Former President Ramnath Kovind. (PTI Photo)
The government of the day has a democratic right to examine ways to improve the functioning of the system of governance in the country and introduce more efficient ways of accomplishing it, but making an attempt to examine the fundamentals of constitutional democracy in a clandestine way is definitely not part of that right.
The Union government has constituted a high-level committee headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind "to examine and make recommendations for holding simultaneous elections" to the Lok Sabha, Legislative Assemblies, municipalities and panchayats. The terms of reference of the committee do not end there; it has also been asked to "analyse and recommend possible solutions in a scenario of simultaneous elections emerging out of hung House, adoption of no-confidence motion, defection or any such other event". It will "examine and recommend if amendments to the Constitution would require ratification by the states". Taken together, the mandate prescribed by the government for the committee betrays its thinking — introducing a tectonic shift in the way popular governments are formed in this country, and looking to a pliant panel to sign on the dotted line.
It is nothing but putting the cart before the horse.
The official reason for mooting the idea of simultaneous elections is that frequent elections lay a heavy burden on the State exchequer, and hence it is "in the national interest to have simultaneous elections in the country". Frequent elections require huge security manpower and a large electoral staff, and cause disruption in development work. But the proponents of simultaneous polls conveniently forget that democracy has a price. It is not for no reason that our Constitution prescribes elaborate processes to know the minds of its citizens instead of quickly anointing king one born to his predecessor.
That elections disrupt development work is a specious argument. It, in fact, pushes for an unbridled reign of the incumbent albeit in sweeter terms. A government that works for the betterment of the people would have no hesitation putting its performance before the people for periodic assessment. No law mandates stoppage of development works in the name of elections.
But these don’t encapsulate the real problem with the proposal. It is something a bit more fundamental.
Every secondary school student knows that, as per the Constitution, the Union council of ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha and the state council of ministers to the state legislature. It is in this way that the people who wield power in the executive are made accountable to the citizen. This is unlike the presidential system where the executive has the people’s mandate in direct fashion. Fixing the term for the legislature would essentially mean fixing the term for the executive which no parliamentary system of governance has found admissible. Clubbing the tenure of the state legislatures with that of the Lok Sabha would undermine the very first article of the Constitution, which pronounces that India shall be a Union of states.
No system need be permanent; and evolution is the law of politics and life. But a democracy mandates rulers be upfront about their intentions and open to discussion. This government appears to loathe that very idea, given the way it wants to advance its pet "one nation one election" theory.