There’s as much opposition as there is support for the idea. But is One Nation One Election the way forward for India?
After returning to power, PM Modi-led NDA government has reignited the debate on whether India should hold simultaneous state and national elections.
Centre announced that a committee will be formed to evaluate the idea of “One Country, One Election”.
In his address to the joint session of the Parliament, President Ram Nath Kovind said that One Nation, Simultaneous Election is the need of the hour and will facilitate accelerated development, thereby benefiting countrymen.
The PM also held a meeting with leaders of all political parties of India. But there has been opposition to the idea from a number of regional parties.
A brief history
India did hold simultaneous polls in its early history, way back in 1952 and 1957.
But that was when Congress was the single dominant national party. The synchronization was first broken when the central government invoked Article 356 to dismiss the Communist government in Kerala in 1959.
1967 was the turning point in India’s polling approach when a drowning popularity saw Congress lose in Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal, Orissa, Madras and Kerala during the 1967 polls.
With regional parties coming into power, political stability when for a toss and assemblies were dissolved untimely, leading to the scattering of the poll activity for states away from Lok Sabha elections.
Today, assembly elections for 4 states – Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim are held with the general elections. The untimely dissolutions are contained by the 1985 anti-defection law and Supreme Court judgment that the “President can put a state Assembly in suspended animation, but cannot dissolve it without concurrence of Parliament.”
When the issue has been raised?
In the modern era, the idea was first floated by the Election Commission in 1983. In 1999, the Law Commission in its 170th Report stated that India should revert back to the situation where all elections are held at once.
Then the issue was taken up again in 2003, by then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who reached out to the opposition leader in Congress president Sonia Gandhi, but the idea didn’t gather momentum.
In 2010, BJP‘s L K Advani, wrote in his blog that PM Manmohan Singh and FM Pranab Mukherjee were receptive to the proposal of fixed term legislatures and simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. Advani noticed that the fact that there is a “mini-general election” every alternate year is “not good for the health either of our Central and State governments, or of our polity.”
There are arguments on both sides
Reduction of polling expenditure: Simultaneous polls is argued to help in reducing the cost of holding elections year after year.
Limiting time of elections: Argument is made that simultaneous polls will help governments to keep up with new project or policy announcements, which are limited due to recurring Model Code of Conduct due to scattered election season.
Benefits to National parties against smaller regional ones: Those opposing the idea opine that simultaneous polls will help the fortunes of the nationally dominant parties with bigger propaganda machines, against regional outfits.
Complication of untimely dissolution: Simultaneous polls will make it tricky in a situation when governments collapse before term completion. Not just states but even the central government has witnessed dissolution seven times (1971, 1980, 1984, 1991, 1998, 1999 and 2004) before scheduled completion of tenure.
Logistical issues: A nation-wide polling exercise will need more resources in manpower and equipment for voting like EVMs and VVPATs, where the numbers will more than double the numbers used currently during general elections.
The current bid
In 2015, a report on ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’ was devised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.
The Congress had rejected the findings saying such a concept would be “impractical” and “unworkable”. The TMC opined it as anti-democratic and unconstitutional, while the CPI and the NCP stated it “not feasible” and CPI(M) said there were “practical problems”.
What will it take?
In a 2018 draft report, the Law Commission stated that One Nation, One Election concept is unimplementable under the current constitutional framework of the Constitution. The constitution will need appropriate amendments along with changes in the Representation of the People Act 1951, and the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.
Another suggestion of the Law Commission was replacing the “no-confidence motion” with a “constructive vote of no-confidence”, wherein a government can only be removed if there is confidence in an alternative government.
The opposition says such a move will hurt the regional element of state polls, as leaders of national prominence will easily overshadow regional personalities.
Swaraj India president and poll analyst Yogendra Yadav has opined the idea means “One Nation, One Election, One Party, One Leader”.
The ruling BJP included the idea in its poll manifesto and is now looking to fulfill the poll promise. But the opposition’s staunch rejection means it needs a majority in Rajya Sabha too to move forward with needed amendments.
By: Chitresh Sehgal, Senior Editor, Dkoding Media