The idea of one nation one election proposes to conduct simultaneous elections for the parliamentary elections and state legislative assembly elections across the country. This process is followed by few countries in the world today like Germany, Sweden, Spain, Indonesia and a few others.
India being the largest democracy and the size of each state almost being same as any mid size European country, has its own merits and demerits and its own set of challenges in implementing this idea of “one nation one election”.
Simultaneous elections are not new to India. They were the norm until 1967. But following dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and that of the Lok Sabha in December 1970, elections to State Assemblies and Parliament have been held separately.
The idea of going back to simultaneous polls was floated in the annual report of Election Commission in 1983. The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999. The recent push came ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the BJP manifesto. After Mr. Modi floated the idea once again in 2016, the Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017. In the working paper that the Law Commission brought out in April 2018, it said that at least “five Constitutional recommendations” would be required to get this off the ground.
The five constitutional amendments that are required to conduct simultaneous polls are:
Article 83 which deals with the duration of Lok Sabha and the state assemblies.
Article 172 related to duration of state legislatures.
Article 174 related to dissolution of state assemblies.
Article 356 deals with the imposition of President’s Rule in states.
In addition, the Representation of People Act, 1951 would have to be amended to build in provisions for stability of tenure for both parliament and assemblies.
One of the main argument in favor of ‘One Nation One Election’ is the rationalization of costs required for conducting elections. According to a report released by the independent think-tank Centre for Media Studies (CMS), the recent Lok Sabha elections of 2019 saw spending of whopping Rs 60, 000 crores – making it the most expensive election ever fought anywhere. Out of the above, only 15% or Rs 10, 000 crores were official expense by the government/election commission. As we know that India is the largest democracy in the world so it will be daunting task to conduct simultaneous election in all the states, UTs and Lok Sabha. According to the Law Commission, if the country goes for simultaneous election then the election commission need to spend Rs 4,500 crore on new EVMs. However, one cannot disagree to the fact that simultaneous elections will most likely lead to reduction in total cost of conducting all elections in the country today.
Another argument put forward in favor of this idea is that frequent elections leads to imposition of Model Code of Conduct and that hampers the regular working of the government. The model code of conduct stops the government from announcing new schemes and policies. But it does not lead to continuation of work of the existing schemes and policies of the government. This system will lead to focus more on governance rather than always be on election mode. The amount of time major political leaders including the Prime Minister, several Cabinet ministers and different state Chief Ministers spend on election campaigning, can be given to focusing on real issues and implementing schemes to solve them.
One of the biggest argument against this idea is that it possess a threat to the Indian federal system. One needs to understand that elections in India is not only about the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha elections, there is a whole set of local body elections in the form of Municipal elections, Corporation elections and the entire Panchayat election process. The ideal implementation of ‘One Nation One Election ‘ would mean simultaneous polls in the local bodies also along with the state assemblies and the parliamentary elections.
The Indian federal system clearly lays down the jurisdictions of the work of the local bodies, state governments and the central government. So a local body election is fought on issues pertaining to that particular local body and are in the jurisdiction of it. Similarly a state election is fought on issues pertaining to the state and are in jurisdiction of the state government. The same goes with the Lok Sabha election. It is fought on issues pertaining to the nation and are in jurisdiction of the central government.
For example, national security is a issue pertaining to the central government, state law and order is a issue pertaining to the state governments and the availability of local facilities is a issue pertaining to the local body, be it a municipality or a panchayat. Then there are issues of economy which pertains to both central and state governments. With ‘One Nation One Election’, the focus on these varying kind of issues might get lost. The national issues might dominate over the local issues or vice versa. So the rigor of debate and focus required for each of the issues might get lost with this idea of simultaneous election.
There needs to be a major debate on the sustainability of this ‘One Nation One Election’ theory. If we look back to the history of India, from 1951 to 1967, India had simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. But during 1968-69, when certain state governments fall in between, elections had to held for those states and the system of simultaneous elections got broken. What will happen if such situation arises again? If any state government falls in between and no other combination is able to form the government in the state, will it mean imposition of President’s rule and in a way giving the power to the central government to run the state. This in a way means more centralization of power and defeats the purpose of democratic system.
Moreover if we look back at history, there are ample evidences where the central government was not able to continue to be in power for entire 5 years , even the alternatives fell leading to early elections. This was the phenomenon in 1977-1979 period when Janata Party formed government under the leadership of Morarji Desai. The government loss majority in between and even the alternative government under the leadership of Charan Singh was not able to sustain leading to early elections in 1979. Same was the case in 1989-1991, when consecutive governments of V.P.Singh and Chandrasekhar was not able to maintain majority and elections again took place in 1991. India witnessed similar situation in the 1996-1999 period when three elections had to take place in 1996, 1998 and 1999 respectively as consecutive governments lost its majority.
What will happen if such situation arises in a simultaneous election system? Will this mean all state governments also need to have mid term elections since the central government fall? This has a potentiality of leading to a lot of chaos and eventually breaking away from the system of simultaneous elections.
So the practicality of this system is very ambiguous. While this looks very good in theory to some, the major challenge lies in implementation and sustainability of this system with more worry on the later. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will set up a committee that will give suggestions on issues related to ‘One Nation, One Election’ proposal. There is no collective agreement on this issue. Several political parties have opposed this. IPD believes that each and every issues pertaining to this debate needs to be understood and collectively vetted before taking any decision on this issue.