring of the country’s electoral cycle in a manner that elections to the states and the centre synchronise. This would mean that the voters will cast their vote for electing members of the LS and the state assemblies on a single day, at the same time (or in a phased manner as the case may be).
Background of the Concept
Basically the concept of one nation, one election is not new to India. They were the norm until 1967. But Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian premiership led to dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and that of the Lok Sabha in December 1970. Since that time elections to State Assemblies and Parliament have been held separately.
Debate revives under Vajpayee
In 1999, a law commission report during Vajpayee rule recommended holding elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The law commission had proposed that when a no-confidence motion is moved against a government, it should also have a resolution for vote confidence for an alternative government.
In a meeting over “one nation one election” proposal, the law commission held an all-party meeting last year. Interestingly, the BJP along with the Congress had not stated any categorical view on the question.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Samajwadi Party and YSR Congress came out in support of the proposal while the Communist Party of India, the BSP, the TMC, the TDP and a few others had opposed holding simultaneous elections.
According to a report in the Hindu “the idea of reverting to simultaneous polls was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999.” The recent push came ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the BJP manifesto. After Prime MInister Modi floated the idea once again in 2016, the Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017. In the working paper that the Law Commission brought out in April 2018, it said that at least “five Constitutional recommendations” would be required to get this off the ground. The final decision on holding simultaneous elections is yet to be taken.
How will the idea work?
There were two proposals to conduct simultaneous elections along with 17th Lok Sabha elections. However, both didn’t materialise. One proposal was to make the shift to simultaneous polls in a phased manner, where general elections, 12 State Assemblies (which by themselves face elections in late 2018 or 2019) and a Union Territory may be synchronised in 2019, as the rest of the states are in the middle of their five-year term.
These 12 states were Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan. NCT of Delhi (Union Territory with Legislature) also faces polls in 2019. For such a synchronisation to happen, besides political consensus and extension of term up to six months in some states, amendments to the Constitution have to be made. Elections to the remaining State Legislative Assemblies and Union Territory with Legislature (Puducherry) will be synchronised by the end of 2021. Thereafter, elections to the Lok Sabha, all the State Legislative Assemblies and Union Territories (with legislatures) will be held simultaneously from 2024.
The second option involved
synchronisation in two batches. First, elections to the 12 State Legislative Assemblies and one Union Territory would be synchronised with elections to the Lok Sabha in 2019. Next, elections to the remaining State Legislative Assemblies will be synchronised with that of one Union Territory by the end of 2021. This makes elections across the country synchronised in such a manner that they will be held twice every five years.
Merits of “One Nation One Election”
- Money Saving: The biggest logic in the favour of the simultaneous election is the saving of government money. If the country goes for “One Nation One Election” it will save huge money. There are 4120 MLAs in the 31 states & UTs. The maximum expenditure limit for bigger assemblies is 28 lacs. It means if all the states & UTs go for one time election then its total cost would be around Rs. 11 billion. Usually around 5 states go for polls every year.
- Speedy Development Work: It is observed that when the election Model Code of Conductis in force then the inauguration of new projects does not take place. So one time election will ensure continuity in policies and programmes of the central and state governments.
- Check on Black Money: It is an open secret that elections are fought with black money. A huge black turned into white money during elections in the country. So if the elections are conducted throughout the year then there is a possibility that parallel economy will grow in the country.
- Smooth functioning of the Government Machinery: Concerned government deploys huge manpower and machinery to conduct free and fair elections in the country and states. Schools and colleges open on time; teachers and other officials are allowed to work in their respective departments which ease the life of general public.
- Efficiency of Governance: If elections are not conducted annually then the government need not to woo general public through lucrative schemes and make caste and religion based programmes. Even State and Central Government need not to prepare lucrative budget every year and they can take tough decisions for the betterment of the economy.
Demerits of “One Nation One Election”
- Local issues will fade out: It is observed that elections for state assemblies and Lok Sabha are fought on different issues. Regional parties target local issues while national parties target national issues. So there is a possibility that regional parties will not be able to raise the local issues strongly.
- Hard time to Regional Parties: Regional parties will not be able to compete with national parties in terms of election expenditure and election strategy. Assembly elections are closely associated with the local issues and local voters. Hence one time election will not be accepted by the regional parties.
- Delay in Election Results: At present when almost all the regional parties are demanding to conduct elections through ballet papers. If elections are conducted in one time mode then the elections results will be declared very late.
- Constitutional Problems: One time election seems almost impossible due to democratic set up of the country. Suppose if elections are conducted simultaneously but it is not sure that all the states and central government will be formed by the full majority. It is also possible that some parties make alliance government which can fall any time before 5 years. So there is a possibility of re-election in the whole country.
- Requirement of Huge Machinery & Resources: As we know that India is the largest democracy in the world so it will be daunting task to conduct simultaneous election in all the states, UTs and Lok Sabha.
According to the Law Commission, if the country goes for simultaneous election then the election commission need to spend Rs 4,500 crore on new EVMs.
Constitutional Amendments needed for simultaneous Elections;
- Article 83 which deals with the duration of Houses of Parliament.
- Article 85 deals dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President.
- Article 172 related to duration of state legislatures.
- Article 174 related to dissolution of state assemblies.
- Article 356 President’s Rule in the state.
The Representation of People Act, 1951 Act would have to be amended to build in provisions for stability of tenure for both parliament and assemblies.
Which country conducts simultaneous elections?
- South Africa
In the present scenario it seems tough to adopt the system of “One Nation One Election” because the regional parties will not agree to adopt this system because they have experienced the worst defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. So before getting the consensus of all political parties the central government need to do the required preparation for the “One Nation One Election”.
According to a survey, there are 77 per cent chances that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both the state and Centre when elections are held simultaneously because India is a union of states and the central government allots huge money to the government of the same party in the states.
At present, one voting machine is being used at every polling station for taking a poll. For holding simultaneous elections, the requirements for EVMs and the VVPATs will double, because for every polling station, the ECI has to provide two sets (one for election to the Legislative Assembly and second for that to the Lok Sabha).
There will also be an additional requirement of the polling staff.
There will be difficulty in transporting materials to the polling stations.
There will be a need for better security arrangements for simultaneous elections thus augmenting the Central Police Forces accordingly.
The ECI is already facing problem in storing EVMs after elections.
India had held the elections for the assembly as well as the Lok Sabha from 1951-52 to till 1967. As such, therefore, there are no disagreements on adequacy and efficacy of ‘One Nation One Election’. India can even think of holding elections at the same time even for the local bodies. The main problem is only that of the synchronization considering the traditions and conventions that India’s Parliamentary system follows.
One radical solution is to switch to the Presidential form of Government where the President is not accountable to the House.
In America, the election day is fixed. After every four years, the tuesday that falls after the first monday in the month of November is the election day for the seat of the President and the Vice President.
Similarly, the dates for holding the elections for the House of Representative and the Senate, are also fixed. The dates are between 2nd and 8th of the month of November. By law, these dates have been fixed.
In India, fixing the dates is not feasible because of the Parliamentary form of government.
If India wants to continue with the Parliamentary form of government, there are following solutions:
First one is inviting the second or the third leading person in the house or the leader of a political party to form the government or the House being given the opportunity to elect its leader, in case the government falls before completing its term.
Second is amending the constitution to a certain extent and provide that any assembly whose term is ending within the six months to the Lok Sabha elections, after or before, the election for it can happen with that of the Lok Sabha.
Synchronising only the elections to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
There is no doubt that implementation of the ‘One Nation One Election’ will involve some logistical costs. But there will be saving on other counts (e.g. reduced election expenditure) which would result in net savings.
Problems within the Solutions
The amendments would require apart from the two thirds majority of both houses of the Parliament, also ratification by at least half of the state assemblies.
It is so that even if the constitution gets amended, there still will be reasons due to which an assembly may get dissolved, therefore, one nation-one time-one election is not possible.
Switching to the Presidential form of government would mean altering the basic structure of the constitution.
Any ruling political party would hardly like to dissolve the assembly for the sake of simultaneous polls.
There needs to be a consensus on whether the country needs one nation one poll or not. All political parties should at least cooperate in debating this issue, once the debate starts, the public opinion can be taken into consideration. India being a mature democracy, can then follow the outcome of the debate.
By Nilabh Krishna