Simultaneous polls, not an ideal thing

Simultaneous polls, not an ideal thing

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has again made a proposal for the holding of simultaneous elections to Parliament and state Assemblies. Last month, talking to BJP office-bearers, he had included local bodies’ polls also in this grand scheme. The BJP and its leaders have made this proposal in the past as well. The party had mentioned it in its election manifestos. There is some support for it outside the BJP too. A parliamentary standing committee has endorsed the idea and the Election Commission is reported to have supported it “in principle.” Modi said some opposition parties have also supported it, though he has not named them. The arguments in favour of the proposal may seem to have merits. One is that frequent elections are an economic drain on a poor country. Since elections may be taking place at any time in some part of the country, decision-making would be affected by the operation of the model code of conduct. When governments are stable, they can provide better governance. These are fine points.

There are, however, more compulsive reasons to not entertain the proposal. We have a cabinet system where the government is responsible to the legislature. It is unconstitutional for a government to continue in power if it loses its majority in the House. If another party cannot form a government and immediate elections are not held, a state may have to be placed under the President’s rule, sometimes for a long time. This is undemocratic. If legislatures have a fixed term, governments will not be able to go back to the people for a mandate on specific issues. This is also a democratic right. When elections are held simultaneously, the ruling party at the Centre and national parties are likely to have a greater sway than smaller parties. The issues for Parliament and Assembly elections are different and voters generally approach them differently. But in simultaneous elections, the choices for Parliament or for the Assembly may unduly influence each other. It will also be difficult to conduct peaceful and orderly polls simultaneously across the country as there will be constraints on the use and movement of security forces. 

India’s politics is diverse and different. Simultaneous elections will seek to impose a dominant and uniform politics on states, or project dominant prime ministerial candidates over chief ministerial candidates. This is not good for federalism and democracy. The problems of vaulting election expenditure and constraints caused by the model code should be addressed, but simultaneous elections may not be the solution. Democracy is the best form of government but it is not the cheapest and most efficient.

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