When it comes to the celebration of festivals, probably no other country in the world can beat us in terms of sheer numbers which we have here in India. The dates of our annual calendar are always filled with colours, signifying one festival or the other. Festivals are generally a cultural and historical attribute of the society. But they are not only restricted to these aspects. Like other democracies, we have political festivals too in the form of elections, but here also we outnumber the other democracies.
We have adopted three tier of government in our polity. First at Central level, next at state level and third at local level. To elect the representatives of all three levels we have separate elections of Parliament, state legislature and to the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) and Panchayats. In recent years, on an average we had two elections each year and many ULB elections. To conduct an election is a massive exercise in India, reasons are: humongous size of country as a whole as well as states (many of them are large than many European Countries), diverse population, administrative and infrastructural cost and many more.
So the idea to conduct simultaneous election has been in and around in past also. But recent aggressive push by current government under the stewardship of Prime Minister has made the pitch higher. The only difference in the demand of holding simultaneous election is that the PM has pitched to hold the election of all three elections at one shot including Panchayats.
What’s the history?
Simultaneous Election is not a new concept to India. We had first general election in 1951-52. After the first Parliamentary Election, we had the simultaneous election to the parliament and state legislature till next three times also i.e. in 1957, 1962 and 1967. After 1967 general election, the stronghold of single party domination in India got loosened in few states and it gave the space to the regional parties. But at few occasions regional parties formed coalition government which did not complet its full terms and resulted in premature dissolution. Same thing happened to the Central Government in 1970 and due to lack of majority the Parliament, it got dissolved and fresh elections were held in 1971. Since then the sync which has prevailed over the Parliament and state election finally broken and we reached at point where every year we have more than one elections.
Argument for Simultaneous Election:
The proponent of the joint election rightly points out several benefits. One of the major flaws of having multiple elections, they say, is that it always keeps the government in “Election Mode” and they are hardly able focus on governance. Every election to the state is seen by the political analysts and commentators as the litmus test and they term them as quarter final, semi final to the General Election. In democracy no party wants to lose the momentum, hence government indulges themselves to the populism leaving space of prudence in governance.
When election dates are declared, Model Code of Conduct (MCC) comes in to force, where there are several restrictions on government to announce or materialize the schemes for the welfare of the people. Having multiple elections means several MCC and government find themselves hamstrung.
Conducting various elections means administrative as well as financial burden on the limited resource of the country. Requirement of the relocation of police force, election equipments, and mobilization of district administration is cumbersome as well as costly.
Government Teacher plays a very crucial role in conducting the election. But this is not their primary task. It affects the education of the students of the government schools who are already at the disadvantaged side due to several limitations when compared to their counter part of private schools.
There is no doubt that election commission as well as government is trying very hard to reduce the corruption in the election, but despite of several measures, corruption is rampant in election. Money power speaks loudly during the election. Hence more election means more use of dirty money and more loss to democratic ethos.
Frequent Elections also disrupts the normal life by suspending or affecting the supplies of the essential commodities, by jamming the traffic for election rallies, huge rise in noise pollution etc.
One of the debilitating features of the Indian election is that many parties tries to divide the society on caste, communal, gender line etc. for their vested interest of winning the election, which is highly undesirable for the social fabric of life. When more election happens there are more chances of division in the society.
So keeping all these points in mind, holding simultaneous election seems plausible and desirable thing to ponder upon.
Ideas against it:
Former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Qureshi has notably mentioned that “Having simultaneous election is desirable but not feasible”. There are multiple constitutional, practical and administrative restriction prevents this idea from materializing. Indeed, the concerns are genuine.
The first concern is that it negates the principle of Parliamentary Democracy (PD) and Constitution. In Indian PD a government at center is entitled for five year of governance if they secure majority and can dissolve it according to the whim of the ruling party and can be removed by passing no confidence motion. This idea is true as well for the state legislature. So when holding both election will be materialize, this principle has to die down.
The second concern is that this is against the idea of Federalism. Imagine a situation when no party will be able to secure majority in the state election and neither nay coalition government is formed, then according to prevailing procedure President Rule will be applied. So will the President rule be for the entire five year period when the next election will be held? And what if the Central Government falls in mid way? All the 29 state would have to go in for the election again, even when there is a stable government in states?
The next concern is that, state and national issues are different and hence the elections are held differently. But according to IDFC, a research institute, there has been a tendency with the voter that they increasingly vote for the same party if the elections are held together. In recent times that number is about 77% percent which is huge. Keeping this figure in mind, it appears that it will only help the national party and the regional party will be seriously disadvantaged and which is against Democratic Principle which provides level playing field for other.
The other advantage of the separate election is that it keeps the government at toes all the time and prevents them from being despotic through the exercise of their voting power. Last but not the least is the concern of “Political Consensus” on such a contentious issue which needs Constitutional Amendment.
Expert and Panels opinion:
Way back in 1999 Law Commission in its 170th report on “Electoral Reform” has suggested the idea of Simultaneous Election. Though, it was kept in cold storage since then. Recently Parliamentary Standing committee setup for the specific purpose also suggested the holding up simultaneous election but with some modification and further suggestions. Out of many, one is of having state election twice, one with parliament and other in midterm of it. Former President Shri Pranab Mukharjee, while addressing joint session of parliament, also opined in favour of simultaneous election.
So overall we can see that there are numerous benefits lies in holding all the elections at one go, but there are genuine and serious challenges occupies in its implementation which certainly can’t be ignored. The most serious challenge is the constitutional, challenge to the idea of Parliamentary Democracy and Federalism. But looking as a whole, the benefits outnumber the challenges. Prior to GST, Centre had different tax means and the state had different ones. Post implementation GST is touted as “One Nation, One Tax and One Market”, which apparently can be seen as from being a federal subject to Central Subject. Now both are clubbed together for the benefit of both and all party came to consensus along with states, what we call it a greatest example of co-operative federalism.
Same idea and principle should be applied here. A rigorous discussion and deliberation should be held inviting all the stake holders which includes all the political parties (including regional ones), member from the academia, civil societies, expert from the constitutional realm and if needed foreign experience should also be taken in account. Finally, to quote Victor Hugo “no force on earth can stop an idea, whose time has come” seems quite reasonable here. The whole idea of democracy hinges on consensus, we have to see that are we able to reach to consensus on this idea or not?