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One nation one election: Complexities, controversies, and prospects

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In the cacophony of Indian politics, one idea has been reverberating with increasing intensity – “One Nation One Election” (ONOE). It’s a concept that promises to streamline India’s election process, reduce costs, and, proponents argue, enhance governance stability. However, the devil is in the details, as they say, and ONOE is no exception.

The idea of synchronizing India’s elections is not entirely new. It was first proposed by the Law Commission of India in its 170th report in 1999. The report argued that frequent elections disrupt governance and impose a heavy financial burden on the country. However, it wasn’t until recently that ONOE gained significant traction.

  • Pros and Cons

Proponents argue that ONOE can bring about stability in governance. Politicians frequently prioritise election campaigns over governance in the current system. Elections at various levels might be coordinated, which might enable administrations to concentrate on policy implementation for longer periods of time. Additionally, elections in India are expensive to hold.

According to a research by the Centre for Media Studies, the Lok Sabha elections cost Rs. 55,000 crore, making it one of the most expensive elections in human history. By lowering the number of elections and streamlining the electoral process, the ONOE might result in significant cost savings. These savings could be redirected towards development and welfare programs.

For the seven-phase Lok Sabha election in the country in 2019, up to three lakh paramilitary forces as well as over twenty lakh state police officials and home guards were deployed. According to authorities from the Home Ministry, this deployment was the largest ever in India. And during the forthcoming elections, this number would continue to rise. Consolidating elections may also aid in the more efficient use of resources, such as people and security forces. By doing so, resources may become available for more pressing jobs.

Despite the presence of anti-defection laws, the introduction of fixed-term elections appears to be a hopeful promise for ending the age-old practise of political horse-trading. This change may make it far more difficult for elected officials to engage in opportunistic party switching or alliance formation purely for personal advantage. Furthermore, the shift to planned elections may result in fewer ostentatious gifts and populist policy initiatives that have become synonymous with numerous election cycles. Even if we can’t completely stop these practises, their frequency may noticeably decrease. A less frequent election schedule could be a lifeline for state governments, who are now under financial stress as a result of the incessant electoral calendar.

Critics, on the other hand, contend that democratic values shouldn’t be sacrificed for stability. Regular elections are necessary to hold elected officials responsible. Politicians may become complacent if their frequency is decreased.

The federal structure of India is a cornerstone of its democracy. The centralization of authority and erosion of state sovereignty raised by ONOE, according to critics, threaten to destroy this system. State governments would experience pressure to align their ideas with the national faction in power, potentially jeopardising variety in governance.

India is incredibly diverse, with states facing unique challenges. Critics argue that aligning elections may neglect regional issues. Different states may require distinct policies and leaders, and synchronizing elections could overlook these specific needs. Implementing ONOE would require significant legal changes and pose logistical challenges. Amendments to electoral laws, political consensus, and infrastructure readiness are all factors that need to be considered.

  • Constitutionality and Legal Considerations

The Indian Constitution makes no explicit mention of ONOE. Elections in India are primarily governed by the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and other applicable laws.

The conduct of elections in India is under the control of the Election Commission of India. While it has the jurisdiction to make recommendations and propose changes to election-related laws, any constitutional revisions or major changes to the electoral system must be authorised by the Indian Parliament.

Hence any significant changes to the electoral system, such as the implementation of ONOE, would require amendments to these laws, which makes such bill highly improbable to pass in both the houses of the parliament. Although, with a majority, the NDA is known for conducting such daring actions in the past successfully. Therefore, even if the passage of this measure seems unlikely, it is most definitely conceivable. Additionally, it would give the BJP-led administration a plan for the 19th Lok Sabha Election.

  • A Global Perspective

ONOE is not unique to India; other countries have experimented with synchronized elections: Italy has synchronized its national and regional elections at various points in its history. Sweden is known for its synchronized elections, holding national, regional, and municipal elections on the same day. This system is often praised for its efficiency and reduced election-related costs. South Africa has synchronized its national elections for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures to promote efficiency and reduce the frequency of elections. Belgium has experimented with synchronized elections, but it’s a complex case due to its federal structure and regional diversity. Elections for the federal parliament, regional parliaments, and the European Parliament have been aligned at times, but the process has faced challenges due to linguistic and regional divisions.

  • Way Forward

The ONOE proposal in India is a complex and multifaceted issue that touches upon governance stability, cost savings, democratic principles, federalism, and the neglect of regional issues. While it offers potential benefits, it also raises valid concerns about its impact on the federal structure and diversity of governance.

The constitutionality of ONOE remains a matter of interpretation, and its success would depend on the political will to amend electoral laws. Comparative examples from other countries demonstrate that synchronized elections can work but come with their own set of challenges.

The debate around ONOE in India is far from settled, in fact it is in its nascent stage. It is essential for policymakers and citizens to engage in a thorough and informed discussion to weigh the pros and cons and determine whether this proposal aligns with India’s democratic ideals and unique federal structure. Ultimately, the decision should prioritize both the efficiency of governance and the preservation of democratic principles that are the cornerstone of India’s vibrant democracy.

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