With large scale implications on the Indian political scenario,“simultaneous elections” are two words that have been doing the rounds on media and have caught the attention of millions of political enthusiasts all over the country and across the globe. This concept was merely a proposal to conduct both the State Assemblies elections and the Lok Sabha polls at the same time. Instead of having multiple elections throughout the span of five years, it was proposed that the elections could be held once in five years. It could either be held in one single phase or multiple phases for the purpose of practicality.
The cry for “One Nation, One Election” (ONOE) was initially raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 and went on to pick up pace for the notion and against it, eventually pushing it into the arena of national debates and talks. This idea was further promoted and took a leap forward when the Law Commission submitted the draft proposal to the Government on August 30, 2018. This meant an amendment to the constitution and the electoral laws so as to incorporate the necessary provisions facilitating this idea of simultaneous polls.
The State Assembly and the Lok Sabha polls are held separately as per the pattern which is followed at present. The polls occur on various occasions – either when the 5-year term is done or when the Government is dissolved due to a wide array of reasons. And the times at which this happens may not necessarily be in sync with that of each other for the State Assemblies and Lok Sabha which goes on to further complicate the issue at hand.
The vision of “One Nation, One Election” is to hold the elections to both these organs at the same time, in a synchronised manner. And this would have widespread implications as well. The system of election envisaged in this idea points at a massive restructuring of the entire electoral system of the country and in a nation such as ours, the problems of practical implementation would always be a constantly lurking issue.
Drawing a Brief Outline of the Multiple Implication.
The concept of simultaneous elections is not something which India is unfamiliar with. On the flipside, it used to be the norm until the dissolution of the legislative assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and the Lok Sabha in 1970, after which, the polls have been held separately.
The proposal to revert to this idea was initially introduced in 1983 by the Election Commission. Even though it was mentioned in the Law Commission Report in 1999, the pace started picking up after its mention in the BJP manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
It was later worked out in association with Niti Aayog that at least 5 constitutional recommendations and modifications were required in order to bring about this change and to revert back to something that existed pre-1967. Even though proposals were made in order to synchronise the elections with the 17th Lok Sabha polls, none of them materialised for a plethora of reasons. Political consensus and constitutional amendments are crucial in order to bring this about but in the absence of those two primary requirements, it was difficult to effectuate such a massive change in the electoral system of India.
The pros and cons of “One Nation. One Election” have been continuously analysed with arguments being raised for and against the whole proposal. This idea purports to reduce enormous economic costs that are otherwise incurred in conducting elections, separately and takes a bit off the back of the exchequer. It provides the parties in power to be a lot more bandwidth to be focussed on good governance for the welfare of the people rather than to be held in the loop of constant elections. The Law Commission also predicts a large boost in the voter turnout if this idea were to come about.
At the same time, there have been numerous arguments put forward in opposition to this concept. Issues at the centre and the state level are often found to be a lot different from each other and hence calls for a unique modus operando at both levels. It has been proposed that the judgment of the voters is likely to get affected if the state and national polls were to held simultaneously mainly because of the fundamental difference between national and state issues.
One of the most important tools for good governance as enshrined in our constitution is that of accountability. To have the political parties to be held in the loop of elections constantly will incentivise them to be a lot more accountable and actively work and contribute for the welfare of the people. In order to conduct the elections at the state and the centre in tandem, President’s rule might have to be imposed for a certain period in the concerned state which would go against the ideals of democracy and federalism.
Effect on Expenses and the Democratic Structure
The idea of “One Nation, One Election” is not new and there have been records of it presence almost half a century before. The problem of practicality hence arises also with regards to the massive shift in context since then and the difficulty in adaptation. An attempt has been made in this article in order to break down each of these issues in order to present a comprehensive view of the challenges that this proposal brings to the table.
It has been analysed to be an attempt for centralisation of power in Delhi which would then go on to defeat the basic ideals of the concept of federalism. This could pose a huge threat to the diversity and “secularism” that India boasts of. The space and place for differing views in politics and various cultures will be affected adversely, as predicted by multiple political analysts.
The concept of “One Nation, One Election” has been proved to be a very attractive one, at least on paper. But in looking further into the proposals and provisions it has on offer, we find the initial perception to be rather deceiving. Even though this has been envisioned to be a device in order to break free out of all caste and linguistic barriers, the purpose it serves in the larger picture poses a threat to the principles enshrined in the constitution. It has been predicted to be a dangerous tool brought about in order to do away with democracy and federalism due to the rampant centralisation which will happen once this comes about. The state-centre-divide and all of the local aspirations will be steam rolled by the centralisation of the power, once this comes into place.
Pro- “One Nation, One Election” leaders have cited conducting separate elections to be a very expensive process with relevant statistics to prove their stance. A comparison with the US presidential elections were drawn in order to present a clearer picture. The expenditure of the 2016 US President polls and Congressional Elections stood at 6.5 billion dollars while that of India’s 2019 election came up to a rough estimate of 8.5 billion dollars.
In order to curb this rampant spending of money in the Indian elections, it has been proposed to bring a more transparent system of political funding rather than reverting back to a drastic step of synchronising elections. Policy paralysis has been found to be one of the major reasons for the proposal of simultaneous elections, the major argument being that frequent elections would lead to the hampering of the way in which Governments function.
However, this claim has been considered to be flawed in terms of how elections are not roadblocks to already prevailing policies. The introduction of the scheme of ONOE was in order to keep a check on the growth of a parallel economy in the nation and also in order to curb the usage of black money. In addition to this, there is a crucial factor that has to be weighed in. Even though expenses can be brought down drastically by conducting a single election or simultaneous elections, the initial cost involved in its implementation would be massive. It was predicted and assessed by the Election Commission that about 4500 crore rupees would have to be spent just on EVMs if the “One Nation, One Election” were to adapted.
The ability of a Government to take strong decisions have been intertwined with the frequency in which elections are conducted instead of linking it to the political will of the party in power. With the advent of globalisation in 1991, the Indian economy was opened up and such hard actions were brought about by strong political will.
Political parties often find themselves in a quagmire of corruption and scandals due to the lack of will to take up action and elections and the frequency of conducting them are not to be blamed for this. On the contrary, constant elections will be the best method to ensure accountability from the ruling parties. The looming threat of an electoral backlash could very well be the motivation required for the parties in power to legislate for the welfare of the people.
The issues that plague people at the centre and the state might be monumentally different and if the elections were to be held simultaneously, it provides the voters with very little space and time to assess the challenges they face and then cast a vote. Unemployment and National Security are often the decisive elements that factor in a Lok Sabha election while law and order and education and ways to tackle them often win elections in the state level.
The voter is given the right to claim services both at the state level and the central level. With the merging of elections, the claim is limited to just one level and often, the local issues are neglected with priority given to the national issues leading to confusion among the people. a major concern was raised as to how local issues would slowly start fading out if this scheme were to come into being. This was for the simple reason that state elections and centre elections are fought for different issues concerning various areas of challenges.
This could also be a huge blow to democracy as well due to the financial advantage and the Pan-India nature of most of the major political parties, the interests of the smaller parties are subsumed into those and will often go unnoticed and their voices will be silenced. This goes against the very basic ideals of democracy. If a Government were to dissolve at either the state or the centre levels, the election would have to be conducted again with brief introduction of the President’s Rule in the state which again trumps all ideals of democracy and federalism at once with power being vicariously vested in the hands of the party in power at the centre.
Article 83 and Article 172 provides for a 5-year term to both Lok Sabha and the assemblies when elected as long as it is not dissolved before the term is up. This provision would have to be amended in order to incorporate the “One Nation, One Election” policy.
Article 85(1) and Article 174(1) mentions the time gap between the last session and the first session of the subsequent house/assemblies to be 6 months. If ONOE were to be introduced, then there have to be additional provisions regarding a hung-parliament or in the case of a no-confidence motion. The amendment of Article 174 and Article 356 would lead to the alteration in the principles of federalism and would lead to a change in the basic structure of the constitution.
In case of a failure of the constitutional machinery, Article 356 provides that President’s rule ought to be imposed in the state which is concerned. President’s rule can be imposed in a state only in the case of the failure of constitutional machinery and in the absence of that, as in when the simultaneous elections are conducted, then, additional provisions would have to be included. This might also eventually lead to the centralisation of power in Delhi with the ruling party at the centre vicariously ruling the State through the President which goes on to flout all the laws of constitutional democracy and the principles of federalism.
Simultaneous elections are bound to alter the federal nature of the structure in place with the voters caught in a fix having to choose between the national party and the political party in that respective state.
The provisions with regards to Anti-defection law mentioned in the tenth schedule will also have to be put up for reconsideration in order to make sure that there is a continuous governance for 5 years and with no lapses in between. Pro-ONOE arguments raised have cited the examples of countries like Sweden and Belgium where this scheme has been successful but what they fail to take into consideration is that the population size of India is quite large compared to that of those nations. That goes on to prove why the success of ONOE in those nations does not add strength to the argument of implementing ONOE in our nation as well.
It was also argued that the introduction of the ONOE idea would lead to unifying a nation which boasts of its vast diversity. But like the two sides of a coin, it may or may not help break the caste and linguistic barriers and can either worsen or better the situation.
India is the largest democracy in the world although China has a larger population. China follows the communist regime making India the largest democracy there is. It was assessed that a lot of time, effort and money and other resources goes into upholding the values of a true democracy. This propelled the nation to bring a proposal to the table in order to analyse the most efficient means of establishing an efficient democracy. This was enough motivation for the Government to make an effort to revert to the ONOE regime which existed up until 1967 and this was proposed in an attempt to lower the expenses incurred in conducting the elections separately and not simultaneously.
President Kovind envisions this to be a tool for development and hence tried to garner support among all the parliamentarians. It was also pointed out the regular polls had hampered the pace and growth of development programmes. And one masterstroke to counterbalance such problems has been the proposal to revert back to pre-1968 system of elections. Reduction of political expenditure has been one of the plus points of this model that was repeatedly raised and which was constantly highlighted in order to further the need of “One Nation, One Election.”
But then, this is the viewpoint of those who are in support of this concept and find it pros to outweigh its cons. This was also ideally envisioned to reduce the amount of time and energy and money involved in conducting elections. A list of positives resulting from that has also been mentioned which included the government parties having ample time to engage with the people and address national issues rather than having to participate in elections, offering cosmetic promises.
In the current political setting, it seems rather unlikely that the concept of “One Nation, One Election” would come into play. A consensus may not be reached among the regional parties due to the lack of financial capability or due to their inability to put up a stiff fight against the power centralised in Delhi. In a recently conducted survey, it was said that there would be 77 percent chances that a voter would vote for the same parties both at the state and national levels, if the elections were to be held simultaneously. This was in serious contravention to the principles of Federalism leading to an alteration in the basic structure of the constitution.
The anti-federal consequences that ONOE might bring about coupled with its effect on the voters’ decisions are the primary reasons why a segment of people appears to be sceptical of reverting back to the norm of “One Nation, One Election” policy. It was later recommended that a separate committee should be set up in order to decide whether this policy should be implemented or not and also to weigh in all the pros and cons and then decide accordingly.
The constitutional inconsistencies that it brings to the table is a special area of concern and that needs to looked into and dealt with efficiently. If not, it will lead to a serious blow on the ideals and principles of the constitution and its basic structure. In addition, it might also have an adverse effect on the decisions made by the voters casting their votes on the same occasion for the assembly as well as the Lok Sabha elections. This is for the reason that elections are fought and won for entirely different issues on both the fronts and can hence lead to a lot of unwanted confusion in the minds of the voters. This will ultimately lead to the regional parties losing out the elections to the national parties as the problems they raise would slowly get subsumed into the mandate of the national parties leaving them with no scope of appeal to the people of the nation. This goes on to defeat the very ideals of federalism and also flouts all principles of democracy in the country.
The introduction of this new model would involve a lot of infrastructure required to bring this about. About 4500 crore rupees have been estimated to be invested in acquiring EVMs required for the initiation of this process. In addition to the capital, a humongous amount of manpower would also be required for its initial implementation and it is at this point that we should properly analyse whether the allocation of resources in this regard would be efficient or not.
This article has made an attempt to briefly introduce the concept of “One Nation, One Election” and has listed out the arguments in favour of and against this idea. This has been done under various heads including economy and the impact on the basic structure of the constitution. The implications that such a model would have on the Indian Political Scenario would be rather massive and hence it provides us with all the more reason to take a calculated decision on the model that we would prefer in conducting elections.