‘One Nation, One Election’; One Big Mistake

By Ashwin Tombat
23 June 2019 15:08 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he wants ‘One Nation, One Election’ to “boost development”. He feels frequent elections affect the pace and continuity of development programmes.

The AIADMK, Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal and YSR Congress support the idea. The DMK, CPI, CPI(M), BSP, TMC, TDP and others oppose it.

What are the merits and demerits of such a system?

Parliamentary and State Assembly elections were mostly held together between 1951 and 1967 — not because of any system — it was just that governments lasted their full terms. But with the reorganisation of states and dismissal of governments, the percentage of simultaneous voting came down to 76 per cent in 1957 and 67 per cent in 1962 and 1967. By the end of the 1970s, very few polls were simultaneous. 

For the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), simultaneous elections are a priority. So the BJP raised this demand in the late 1990s, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister. L K Advani was its foremost proponent.

In 1999, a Law Commission report recommended simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. To ensure that assemblies lasted their full term, it proposed that when a no-confidence motion is moved against a government, it cannot leave office unless there is also a simultaneous vote of confidence for an alternative government.

Prime Minister Modi first pushed for ‘One Nation, One Election’ in 2016. In 2018, the Niti Aayog suggested changes to the Constitution to hold concurrent Lok Sabha and assembly polls in two phases by 2021.

Currently, elections to the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held separately, whenever the five-year term of the house ends, or it is dissolved. Goa voted in 2017. MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in December 2018. Orissa and Andhra Pradesh voted together with the Lok Sabha election in April-May 2019, Maharashtra polls will be in December 2019. Tamil Nadu will vote only in 2021.

‘One Nation, One Election’ means elections to all states and the Lok Sabha will have to be held simultaneously. And only once in five years.

This, it is said, will reduce the enormous costs involved in separate elections. It will also help ruling parties to focus on governance instead of being constantly in ‘election mode’.  

Since elections will be held only once in five years, it will also reduce the government's accountability to the people. It will enable them to carry out ‘reforms’ that big industrialists favour, but voters don’t want.  

Actually, regular polls don’t hinder development. They help better decision making, at the Centre and in the States. The GST Act had major flaws. It was revised repeatedly only because of state elections. Months before the 2017 Gujarat assembly poll, the Centre slashed GST on over 200 items because of anger against the tax in the Gujarati business community.

If state elections didn’t happen regularly, prices of potatoes, onions and tomatoes would often cross the Rs100 mark. Still, farmers would suffer. After the BJP’s defeat in the UP Kairana Lok Sabha by-poll, the Modi government hiked the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of 14 crops including rice. It was the highest ever single-year rise in MSP.

In 2015, just before the Bihar assembly elections, after strong protests by farmers, the central government decided not to go ahead with the Land Acquisition Ordinance, which aimed to make it easier and cheaper for private companies to acquire agricultural land.

Regular elections are biggest the biggest check-and-balance weapon in the hands of the people in a diverse democracy like India. Votes keep alive the true essence of a democracy; in which people can assert their only real power in an unequal political system.

Apparently, new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora is very impressed with ‘One Nation, One Election’. He says, “Simultaneous elections are a desirable goal."

But in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha by-poll for the seats vacated by Amit Shah and Smriti Irani after they won from Gandhinagar and Amethi, the Election Commission says that these are considered "separate vacancies". Separate notifications are issued and separate polls will be held.

This is unprecedented in a Rajya Sabha election. The Congress says it’s a conspiracy to ensure that the BJP wins both seats. The Congress has 72 MLAs in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, while the BJP has 100 MLAs.

An Election Commission that is unwilling to hold simultaneous elections for just two Rajya Sabha seats in one state — Gujarat — says India should have a single simultaneous election across thousands of seats in the Lok Sabha, 29 states and two union territories together? That tells you the real intention behind ‘One Nation, One Election’…

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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