No, perpetual poll snydrome

One Nation, One Poll

By Poonam I Kaushish

Are early elections round the corner? And is the Modi Sarkar plumming on having simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Two questions which are dominating the political stratosphere with both the President, Prime Minister dropping broad hints of concurrent elections to elected bodies at various levels a few days back and the issue being discussed by a Parliamentary committee for the first time last week. Alongside, the Budgetary largesse for the kisan and garib point to doing away with the Perpetual Election Syndrome (PES) in the Great Indian Political Circus.
Politically, post Gujarat polls if one were to do State-wise estimates of BJP’s future performance, it would be hard to expect them to repeat the 2014 feat: 282 Lok Sabha seats. Ground reports point to it losing 40-50 seats in Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Alongside, it’s an uphill task to repeat 71 seats in UP.
Besides, if it suffers electoral setbacks in States going to polls later this year, there could be negative momentum prior to the general elections. Moreso, if the Opposition realizes its survival is linked to unity. Two, there is a big gap between promises and delivery in the absence of structural reforms. The big challenges farmers distress and unemployment are hard to solve in the next 12 months. Consequently, why wait?
Some Party leaders are averse to pre-polling polls. Fearing it could boomerang like the India Shining campaign did for Vajpayee in 2004. They cite the TINA (there is no alternative) factor to NaMo.
Questionably, is it an idea whose time has come? Is it in national interest? Given that over the last few decades the country has been afflicted by PES week after week, month after month. Wasteful expenditure, noisy campaigns, rallies blocking roads disrupting our lives. A year-long merry-go-round. Thereby wreaking havoc on our body politic — right, left and centre.
Think. In 2006 five States Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry went to polls, in 2007 seven UP, Punjab, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal, Manipur and Uttarakhand and the following year four Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Mizoram and Rajasthan. In 2009 besides the Lok Sabha, Andhra, Assam and Arunachal and Bihar the subsequent year.
In 2011 Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Puducherry and Bengal, 2012 UP, Goa, Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand, 2013 Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram, 2014 Lok Sabha, Maharashtra, Haryana, Telengana and Andhra, 2015 Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand, J&K and in 2016 Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Assam.
The solution to India’s chronic annual polls circus may perhaps lie in the panacea of holding one mega election every five years. Once a Party is elected and Governments formed they can get down to work, take hard decisions in public interest and concentrate on delivering good governance without having to worry about its impact on its vote banks. As several good initiatives are dumped due to electoral considerations lest it upset a caste, community, religion or region. All becoming victims of policy paralysis, management and poor implementation.
Undoubtedly, it is one way to get rid of incompetence, malfeasance and casual governance and help ‘save money’. The Centre for Media Studies estimated that over Rs 30,000 crores was spent on the 2014 general elections while Election Commission estimates a Rs 4,500 crores spend for holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
Recall, the 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967 elections saw concurrent elections for the Centre and State legislatures. It was only in 1971 when Indira Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and advanced polls by a year that this synchronization fell apart. This resulted in many unstable Governments at the Centre and States leading to early dissolution of the Lok Sabha or Assemblies.
Pertinently, the Election Commission had advocated synchronized elections in 1983. In 1999 the Law Commission’s 170th report on electoral reform submitted to the Vajpayee Government stated, “this cycle of elections every year in and out of season should be ended and we must go back to when the Lok Sabha and all Legislative Assemblies elections are held at once”. Again in December 2015 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice recommended “a practicable method of holding simultaneous elections.
Hypothetically, if Lok Sabha elections are held within a year, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya would simultaneously have new Assemblies and Gujarat and Himachal too will have relatively new Houses. If elections in Odisha, Andhra,Telangana, Maharashtra and Haryana are brought forward, they too, will be added to the list. And in five years, if polls could be delayed in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur or Lok Sabha and polls to the above Assemblies advanced a major part of the country would be having elections at the same time.
Obversely, holding concurrent elections dramatically shrinks the electorate’s choices, is advantageous for national Parties over regional outfits and gives more credence to ‘national issues’ over local ones. Also, if State Assembly elections are going to be decided on ‘national issues’, what of federalism?
Besides, poll subjects at the Centre and in States are different; consequently it is not advisable to mix them. Two, it could create confusion for voters as a Party could be deserving of support at the Centre but not in a State. Further, having a fixed term of the Lok Sabha and the State Legislature goes against the basic tenets of Parliamentary democracy.
Reduced diversity in elected Governments could lead to greater power centralisation wherein Chief Ministers would need to wait for a nod from their mai-baap Centre. The press, Government institutions and civil society could be further shackled whereby India could cease to be a liberal, Constitutional democracy and become a ‘managed’ one.
Either way, the idea needs to be debated extensively. Its pros and cons weighed before arriving at a final solution as the alteration would entail changing the Constitution’s basic structure. Further, though the BJP, AIADMK and AGP back simultaneous polls, Congress, NCP, Left and Trinamool think its “impractical, unworkable, not feasible and anti-democratic.”
Where do we go from here? The US model could be considered. The President and State Governors are elected directly for a fixed four-year term and choose their own teams. The President is answerable to the House of Representatives and Senate but is not required to seek their confidence vote. This ensures good governance, stability and continuity enabling him to take hard decisions without fear of losing power.
Also, Germany has a ‘constructive vote of no confidence’ where Parliament can withdraw confidence to the head of Government only if there is assurance of a majority for a prospective successor. This law is also in place in Belgium, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Albania, Israel and Lesotho.
In sum elections are the bedrock of our democracy but we should avoid duplication of polls. With States in election mode every year, running the Government is akin to running with the hare and hunting with the hound. India’s democracy should not be reduced to a tu-tu mein-mein between Parties all the time. Modi could well position One Poll as the next big reform to ‘clean’ India, take the Opposition by surprise and market it as enough of destructive PES! —- INFA