Points to ponder

Wed, Jun 19, 2019

Those carping about extended month-and-a-half-long general elections in India, have reasons not to lose heart. They have a staunch supporter in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Prime Minister is serious about pursuing the idea of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and is making all efforts to warm people up to this idea.
In pursuance of this long-held project, Modi has called an all-party meeting to discuss the subject, which he has christened as ‘One Nation, One Election’, across India. The issue of simultaneous elections—which envisions Parliament and state polls being held concurrently—has been a subject of great debate. But political parties have been lukewarm to the idea, with many fearing that it would be advantageous only to the party at the Centre.
The idea itself is nearly as old as modern India. In 1951-52, the first general election to the Lok Sabha was held simultaneously with all State Assemblies. This practice continued till the general election of 1967, but was disrupted due to premature dissolution of some State Legislative Assemblies in 1968. Lok Sabha itself dissolved prematurely in 1970. Since then, elections have been held separately. T
The idea of simultaneous elections is an old BJP project, first floated by LK Advani. The reasons for opposition to it are understandable. There is a good chance that people will vote for the same party or alliance, if elections are held together. In 2004, simultaneous elections were held in Odisha, Karnataka, Sikkim, and Andhra Pradesh, where the voters largely picked the same party to govern in their respective states and at the Centre. That is also the findings of a 2015 study by the IDFC Institute, which held “a 77% chance that the winning political party or alliance will win both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in that state when held simultaneously”.
The advantages of holding all elections together are obvious and tempting. Getting elected would cease to be a distraction from governance, the purpose for which legislators are elected. Poll expenditure would come down significantly, easing the strain on political parties and those who finance them. The polity would be liberated from the tendency for the government at the Centre to postpone some hard decisions till an important assembly election on the horizon is over, and all assembly elections are important. However, there would have to be complete clarity on the cost of simultaneous elections.
All elections used to be held simultaneously, to begin with. Individual assemblies diverged, over time, because of unexpected government collapses before the end of their tenure. The crucial question to answer is this: is such a mid-term collapse of an elected government a flaw in democracy or an integral part of democracy that deepens it? If, hypothetically, President’s rule had to be imposed on a state on account of break-down of law and order, should early elections be seen as the route to political stability or as a nuisance that would disrupt election schedules? Which state legislatures should truncate their terms and which ones extend theirs, to converge all elections? The answers matter to democracy.


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