One Nation, One Poll: An analysis
- June 24, 2019, 4:40 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has initiated the idea of “one nation, one poll" or simultaneous elections to state assemblies and the Lok Sabha.
What does “one nation, one poll" mean?
The idea of holding simultaneous elections or “one nation, one poll" means conducting polls to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies together on a single day or in a phased manner, once in five years. This excludes elections to panchayats and state municipalities as well as by-elections. The initiative will need a constitutional amendment, which will have to be ratified by 50% of the states. This will make it incumbent on all future governments to implement the provision and not leave the process of holding elections to political convenience.
Can the idea be implemented?
At any given time, there is an assembly poll taking place in some state. The Election Commission’s model code of conduct comes into play the moment it announces the dates for any state assembly or Lok Sabha election. This bars the government from announcing any new project, developmental work or policy decision till the polls are over. It puts the state machinery into a standstill. Holding elections simultaneously would thus save taxpayers’ money, reduce the burden on the administrative setup and security forces and ensure that the administrative machinery is engaged in development activity.
Is this the first time the idea is being tried?
The 'One Nation, One Election' idea may seem new to many, but it was the norm after India attained independence.Between 1951 and 1967, Lok Sabha polls were held partially or fully along with state elections.But the smooth run was stalled after states were reorganized and governments were dismissed. After the 1970s, simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls became a distant dream.
At present, Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are held together with Lok Sabha polls.
The Modi government may want to give the idea legal status so that the cycle does not get disrupted again.
When was the idea first mooted?
It was first suggested in 1999 by the Law Commission. The parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice, in a report to Parliament in 2015, examined the feasibility of holding simultaneous polls.
Is there political consensus on the issue?
Evidently not. A meeting called by Modi on Wednesday to discuss the matter was skipped by the heads of several political parties. The government has decided to set up a panel that will look into the issue and submit its report in a time-bound manner.
What purpose would simultaneous polls serve, if held?
Making polls simultaneous would address various concerns, such as
reducing the cost of holding elections
limiting all elections to a single season.
Against the idea, the arguments include the
complexity of such an exercise
the widely held view that simultaneous polls would benefit the nationally dominant party at the cost of regional players
the complications that would arise if any of the governments were to collapse before completing its term.
Leave alone state legislatures, even the central government could fall.
Of 17 Lok Sabhas since 1952, seven were dissolved ahead of schedule — in 1971, 1980, 1984, 1991, 1998, 1999 and 2004.
logistical issues, requiring about twice as many electronic voting machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines.
In 2015, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, headed by E M Sudarsana Natchiappan, compiled a report on ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies. “The holding of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies would reduce:
(i) the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate election
(ii) the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time
(iii) impact on delivery of essential services and
(iv) burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time,” the report observed.
Also in 2017, in a discussion paper, ‘Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The “What”, “Why”, and “How” ’, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai of NITI Aayog wrote that the elections of 2009 had cost the exchequer about Rs 1,115 crore, and the 2014 elections about Rs 3,870 crore. The total spent on the elections, including the expenses incurred by parties and candidates, was several times more.
Is it Feasible,really? Has there been an effort to address the concerns that would arise?
In a draft report on August 30, 2018, the Law Commission headed by Justice B S Chauhan held that simultaneous elections could not be held within the existing framework of the Constitution. These could be held together “through appropriate amendments to the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act 1951, and the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and state Assemblies,Article 83 (pertaining to duration of Houses of Parliament), Article 85 (dealing with the dissolution of Lok Sabha by the president), Article 172 (which relates to the duration of state legislatures), Article 174 (concerning the dissolution of state assemblies), and Article 356 (which is about President's Rule)".
At least 50% of the states may have to ratify the constitutional amendments. The Commission recommended that all elections due in a calendar year be conducted together. Since a no-confidence motion, if passed, may curtail the term of the Lok Sabha or an Assembly, the Law Commission recommended replacing the “no-confidence motion” with a “constructive vote of no-confidence” through appropriate amendments — a government may only be removed if there is confidence in an alternative government.
All these tonnes of amendments and procedural chaos may lend one nation, one poll not really possible for a country like India with massive diversity and vastness. Best possible way through could be to decision making in a decentralized way, rather than moving towards more centralised decision making. In the age of Digital India, more options such as peer based decision making would lead to participative process rather than looking to roll back to hold the world’s largest democratic process in a much larger and complicated way.