One Nation, One Election - Simultaneous Polls a Good or Bad Idea for India IAS Target

One Nation, One Election - Simultaneous Polls a Good or Bad Idea for India

30 Jul 2020

Category : National Issue

Topic: One Nation, One Election - Simultaneous Polls a Good or Bad Idea for India

The theory asks for all elections to take place on the same day every five years. Reformers and reports backing this theory suggest that by doing so, we would be able to save costs, resources and time. In 2018, when Karnataka elections concluded, reports were emerging that suggests that it had been one of the ‘most expensive’ assembly elections. A report published in The Indian Express, suggests that between Rs 9,500-10,500 crore was spent by various political parties and their candidates in the Karnataka assembly polls. This is more than twice of what was reportedly spent in the previous assembly poll in the state in 2013.
The cost of such elections, the inevitable allegations of corruption and vote buying along with the expense of providing security and the logistics of conducting one election after another is raising the call for electoral reform across the country. Among many ideas, ‘One Nation, One Election’ is a reform the present central government is exploring. Some of the voices that have come out in support of this include former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, who says in an interview to Bloomberg Quint, “From the Election Commission’s point of view this is the easiest thing to happen. The voter is the same, polling stations are the same, and the security needed is the same.” “Once the voter enters the polling station, whether he votes for one election or two or three – it is the same thing.” “The only problem I see is that the number of machines needed has to be increased. It also requires a political consensus.”

Concept of One Nation One Election

The concept behind 'One Nation, One Election' means conducting the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies’ elections together every five years. But it doesn't include elections to panchayats, state municipalities and by-elections. But such a dramatic concept, needs a constitutional amendment, which will have to be ratified by 50 percent of the states. This will involve the re-aligning the Election pattern of India in a manner that elections to the states and the centre synchronise in a common platform. This would mean that the voters will cast their vote for choosing both members of the LS and the state assemblies on a single day and at the same time.

Previous Instances of One Nation One Election in India

Simultaneous elections are not a new concept to India. They were followed till 1967 from 1st election in 1952 of Independent India. But with dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969, followed by the Lok Sabha in December 1970 and emergence of regional parties in different states specially in southern part of India and weaker position of Indian National Congress, resulted in a confusion. So state Assemblies and Parliament elections have been held separately. But once again, the idea of simultaneous polls mentioned and gained prominence in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. The Election Commission put forth this idea as early as 1983. Later, the Law Commission headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, in its May 1999 report, said, “We must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”.

Justice Reddy view

The theory asks for all elections to take place on the same day every five years. Reformers and reports backing this theory suggest that by doing so, we would be able to save costs, resources and time. But the idea was shelved. Once again, the Law Commission’s Report recommended the idea in 1999. The recent push for the initiative came up before 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the BJP manifesto. Later PM Narendra Modi floated the idea once again in 2016, as a result the Niti Aayog prepared a detailed working report in January 2017 and mentioned certain constitutional amendments needed for the report.

Problems associated with the frequent Election

  • The massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections.
  • The policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time.
  • Impact on delivery of essential services.
  • Burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time.
  • Frequent elections affect policymaking and governance as the government is trapped in short-term thinking.
  • It also destabilise duly-elected governments and imposes a heavy burden on the exchequer.
  • It also puts pressure on political parties, especially smaller ones, as elections are becoming increasingly expensive.
  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which comes into force with the announcement of poll dates, prevents government from announcing any new schemes, make any new appointments, transfers and postings without the approval of election commission. This brings normal work of the government to a standstill.
  • It also increases the cost of management to the election commission.

One Nation One Election:

Benefits:
Save Money The greatest rationale in the support of the simultaneous election is the saving of government money. If the country goes for “One Nation One Election” it will save huge amount of money. There are 4120 MLAs in the 31 states and UTs the use limit for assembly election is Rs.28 lacks. It implies that absolute expense would be somewhere around Rs. 11 billon. Normally a round 5 states go for elections each year.
Improvement in Economy with Money Saved The money saved will help the Government to keep the focus on improving the slowing down economy, healthcare, education, condition of farmers and not on rallies to be conducted for elections which is conducted in half a dozen states every now and then.
Will Help Speed up Development Work Code of Conduct during election period is imposed and it happens every now and then in one or other state. When the Model Code of Conduct is in force, new projects for public welfare cannot be launched. Accordingly, one time election will ensure continuity in policies, projects and programmes of the central and state governments.
Getting Rid of False Promises Vote bank appeasement becomes the buzz word during elections. With elections around the corner, most political parties resort to contrivances to win or devastate reputation of different parties. They devise strategies just those which would win a bit leeway for the vote bank and help in winning elections. People are sick of this sort of submission as these lawmakers prevent the passage of long-term useful polices but promote which give them dividends.
Effective Governance If elections are not held frequently, the administration will go ahead with worthwhile plans and development based projects instead of election season focused plans. Even state and central government need not prepare lucrative budget with sops every year and they can take decisions for the development of economy.
Social Welfare Focused Government Functioning Delays in Government working can be stopped which is caused by repeated conduct of elections. Exchequer incurs colossal labor and money to conduct free and fair elections in the country and states. One Nation One Election concept will help the Schools and universities open on time; educators to work without fear of vacation every now and then. This will have positive on the life of overall population.
Curbing Corruption Simultaneous elections can also be a means to curb corruption and build a more conducive socio-economic ecosystem.
Curb Black Money The impact of black money on the voters will be reduced as all elections are held at a time.

The Challenges

  • The current electoral cycle is such that, in general, there are about 5-7 elections every year in the country. And therefore it will be impossible to synchronize electoral cycles of State Assemblies with Lok Sabha without a one-time extension or curtailment of existing tenures of either most Legislative Assemblies or the Lok Sabha itself. Hence, any solution to implement simultaneous elections would necessarily involve appropriate one-time adjustments to terms of Lok Sabha or State Assembly.

  • To devise such acceptable principles, it is important to see the key constitutional and statutory provisions summarized below:
    • Article 83(2) of the Constitution provides for a normal term of five years for the House of People (Lok Sabha).
    • Article 85 (on dissolution of Lok Sabha by the president)
    • Article 172 (1) provides for similar tenure for State Legislative Assembly from the date of its first sitting.
    • Article 174 (relating to dissolution of state assemblies)
    Both Lok Sabha and State Assemblies do not have a fixed term and can be dissolved earlier than its normal terms. Tenure of the House cannot be extended beyond 5 years except in emergency situation.

  • Section 14 and 15 of the Representation of People Act 1951 empowers the Election Commission of India to notify the elections to both the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies six months prior to the end of the normal terms of the Houses.

  • Impact to voter behavior:
    The primary hypothesis of this criticism is that Indian voters are not mature / informed enough to differentiate between the voting choices for State Assembly and Lok Sabha in case simultaneous elections are held.
    This situation could lead to:
    • National issues impacting electorate’s behavior for voting in State Assembly elections; or
    • State issues impacting electorate’s behavior for voting in Lok Sabha elections. As a result, voter behavior gets influenced and he/she may vote for the same political party, which in most cases may be larger national parties.

Recently, Dr. S. Y. Quraishi in an article on simultaneous elections pointed out some additional points as counter-arguments to simultaneous elections. He mentioned the following points:
  • Having to face electorate more than once every 5 year enhances the accountability of politicians and keeps them on their toes and
  • Many jobs are created during elections, boosting the economy at the grass-root levels”.

There were two different ideas to conduct simultaneous elections. However, both weren't considered.

  • The first proposal was to make the shift to simultaneous polls in a divided and a phased manner. The general elections along few State Assemblies which will be facing elections late 2018 or 2019 and a Union Territory could be consolidated in 2019. While the rest of the states are in the middle of their five-year term. The states were Odisha, Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and NCT of Delhi (Union Territory with Legislature) also facing polls in 2019. But for such an electoral implementation there needs to be political consensus and expansion of the term upto 6-8 months. Besides, amendments to the Constitution. Furthermore, elections to the rest of States can be synchronised in the end of 2021.
  • The second proposal involved synchronisation in two sections. First, elections to the 12 State Legislative Assemblies and one Union Territory would be centralised with with 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Next, elections to the remaining State Legislative Assemblies will be synchronised in the end of 2021.

Conclusion

Elections impact everyone in the entire country – citizens, businesses, administrative machinery, constitutional institutions, political parties, leaders and so on. Eventual implementation of this measure would not only require significant Constitutional and Statutory amendments, it would also require significant consensus amongst the key stakeholders. Without a general consensus and wider acceptance, its intent and efficacy could be compromised. The Constitution does provide sufficient room to make amendments to suit the changing times and needs of the country. This flexibility is not just an enabling tool but in fact a responsibility on Governments to provide the best governance systems, processes and opportunities to its citizens.