Move aimed at helping BJP win polls
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pitched for holding simultaneous elections to Parliament and the state Assemblies, President Ram Nath Kovind is now calling for it too. Mr Modi has been preparing a plan for the merger of elections for a long time and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-backed think tanks have been working overtime to create an atmosphere so that the PM gets support on this.
Mr Modi calls it “electoral cycle reforms” which he argues will limit the amount of time and money spent in electioneering. He wants politicians to have more time for people-oriented programme rather than wasting most of their time on elections. But the real intention behind it is to consolidate the position of the BJP across the nation.
At an all-party meet two years back, Mr Modi spoke about merging forthcoming elections. The proposal was then raised again at a meeting of the BJP’s national executive. This was a plan in motion even before the last general election. The BJP’s manifesto for the 2014 election had underlined: “Evolve method of holding Assembly and Lok Sabha Elections simultaneously.”
Then, in December 2015 the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice tabled a report in Parliament on the “Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies”. The report said, “This is important for India if it is to compete with other nations in developmental agenda on real time basis as a robust, democratic country.”
Mr Modi’s proposal is motivated more by political considerations than the reasons he wants us to believe. It is no secret that when simultaneous elections are held, voters tend to vote for the same party. An analysis of Election Commission data from 1999 onward shows that there is a 77 per cent chance that the Indian voter would vote for the same party at the state and Centre if elections were held simultaneously.
Constitutional provisions are very clear on the matter. Article 83(2) provides for a term of five years for the Lok Sabha, from the date of its first sitting, unless dissolved earlier. Similar provisions under Article 172 (1) provide for a five-year tenure for state Legislative Assemblies from the date of its first sitting. The mandatory term has to be completed first. It is the prerogative of the Assembly to decide when to call an election.
The President has the power to extend the period of Assemblies by up to one year to bring about uniformity in holding the elections at the same time. It’ll be interesting to see that how far our new President would like to stretch his powers to fulfill the desire of a particular political party as it is bound to raise many questions.
Moreover, to conduct elections across the country on the same day, about 4,000 companies of paramilitary forces will be required. The country is able to make available only around 1,000 at the moment. Purchasing Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines would cost around Rs 10,000 crores if elections are to be held together. State and national elections are often fought on different sets of issues. In simultaneous polls, voters may end up privileging one set of issues over the other. National issues could be ignored or local issues could be swept away by a national “wave”. The proposal is entirely against the basic principles of a federal system.
The writer is an office-bearer of the Congress Party
It will save money, time and energy
Every year one state or the other state is geared up for an election. The tiring process of campaigning and the cost incurred in the midst of all this is an ideal example on why this country needs the policy of “One nation, one election”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always been calling for holding state and national elections together to reduce the expenses that go into holding these, as also the chaos associated with it. The BJP has always promoted work culture, and proven itself through its work, not fake promises and schemes. Issues like expenditure; diversion of security and civil staff from primary duties; impact on governance due to the model code of conduct and disruption to normal public life stand among the key reasons as to why India needs this policy.
We talk about India being the world’s biggest democracy, and the Opposition is asking how one election could justify the right to vote of nearly 850 million people. We do not want to create any ruckus or hindrance in the people’s right or choices, but if simultaneous elections are held we can save about Rs 2,000 crores from each state election and around Rs 30,000 crores in Lok Sabha elections. This amount can then be used for the development of the country. The decision will be taken on the basis of consensus amid all political parties; we will invite all political parties to participate in the discussion on this issue.
Not only Mr Modi but former President Pranab Mukherjee too had expressed concern over frequent elections. He also spoke of massive expenditure, diversion of officials from their primary duties, and disruption of the administrative cycle, which further burden human and economic resources.
There is no denying that this could also affect a party’s fortunes, as a common election would affect the votebank. We’ve witnessed parties working only when the elections are round the corner; if simultaneous elections are held all the parties would be forced to work for development at all times, and not just before elections, which in turn would take our country further on the path of progress. Those who wish to see the country rising shouldn’t see a policy like this through the narrow prism of politics.
Simultaneous elections is not something new; this was the practice before 1967 as well but was discontinued due to the premature dissolution of Assemblies. The Niti Aayog has also listed the benefits of holding simultaneous elections in its discussion paper. A combined election procedure would give the policymakers enough time to concentrate on policymaking. I feel such a practice would also reduce casteism, communalism and corruption.
If elections are held simultaneously, the odds of gaining or losing prevails just once. The rest of their term, a politician can work for the job he/she been elected to.
Further, India won’t be the only country to hold simultaneous elections as and when that happens; countries like the United States, South Africa and Sweden also hold national and provincial elections simultaneously. The issue should not be negated just because Mr Modi is bringing it to the platform, the issue should be considered for its innate merits.
There have been suggestions coming from various political parties. For such a drastic step, we must rise above party politics. All politicians must leave their egos aside and support this issue for the national cause.
The writer is a member of the BJP national good governance department....