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One Nation, One Election | Balancing efficiency and democracy

‘One Nation, One Election’ is an electorally efficient reform, but care must be taken that it does not stymie the democratic strength of the regions
Last Updated : 02 September 2023, 05:24 IST
Last Updated : 02 September 2023, 05:24 IST

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The Indian political landscape is abuzz with discussions and speculations as the government has formed a committee, led by former President Ram Nath Kovind, to investigate the feasibility of 'One Nation, One Election’. This concept, long championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to synchronise Lok Sabha and assembly elections, ushering in a new era of electoral efficiency in India.

At its core, 'One Nation, One Election' seeks to harmonise the timing of elections for the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies. The urgency surrounding this proposal becomes apparent as a series of elections looms, with assembly polls in five states later this year, followed by the Lok Sabha elections in mid-2024.

Advantages

The advantages of 'One Nation, One Election' are multifaceted, and compelling. Important is the substantial reduction in election-related costs. Holding separate elections places a tremendous financial burden on the nation's resources. Combining these elections would lead to significant savings, allowing these funds to be redirected towards pressing socio-economic needs.

The benefits extend beyond fiscal savings. Simultaneous elections would alleviate the logistical burden on administrative and security forces, who are often stretched thin due to multiple election duties. This reallocation of resources could enhance overall governance and service delivery to citizens. Efficiency in governance is a key selling point. During elections, the entire state machinery becomes engrossed in electoral processes, temporarily sidelining regular administrative duties. Simultaneous elections would enable officials to maintain their focus on daily governance, ensuring continuity in policy implementation.

Moreover, this electoral reform is expected to boost voter turnout, a vital component of a thriving democracy. The simplification of the voting process, allowing citizens to cast their ballots in one go, is likely to encourage greater participation in the democratic process. The law commission's  findings support this argument, suggesting that higher turnout rates would enhance the democratic mandate.

Furthermore, 'One Nation, One Election' promises to bring consistency and continuity to Union and state government policies. During Lok Sabha polls, the enforcement of the model code of conduct prohibits states from launching new projects or schemes until the elections conclude. This reform would enable governments to focus on governance rather than being in a perpetual election mode, potentially enhancing policy implementation.

Concerns

However, it is crucial to address the valid concerns raised by those who oppose this proposal. Constitutional amendments and legislative changes would be prerequisites, which could be a complex and time-consuming process. India's political landscape has evolved since the last attempt in the 1960s at synchronised elections, with more states and a larger population.

Critics also worry that regional issues might be overshadowed by national concerns during simultaneous elections, potentially impacting state-level electoral outcomes. Regional political parties argue that they won't be able to highlight local issues prominently, leading to an imbalance in democratic representation.

Moreover, the fear persists that regional and local-to-state political parties may struggle to compete with national parties in terms of financial resources and election strategies, potentially undermining the democratic spirit of India's diverse political landscape.  This could be a hurdle to the wholehearted spirit of democracy. Money power should not impinge on the participation of political parties, irrespective of their size or ideology. Perhaps the most formidable obstacle is the lack of consensus among political parties. Opposition parties have voiced their reservations about 'One Nation, One Election,' adding complexity to the path towards reform.

The 'One Nation, One Election' idea represents a significant constitutional amendment, necessitating approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament, followed by endorsement from at least 50 per cent of individual state legislatures. Achieving this mandate is a formidable challenge, given that the BJP does not currently possess a majority in the Rajya Sabha, let alone the required two-thirds majority.

‘One Nation, One Election’ can become a democratic balance of political acceptance and procedural efficiency. But the road ahead is fraught with constitutional, logistical, and democratic challenges that require careful consideration and debate. If, and when, this comes to Parliament for debate, one hopes that all stakeholders engage in a robust, inclusive dialogue to ensure that the tapestry of India's democracy remains intact while pursuing the goal of electoral efficiency.

(Srinath Sridharan is an author, policy researcher, and corporate adviser. Twitter: @ssmumbai)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH

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Published 02 September 2023, 05:24 IST

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