One nation, one election and many questions

Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for an all-party meet on June 19, within three weeks of his taking oath, to discuss the idea of holding simultaneous elections in the country, shows his determination to go ahead with the one nation one election plan.
One nation, one election and many questions

Chennai

Of the 40 chiefs of political parties who were invited, 21 attended, with three other parties sending in their written submissions.

Modi has promised to set up a committee to examine the issues and challenges voiced at the meeting, in a time-bound manner.

Implementing simultaneous elections in a three-tiered democratic system would require a massive synchronisation of electoral machinery, logistics, and manpower, at national, state and village panchayat levels. Plus, it will need several amendments to the Constitution of India.

But those who know Modi closely believe that once he makes up his mind, he doesn’t stop.

What exactly is this concept of holding simultaneous elections?

In simple terms,it means that a citizen of India would be able to cast his vote for all three tiers of democratic structure, the Lok Sabha, the State Assembly, and the local bodies, on a single day and at the same time.

Why is the idea of One Nation One Election appealing for a country like India, even though it is not new?

Looking back, simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held in India from 1952 till 1967. The dissolution of certain state assemblies in 1970 and 1979 disrupted the system. As many as six Lok Sabhas elected in 1967,1977, 1989, 1996,1998 and 1999 had witnessed pre-mature dissolution of coalition governments, whose tenure varied between 13 months and four years and four months (PM Vajpayee prematurely dissolved the government to face elections in April 2004. The tenure was still October 2004). The fifth Lok Sabha functioned for five years and 10 months, an extension due to the proclamation of Emergency.

The proponents of “One Nation One Election” believe that holding simultaneous elections will benefit the country in multiple ways as the country seems to be perpetually in election mode; 30-odd elections to various state assemblies and Union Territories are scheduled to be held between the current and the next Lok Sabha.

The advantage
By going for a simultaneous election system, India could gain in many ways. Economically, it will save the country thousands of crores in terms of cost of logistics, manpower andopportunity costs.

According to unofficial estimates, an estimated Rs 55,000 crore - 60,000 crore (refer graphic) were spent during the recently concluded 2019 Lok Sabha Elections as per a CMS Report forwarded by S Y Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, including the cost borne by the election Commission, government agencies, candidates and the political parties. That works out to be approximately Rs 100 crore per constituency and Rs 700 per voter.

Adding further to the economic cost of holding state assembly elections are the socio-political-opportunity costs. The head of the ruling party, that is the Prime Minister, owing to his political accountability towards his party in terms of helping them win in the scheduled state elections, is severely limited in terms of his time and attention. This could otherwise be better utilised for implementing the much needed development schemes that could transform the state of the nation. Many critics believe that Modi was constantly on election mode, instead of focussing on implementing his development agenda.

On the social front, continuous elections in different state assemblies, ensuing bitter political campaigns around each of them, and their amplification by the media,creates an atmosphere of anxiety and socio-religious tension for the people.

Many experts feel that the deployment of central security forces for ensuring a free and fair election also distracts them from their core functions.

The entire country agrees that the root of black money lies deep in the politics of winning elections. Reducing the election cycles and its frequency can check horse trading, splurging on election campaigns, and the use of money for elections via other unofficial channels.

Policy watchers also feel that due to the strict provisions of the Model Code of Conduct around elections, and with some state or the other perpetually going to polls, the implementation of crucial development projects and schemes is --paralysed, specially the centre-sponsored ones, thus slowing down the national economy in the long run.

But is it all that simple?

Though conceptually the idea seems to have an overwhelming acceptance, the challenges seem to be mountainous.

There are multiple issues that need to be addressed to make “One Nation, One Election” a reality. The Constitution of India would require to be significantly amended for it to support the system of one simultaneous election for the nation. The biggest question is about fixing the terms of the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha and synchronising them.

What would happen if the ruling party or the ruling alliance loses the majority in the house, if a motion of “No confidence” is moved by the opposition? Some constitutional experts have proposed that a motion of “Confidence” has to be moved simultaneously for the team that would form the next government. Some critics also point out that creating a system of fixed 5-year terms will lead to a tendency of an authoritarian government with the elected members and the ruling party showing lesser accountability towards their voters as they will not be afraid to lose their power in between, on account of a guaranteed term.

Managing the simultaneous elections to the third tier of our electoral system is going to be a massive task owing to the large number of Panchayats, Jila Parishads, Municipal Corporations and other local elected bodies. The responsibility for holding these elections lie with the State Election Commissions (SEC). With as many as 31 SECs, implementing a simultaneous election will need a mega synchronisation of the entire electoral machinery of gigantic proportions.

Some experts say the nation could do it in a phased manner.

The first phase would try and synchronise the scheduled state elections in batches; that is by extending or curtailing the current tenure by six months in order to club them together, with the powers vested in the EC. But for those states with remaining assembly tenures beyond six months, the President of India will have to use the special powers that would require endorsement by both housesof Parliament.

The Parliamentary Committee Report, 2015, also quotes the views of the key political parties from Tamil Nadu, AIADMK and DMK:

AIADMK has extended its support to the idea in principle, by stating, "However, there are likely to be some key issues which would have to be resolved before such a practice can be adopted. It entails that the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies would have a fixed term..

This is similar to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, 2011 in the UK, where the elections have been fixed for every five years and the elections can be held prior to that, only if two-thirds of the majority of the House of Commons vote for fresh elections; or the Government falls because of a vote of no-confidence, and another government cannot pass a confidence motion within 14 days. Together with the fixed term, fixed dates of election and counting should also be announced as in the case of the Presidential election in the United States. This will enable the political parties to prepare themselves well for the elections. Further, the dates will not be left to the whims of the Election Commission of India, who suddenly call for a press meet and announce the Election schedule, from which time the Model Code of Conduct comes into force.

However, even after that problems will arise. Firstly, in adjusting the residual time period of the existing State Assemblies which are currently not coterminous with the Lok Sabha, will the terms of these Assemblies be extended or cut short? Norms would have to be worked out for this." DMK too had supported the proposal of holding simultaneous elections, with the following suggestions to the Parliamentary Committee: "In the Constitution of India, there is provision that a member elected in the by-election can hold office for the remaining period of term only, whether it is for the Rajya Sabha/Lok Sabha or for Legislative Assembly. Similarly, General Elections are conducted whenever Parliament/Assembly is dissolved or resigns prematurely. The government thus formed has the right to rule for the complete five years instead of the remaining period. This should not be like this. If a government is formed after premature dissolution, its term should be fixed for the remaining period only. Only then, it will ensure the conduct of elections simultaneously for Parliamentor Assembly."

Talking about the other regional political parties, as per the Committee report, Trinamool Congress (AITC) has rejected the idea, stating that the Constitution of India provides a tenure of five years for the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies which can be dissolved prematurely but the terms can be extended only if National Emergency has been proclaimed. Further, the party has stated that postponement of elections is anti-democratic and unconstitutional.

However, the party has submitted that it supports holding of simultaneous elections to Panchayats and Municipal bodies.

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