One nation, One election
As the elections in four states and one Union territory in March-April are suspected to have contributed to the second wave of Covid infections, debate for the idea of “one nation, one election” stimulated in political space.
What are the challenges in the implementation of the idea of “One Nation, One Election” in India?
About One Nation, One Election:
● 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.
● 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.
● Simultaneous elections are not new to India. They were the norm until 1967. But following the dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and that of the Lok Sabha in December 1970, elections to State Assemblies and Parliament have been held separately.
● 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. 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.
Need for simultaneous election:
● Simultaneous polls will reduce the enormous costs involved in separate elections. The costs of conducting each assembly or parliamentary election are huge. Directly budgeted costs are around Rs 300 crore for a state the size of Bihar.
● With the Model Code of Conduct imposed, the government goes into a stand-by mode for prolonged periods of time, thereby suspending all governance and developmental activity.
● The system will help ruling parties focus on governanceinstead of being constantly in election mode.
● Visible and invisible costs of repeatedly deploying security forces: There are also huge and visible costs of deploying security forces and transporting them, repeatedly. A bigger invisible cost is paid by the nation in terms of diverting these forces from sensitive areas and in terms of the fatigue and illnesses that repeated cross-country deployments bring about.
● Disruption of public life due to frequent elections, the perpetuation of religion, caste and communal issues across the country and compelling the government to think about immediate gains to woo voters instead of working for long-term gains— make simultaneous polls desirable.
Issues with the simultaneous election:
There are legal and constitutional challenges to this idea. Article 83(2) of the Constitution provides for a normal term of five years for Lok Sabha. Article 172 (1) provides for a similar tenure for the State Legislative Assembly. Implementing this measure will require multiple constitutional amendments, amendments to the Representation of People’s Act, and other such laws.
Article 83: Defines Maximum Duration Of Lower House Of Parliament.
Article 172: Defines Maximum Duration Of State Legislature.
Articles 85(1): Defines sessions, prorogation, and dissolution of Parliament.
174(1): Defines sessions, prorogation, and dissolution State Assemblies.
Article 75(3): Council of ministers in Lok Sabha.
● The No-confidence Motion would be required to be changed to a Constructive vote of No Confidence. This again would require a Constitutional Amendment.
● National and state issues are different, and holding simultaneous elections is likely to affect the judgment of voters.
● Regional parties which reflect local aspirations/issues may not have a level playing with national parties. This will reverse the process of deepening democracy.
● Since elections will be held once every five years, it will reduce the government's accountability to the people. Repeated elections keep legislators on their toes and increase accountability.
● When an election in a State is postponed until the synchronised phase, President’s rule will have to be imposed in the interim period in that state. This will be a blow to democracy and federalism.
● It may not be a feasible proposal since it would place an enormous burden on the Election Commission to ensure that there are enough government resources, officials, voting machines, security troops, etc. who can be deployed simultaneously across the country at once.
● The deployment of security forces and officials in 700,000 polling stations located in widely varying geographic and climatic conditions all at the same time will be extremely difficult. It is precisely these problems that now cause elections to be held in multiple phases and on different dates even in the same state.
The election commission and the Government should address concerns of political parties and evolve the mechanism so that it can be implemented according to constitutional provisions. However, there are several electoral reforms that are relatively easier to do and would have a greater impact on our democracy should take precedence.