One Nation, One Poll
By Poonam I Kaushish
Phew! If the heat-wave was not bad enough, elections really poop one out. Specially, in our country which is afflicted by PES — Great Indian Perpetual Election Syndrome. Wasteful expenditure, noisy campaigns, rallies blocking roads disrupting our lives. Sic. Resulting in governance not only going for a toss as Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers campaign for their respective Parties but it is wreaking havoc on our body politic — right, left and centre. Week after week, month after month, year after year. A year-long merry-go-round.
Barely has the mara-mari for cushy Rajya Sabha biennial elections for 16 seats across 6 States ended that Parties are gearing up for the upcoming Presidential and Vice President polls July-August. While BJP has deputed Party President Nadda and Defence Minister Singh to consult with NDA allies and smaller Parties, Opposition is a dived lot with Trinamool’s Mamata calling for a meeting with senior leaders to trump Congress’s Gandhi who has written to NCP, RJD, NC, PDP etc to decide a common candidate against the NDA nominee.
These are followed by elections to Gujarat and Himachal Assembles in October-November and 9 States next year. While Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura go to polls March, Karnataka May, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram November, Rajasthan and Telangana December 2023. In 2024 besides Lok Sabha polls in May there are four State Assemblies Andhra, Odisha, Arunachal and Sikkim in April and Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand October. Delhi goes to polls February 2025 followed by Bihar November/December.
Already, Gujaratis Modi-Shah have visited their home State a few times lying foundation stones and promising goodies. Ditto AAP’s Kejriwal with Punjab Chief Minister Mann in tow showcasing their Delhi governance model and Punjab victory in Himachal with promises galore.
Let’s face it. With State after State going to polls every year, running Central and State Governments has become challenging. Amidst this nerve-racking money spewing elections vending machines the solution to India’s chronic PES may perhaps lie in the panacea of holding one mega election every five years.
Undoubtedly, it is one way to get rid of incompetence, malfeasance and casual governance. But it is an idea that needs to be debated extensively at all levels. Its pros and cons must be weighted before arriving at a final solution. Remember, the change advocated would entail changing the basic structure of the Constitution.
Questionably, can one hold simultaneous polls for Parliament, State Legislatures and Panchayats? If so, would it be advisable in the best national interest? Given BJP backs simultaneous polls, Congress, Left and Trinamool think it’s impractical, unworkable, unfeasible and anti-democratic.
Those who concur argue once a Party is elected and Government formed it can get down to work, take hard decisions in public interest and concentrate on delivering good governance without worrying 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, mismanagement and poor implementation.
Another benefit of concurrent polls is it would result in huge financial saving as over the years election costs have sky rocketed. Statistics say it all: In 1952, the first national election for Lok Sabha and Assemblies the cost was just over Rs 10 crores. In the subsequent two elections 1957 and 1962 expenditure came down to almost Rs 6 and Rs 7.5 crores respectively. Also, if an elected State Government were to fall, Centre could impose President’s rule till fresh polls are held.
Pertinently, Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly mooted this idea since 2016. Not only would it give netas and Party workers time to take people-oriented schemes to people but also save the Exchequer and Parties money.
His idea was endorsed by the Law Commission August 2018 as it would reduce burden on the administrative machinery which could then focus on development activities rather than electioneering and security forces. Two, where polls are slated for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies the same year they could be advanced or postponed and held together while others shortened or lengthened.
Recall, the 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967 elections saw concurrent elections for 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. Resulting in many unstable Governments at Centre and States, leading to early dissolution of Lok Sabha or Assemblies.
Moreover, expenditure saw an upward spiral. It doubled to over Rs 23 crores in 1980, further doubled to Rs 54 crores in 1984 and Rs 154 crores in 1989. In 1991expenses shot up to Rs 359 crores, 1999 to Rs 880 crores, 2004 Rs 1300 crores and 2014 Lok Sabha elections Rs 4500 crores, though Centre for Media Studies averred it was over Rs 30,000 crores and a staggering Rs 60,000 crores in 2019.
However, some believe it is not advisable to hold simultaneous polls. Since it could be motivated by political considerations, as when concurrent elections are held voters tend to vote for the same Party. Also, poll issues at Centre and States are different which would create confusion. A Party could be deserving of support at the Centre for its policies and performance at the national level. Yet, the same Party could be deserving of popular punishment and defeat for its policies and performance at the State level.
Further, a fixed term for Lok Sabha and State Legislatures goes against the basic tenets of Parliamentary democracy. Hypothetically, if a Government enjoying the people’s mandate is voted out, it would continue to hold office or be replaced by another Government, which might not necessarily enjoy the popular mandate.
Plainly, a Government which lacks the confidence of the House would be foisted on the people, with no say in the matter. Smacking of de facto dictatorship or monarchical anarchy, an idea which translates into unrepresentative governance.
Not a few suggest one could model polls on the lines followed in Sweden, South Africa and Belgium. In Sweden, elections to county and municipal councils take place in tandem with the country’s general elections every four years. Ditto in South Africa where concurrent polls are held every five years.
Belgium’s Federal Parliament elections are also held every five years, coinciding with the European Parliament elections. A similar system is prevalent in Spain, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Albania, Israel, Lesotho Philippines, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Guatemala and Indonesia.
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.
In sum elections are the bedrock of our democracy but we should avoid duplication of polls. With States in election mode every year, managing 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. — INFA