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‘One Nation, One Election’, assessing the idea

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    16th Feb, 2022

Context

Elections in 5 states of India in February-March 2022 has once again put the question of One Nation, One Election, i.e. holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and all state assemblies, at the centre-stage.

Background

  • Simultaneous elections are not new to India. They were the norm until 1967.
  • The idea of reverting to simultaneous polls was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983.
  • The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999.
  • The recent push came ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the BJP manifesto. After Mr. Modi floated the idea once again in 2016, the Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017.
  • In the working paper that the Law Commission brought out in April 2018, it said that at least “five Constitutional recommendations” would be required to get this off the ground.
  • The final decision on holding simultaneous elections is yet to be taken.

Analysis

What are simultaneous polls?

  • Currently, elections to the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held separately — that is whenever the incumbent government’s five-year term ends or whenever it is dissolved due to various reasons.
  • This applies to both the state legislatures and the Lok Sabha.
  • The terms of Legislative Assemblies and the Lok Sabha may not synchronise with one another.
  • For instance, Rajasthan faced elections in late 2018, whereas Tamil Nadu will go to elections only in 2021.
  • But the idea of “One Nation, One Election” envisages a system where elections to all states and the Lok Sabha will have to be held simultaneously.
  • This will involve the restructuring of the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to the states and the centre synchronise.
  • This would mean that the voters will cast their vote for electing members of the LS and the state assemblies on a single day, at the same time (or in a phased manner as the case may be).

What are the pros & cons of the idea?

Arguments in favour

  • Cost reduction: One Nation, One Election would reduce the cost of holding elections, and limit all elections to a single event.
  • Public welfare: The occurrence of elections somewhere or the other almost all the time, according to some, leads to the Model Code of Conduct getting in the way of the government announcing projects or policy plans for the benefit of the people.

The Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately on the announcement of the election schedule by the commission for the need of ensuring free and fair elections 

Its main purpose is to ensure that ruling parties, at the Centre and in the States, do not misuse their position of advantage to gain an unfair edge. Mode Code of Conduct prohibit launching of scheme or project by Central or state government after the announcement of election schedule.

Arguments against

  • Complex process: It is argued that holding just one mega election (for Lok Sabha and all state assemblies) would be too complex an exercise to be tackled in a country as large and as complex as India.
  • Logistics issue: Holding of simultaneous elections could be a logistic nightmare — requiring, for example, about twice as many electronic voting machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines as are used now.
  • Favouring one player: There is also the view that simultaneous elections would benefit the party that is nationally dominant at the cost of smaller regional players.
  • Going against the basic objective: The idea of One Nation, One Election could also lead to a situation where a particular government, either of the Centre or of any state, may lose confidence of the legislature. In such a case, allowing the government to function would mean going against the basic tenets of parliamentary democracy.

Brief history of simultaneous elections in India-

  • India did start-off with simultaneous elections. Lok Sabha and state legislatures went to polls together in 1952 and 1957.
  • The cycle was first broken in Kerala, in July 1959, when the Union Government of Jawaharlal Nehru used Article 356 of the Constitution to dismiss the state government of the M. S. Namboodiripad (Communist Party of India).

Under Article 356 of the Constitution of India, if a state government is unable to function according to Constitutional provisions, the Union government can take direct control of the state machinery.

  • M. S. Namboodiripad had become Chief Minister after the elections of April 1957 and the above occurrence resulted in Kerala voting for a new five-year Assembly again in February 1960.
  • In the 1967 elections, the Congress suffered setbacks in Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal, Orissa, Madras and Kerala and governments of the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal, comprising the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Samyukta Socialist Party, Praja Socialist Party, Swatantra Party, Bharatiya Jana Sangh and defectors from the Congress were formed. 
  • These governments were unstable, there were rampant defections, and many of these Assemblies were dissolved before their terms were over, resulting in the separation of the election cycles of many states from that of the Lok Sabha.
  • At present, Assembly elections in only Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are held together with the Lok Sabha elections.

Early explorations of the idea:

  • In 1983, the Election Commission had suggested simultaneous elections.
  • The Law Commission headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, in its 170th Report in May 1999, had stated: “We must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”.
  • In 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took up the matter with Congress president Sonia Gandhiwho was receptive to begin with, but the idea could not be ultimately pursued.
  • In 2010, L K Advani discussed the matter with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but no result came out of the same.

What Next?

The Opposition parties, especially the regional ones, are likely to remain wary of an idea that has the potential to take away the local element of state elections, and allow national leaders to overshadow the regional ones. 

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections demonstrated the unmatched appeal of Prime Minister Modi, and a single campaign and election for all state Assemblies and the Lok Sabha might, according to the opposition parties, give the BJP an overwhelming advantage across the country.

On the other hand, the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to the idea suggests that the current national government will push the envelope as much as it can.

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