By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, June 28, 2019: In a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual county like India, ‘One Nation One Election’ is bound to be a contentious issue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again rekindled the issue by announcing the formation of a committee to look into various aspects of simultaneous polls to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.

In fact, former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee first mooted this idea in mid-1990s. Modi has once again vigorously begun pursuing the idea by calling for a national debate on this issue before execution of such far-reaching electoral reform. However, so far, political consensus has eluded establishment over the issue, even as it resurfaces from time to time.

The simultaneous election is not a new concept in the country. In fact, the first election which was held at 1952 was conducted simultaneously and the trend continued till 1967 when the fourth Lok Sabha was dissolved early.

The idea has several advantages. The frequent conduct of elections involves huge expenditure and use of various other resources that is why supporters of the idea argue for ‘One Nation One Election’. The Election Commission incurs a total cost of roughly Rs 8,000 crore to conduct all State and federal elections in a span of five years, or roughly Rs1,500 crore every year. All the States and the Centre combined incurred expenditure in excess of Rs 30 lakh crore in the just concluded elections to Lok Sabha and four Assemblies. On top of that in 2019 elections, there were 610 political parties, around 9,000 candidates and poll expenses of are pegged around Rs 60,000 crore by Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) though the political parties are yet to declare the expenses they incurred in the election.

Still worse is the fact that frequent imposition of Model Code of Conduct leads to suspension of developmental projects and other government activities. The larger intangible impact of frequent elections is that Governments and political parties remain in perpetual “campaigning” mode. Electoral compulsions change the focus of policy making.

But the biggest impediment in its implementation is constitutional provision relating to no-confidence motion and related issues. What will happen when elected governments fail to complete their tenure at the time of a Lok Sabha election? Will they be removed?

The Law Commission has already recommended a tough legal framework for such a gigantic exercise alongside amendments to the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act to ensure simultaneous elections. Simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies can be held in two phases, provided at least two provisions of the Constitution are amended and ratified by a majority of the states, the Commission had said in its draft recommendations.

The law panel document stated that the leader of the majority party be elected prime minister or chief minister by the entire House (Lok Sabha or State Assembly) to ensure stability of the government as well as the Lok Sabha or the Assembly.

The report proposed amending the Constitution (Articles 83(2) and 172(1) dealing with tenures of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies) and the Representation of the People Act to extend the terms of state legislative Assemblies to effect the move. It suggested that in case a government fell mid-term, the term of the new government would be for the remaining period “and not for a fresh five-year term”.

“As an abundant caution and in order to avoid a challenge (in the courts) to amendments on the ground of not having obtained ratification by majority of the states, such ratification could be obtained for the proposed (constitutional) amendment,” the report said.

Similarly, the government think-tank, NITI Aayog, had last year suggested synchronised two-phase Lok Sabha and Assembly polls from 2024 to ensure minimum campaign-mode disruption to governance.

PM Modi also had called an all-party meeting for discussion on the issue. But the absence of key Opposition parties — the Congress, Trinamul Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam etc appears to have defeated the very purpose of the meeting. The government has a brute majority and still can go ahead with appropriate amendments to the constitution to make ‘One Nation, One Election’ a reality. But the government should reach out effectively to the Opposition to facilitate meaningful dialogue.

Indian democracy has its federal structure where centre and state governments enjoy their rights and responsibilities. Parliament and State assemblies make a delicate balance between autocracy and democracy, centralization and decentralization.

The Opposition has refused to back the idea, saying the whole idea is against federal principles and questioning the feasibility of such a move. Simultaneous elections could unfairly brighten the prospects of national parties vis-à-vis regional ones. The Opposition alleges that Mr Modi’s endorsement stems from this perceived advantage.

They further apprehend that ‘One Nation, One Election” will only serve the interests of those keen on further centralization of an already overly centralized union, and do a grave disservice to the federal character of our country as envisaged in the Constitution. Further, simultaneous elections will adversely impact on the political autonomy of States. At present, any elected State government can choose to dissolve its Assembly and call for fresh elections. If elections are to be held simultaneously, States will have to give up this power and wait for a national election schedule.

The Opposition parties think if simultaneous elections become a reality India will turn into a managed democracy like Valdimir Putin’s Russia. Free and fair elections and the rule of law are pretended in managed democracy and India being the largest democracy in the world cannot go Russia way.

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