Simultaneous polls: This is how we should implement the idea, whose time has come

The Election Commission has said that it is ready for simultaneous Centre and State elections, so has the time now come for holding the national and the state elections simultaneously?

No doubt, it’s not a bad idea. Synchronisation of elections would result in removal of perpetual cycle of elections taking place in one or other part of the country all round the year hindering development and governance due to imposition of unending model code of conduct. The political parties in government would get time to focus on welfare/development policies rather than slog it out on election turfs with their opponents during election campaigns.

Continuing elections keep divisive issues like caste & religion burning in public domain causing social schisms which at times, threatens the internal security of the nation. Frequent elections disrupt normal public life as administrative machinery gears up for the polls abdicating its entire original work. The security forces have to be kept deployed for prolonged periods.

Election expenses are huge; in 2014 LS elections, around 4000 crores were spent and in Bihar Assembly Election 2015 alone, 300 crores were spent. Add to these official figures the amounts spent individually by the candidates & the parties; the figures will go up astronomically. The need of the hour is to curtail the expenses and by clubbing together state and national elections, the expenses may be brought down.

Moreover, from 1951 to the mid 60s, elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies took place simultaneously and there was hardly an issue with that. May be the Congress was in power at the centre and in most of the states and hence the friction factor was not there. The President, the PM, the Election Commission and the Niti Ayog have openly canvassed for simultaneous polls but the other end of the political spectrum has so far maintained a studied silence.

Now, let’s talk about the misgivings that many experts and political parties may have on this issue of synchronised elections. Will it weaken the federal structure of the country as many experts feel? Is it an extension of BJP’s, one nation–one culture–one tax–one election regime? It’s true that issues for national elections and issues for state elections are entirely different and apprehensions that national & regional issues might get blurred. There might also be goal displacement, a strong national leader with charisma by virtue of his rhetoric & emotive appeal may score over regional leaders.

Since 1989 elections have taken place in 31 legislative assemblies in conjugation with national polls and in 24 of them, the polling percentage is identical for the major political parties both at the national level and the state level. Voters are generally confused when it comes to choosing two candidates — one for LS and the other for state assembly – at the same time, at the same place.

Normally, they tend to go for the same candidate in both the cases. Multi party system is likely to suffer. But all said and done, there seems to be no logic in doubting the mindset of a typical Indian voter. The voter may possess a rustic lack lustre exterior but from deep inside, he is capable of making intelligent choices. In 2014, LS elections and the Orissa Assembly elections were held together but the voting preferences of the electorate were different. The advent of cable television, social media and internet has reduced the distinction between global, national and local. All regional news are now national news and all national news are now global news; the vice versa is also true. The politicians should not underestimate the power of masses and challenge their conventional wisdom.

Regional politics has changed a lot and in most of the states, there is a contest between a national party and a strong regional party. Till the mid eighties, the share of the regional parties in Parliament seats hovered around 10 percent but the advent of the coalition era in the early nineties saw the regional satraps increasing their clout at the central level. The strength of these parties has been between 25 percent to 30 percent in the House since the last two LS elections of 2009 and 2014.

The regional parties were in the thick and thin of things during government formations under VP Singh, Deve Gouda and Gujral. Strong regional parties and dominant social identities have given a new dimension to federal politics in India. Regional leaders are no longer content to play roles at the state level but they have ambitions which extend into national polity. Regional leaders have gained more visibility as compared to the decades when Congress had political hegemony. State elections have become interesting with the intermingling of regional and national issues and as a matter of fact, no state election is less colourful and significant.

Simultaneous elections might adversely affect the chances of regional parties and sound a death knell to political and social diversity. I refuse to buy the argument that federation will be weakened. Diversity and autonomy to state units are laudable goals but there needs to be a common thread and that thread is of common belonging and nationhood; for this, integration is desirable.

Somewhere down the line, you do need to find a common meeting point between regional aspirations and national aspirations. You need to assimilate diversities and forge a common unity of purpose. The constitution has given strong powers to the union govt to tide over situations which threaten the integrity and unity of the country when it comes to dealing with recalcitrant state governments. Simultaneous elections will be a good step for integration of polity. Questions on social/political diversity should be best left for the voters to decide because since ages, the Indians have dealt with social, cultural and religious diversity with aplomb and survived under diverse political regimes of varied ideologies.

Synchronisation might pose problems because some state governments from the opposition camp would not like to give up power before the expiry of their tenures. A consensus needs to be evolved between the Modi Govt and the opposition on the likely modus operandi of simultaneous polls. Some constitutional issues have to be settled before proceeding further on the matter. For this, amendments will have to be done; there is nothing wrong with the amendments because the constitution has to be organic evolving with the passage of time and the change in society.

Vote on No Confidence Motion against the government has to be accompanied by an alternative government formation proposal. This feature of the German constitution needs to be incorporated to tide over situations that may result in midterm polls after fall of government. Article 356 gives the power to the centre to dismiss state governments before expiry of their terms. This article has to be amended for simultaneous polls to make sense as there may be situations under which president’s rule will be prolonged.

Midterm polls which keep the political executive under check and impart vibrancy to democracy may be a thing of the past if all the governments at centre or states have fixed tenures. Intense deliberations need to be carried out between all stake holders on issues like what will happen when a government resigns in the midst of its term.

If the period of tenure left is less than 6 months, the political executive may be asked to continue as care taker till elections do take place but what will be the repercussion if period of tenure left is more than 2 years? Should there be elections to elect a new political executive? If a new political executive is elected, what will be the tenure of his term? Will it be the remaining 2 years or 5 years?

Of course, the synchronisation factor will always have to be weighed. Some constitution experts feel that state assemblies and Lok Sabha have fixed tenures and they can’t be dissolved earlier; however the assemblies can be dissolved even before expiry of fixed term of 5 years as state or central governments do to take advantage of emerging political situation.

Articles 83 (1) and 172 (2) make it explicit that the tenure of state assembly or Lok Sabha can’t be extended beyond 5 years. Extension in terms can only be given during emergency. If synchronisation demands extension, what will be the way out? All issues need to debated and discussed before embarking on the decision.

Coming back to the point, simultaneous holding of elections is an idea whose time has come. Democratic traditions do change. The BJP led Govt has shown the political will; it’s time for the opposition to do some constructive politics. The political unity was achieved after independence. Electoral unity after synchronisation of polls will make political unity stronger and the greatest beneficiary will be our democracy.

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