Simultaneous poll: that humbug again

Immediately after the elections and the swearing-in of his government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned to his pet theme of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, and perhaps elections at local levels, too. He convened a meeting of political parties to discuss the idea, but many parties kept away from the meet. At the meeting, a committee was set up to give suggestions on the proposal in a time-bound manner. The importance the prime minister attaches to the idea is clear from the fact that this was the first issue he wanted to discuss with the Opposition in his new term. The BJP has advocated the idea for long, but it is clear from the past debate on the proposal that most Opposition parties do not support it. It is equally clear that such a major reform cannot be implemented without a consensus, or at least wide support from political parties, which will not be forthcoming. Then, why is the prime minister so keen on it and in a hurry to implement it? 

The arguments for simultaneous elections are well known. The cited advantages are avoidance of frequent elections, saving a lot of money spent on elections, ensuring political stability, etc. Too many elections are considered to be disruptive as they tend to make governments populist or to constrain them because of the operation of the model code of conduct. But these arguments are not as strong as they sound. The model code is not a big constraint because it bars only the announcement of new programmes. The cost of conducting elections should not be grudged; democracy is not a low-cost affair. Nor can there be a high premium on stability, which is not an essential feature of democracy. The government’s accountability to the legislature is more important. The people have the right to elect a new government at the earliest, in place of one that has lost the trust of the legislature. To deny it in the name of convenience, cost and other factors is to go against the democratic spirit. 

The “one nation, one election’’ plan also faces many constitutional and practical problems. It is against the federal structure of the Constitution. People have different considerations when they vote for the Lok Sabha and for the state assemblies, but simultaneous elections are likely to allow the issues of one election to dominate the other. When a state government falls, the people may have to wait for a long time to elect another government. If the central government collapses, all states may have to go in for fresh elections. There are many other difficulties in terms of both principle and practice. No electoral reform should cramp the free play of democracy, but simultaneous polls will do exactly that. 

 

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