Time for ‘the mother of all democratic reforms’ has come. Don’t look at it as a gimmick. It is a way of regulating measures for various irresponsible tendencies emerging in the Indian politics. Every democrat should support the idea of simultaneous polls to purge the politics from unscrupulous elements
English we say that the time for a particular idea has now come. So, the time for simultaneous elections or the ‘One Nation, One Election’ has now come. However, it has the danger of misinterpretation as well. When we say ‘one nation, one election’ it has a kind of connotation, which is bit negative suggesting that one is trying to control everything, and diversity and decentralisation are being rejected. That is not the intent of those who have mooted the idea of simultaneous polls.
Any idea rejected at the initial stage only is like throwing the baby into bath water, which the matured politicians in a matured democracy should not do. If all agree, we may have not one but two rounds of elections
The system of holding simultaneous elections was discontinued thereafter. Now, we have the situation when there is one or the other election every year. There are various demerits of the nation being in perennial mode. The terminology of ‘perennial mode’ was perhaps first used by Advaniji when he was the Union Home Minister.
There are many problems which are caused by frequent elections. First is the huge expenditure that every election requires to be incurred. Our National election, as per a rough estimate, costs around Rs 5000 crore. The Assembly elections too proportionally cost. When both these elections do not happen simultaneously, it costs double. Hence, we can save not only a huge amount of government expenditure but the private expenditure and political parties’ expenditure as well if we have simultaneously polls. The saved money could be utilized for various welfare schemes or economic support to the underprivileged and marginal sections. In fact, not having simultaneous elections is detrimental to the very idea of the welfare state.
Saving Campaign Time
The second reason, as given by MP from Odisha Shri Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, who has studied various democracies, is that the amount of campaign time that is invested in our country is far more than the governance time. The campaign and governance time cannot be disproportionate. It creates huge amount of issues and challenges. The campaign time is required to be minimised because once in electoral mode—whether in government or opposition—all political strategies are oriented towards elections. When elections are round the corner, no matter they are in Assam, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab or Haryana, people in New Delhi—whether in ruling party or in opposition—plan their strategies to suit their electoral verdict. The opposition tries to rake up all the issues, which are apparently of populist nature, and those in government try to save the governance from the pressures of populist politics. So, in the process, populism dominates politics and governance takes a back seat. In that context as well simultaneous polls make a very great sense.
Since we have multiple polls on multiple occasions, it hampers political and governance stability hugely. Every election, following disproportionate media attention, is considered to be a verdict on governance, which should not be. Everybody knows that Assam elections have Assam issues, Tamil Nadu elections have Tamil issues—but if one wins people at the Centre say it is endorsement of our policies, but if one loses, the opposition parties say you have lost because the people have rejected your policies, which is not the case always. It is very simplistically drawn conclusion and it gives erroneous signals. Because of that also a kind of instability creeps into the system. People plan their future politics on the outcome of those elections. Since in politics everybody remains a little bit of insecure from within and this insecurity is enhanced when a particular result goes against or in favour of a particular political party. So, political instability, huge financial burden and a kind of impetus to populist tendency, both in government and opposition, are the three principle reasons, which make a strong case of having simultaneous polls. We can hugely save not only expenditures, but the investment of man hours and time as well in all kinds of campaign related things.
Single Electoral Roll
There are several other aspects too, which need to be taken into consideration. For example, if we really try to implement the simultaneous polls resolutely, then whether it is Gram Panchayat Election, Municipal Election, Assembly Election or Parliamentary elections, the voters’ lists have to be the same. Today on that count we have different versions. One name is there in the Municipal list, but the same is absent in the Assembly election. Such things will also disappear once we make single electoral list. Every voter will go to the polling booth, where there could be four or five different EVMs. The first machine can be used for Municipal or Local Body polls, second for Assembly polls and the third for Parliamentary polls. If there is Legislative Council poll also, the fourth machine can be used for that. However, it is a bit difficult because the graduate and other constituencies have varied tenure. Even then we can at least combine together three polls. If this happens, the people will not be unduly disturbed by rampant elections.
Disturbing Local Governance
The other factor is related to investment of man power and the disturbances that the multiple polls create in governance. For example, if there is election in Assam, the Election Commission draws officers from different states. Suppose, an officer posted in Ahmedabad as Municipal Commissioner may be deputed to Assam polls for a month. During that period the work in Ahmedabad hampers. So, a full stop will be put at all such disturbances if there are simultaneous polls.
Another factor is model code of conduct. As elections are announced, model code of conduct comes into force and continues till the counting of votes. Nobody can question the idea of code of conduct, but it is perhaps more abused then used. I give an example. I have adopted a village under Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. In last January, we were to inaugurate a BSNL tower there, because the village was not covered by BSNL. We requested them, they worked for about six months and finally the mobile phone tower was ready for inauguration. But we were told not to inaugurate that in January because of the code of conduct. There was no election in our knowledge. When asked, we were informed that teachers’ constituency election for Legislative Council were going on. In the entire village, there was not a single teacher and not a single villager was to go for vote in that election, there was no question of any kind of influence over the voters, even then the code of conduct was in force. Finally, we were prevented from inaugurating the tower and the village remained deprived of connectivity for close to two months. All these kinds of impediments create huge set of issues and it hampers normal developmental activities like roads, electricity or other things. This can also be taken care of if we have simultaneous polls.
When Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi raised this issue, many people could not realise that PM was in fact talking about a major democratic reform, which I describe as ‘Mother of all Reforms’. If it happens, several things will fall in line automatically and we will be free from several ills of democratic politics. But it was unfortunately taken by a large section of the media and opposition parties also as something partisan. The Parliamentary Select Committee, headed by Congress Member of Parliament EM Sudarsana Natchiappan, also unanimously welcomed this idea. But even the parties which represented in the Select Committee are now turning their back, which is, however, not surprising. The fact that all need to understand is that the Bharatiya Janata Party never wanted this to be looked at as BJP agenda, Narendra Modi or Amit Shah agenda. It has to be a national agenda. The BJP has not even passed a resolution supporting it. Even then we are supporting it.
“The simultaneous elections, both at Centre and States, would enable the government to reduce:
(i) the massive election expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections;
(II) the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time; and
(iii) impact on delivery of essential services and
(iv) burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time”
— Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and justice in its Report entitled, ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’ submitted on December 17, 2015
Now some people ask what will happen if the Assemblies are dissolved in between? My answer is, let us experiment with some different ideas. Let us all be first open to several reform-oriented measures that have been proposed. We can discuss the modalities later on. But first of all we should see the merit in the idea itself. Refusing to see the merit is something which does not speak of maturity. Therefore, if we look at it taking a long term view, non-partisan approach and rising above the partisan considerations, everybody will understand the merits.
No Need to Dissolve the House
The last question is how do we find answers to the instability which may occur if an Assembly is compelled to be dissolved before its tenure. This situation arises when no-confidence motion is moved in the Assembly and is passed. In this regard, the German method can be useful. The German method says that a resolution of no-confidence against a particular CM has to be combined with a resolution through which the members express confidence in some other individual. It has to go hand in hand. If that happens, the Assembly is not required to be dissolved. Of course there could be situation where the CM incumbent may want to dissolve the Assembly early. We may have to prevent such premature dissolution of either Assembly or Parliament. Then we can move towards pre-decided tenure of the Assembly or the Parliament.
There could be several other ways and means of finding solutions and they could be deliberated upon. Any idea to be rejected at the initial stage only is like throwing the baby into bath water, which the matured politicians in a matured democracy should not do. If you agree to see merits in the idea, we may not have one but two rounds of elections. That certainly will be far better than having annual round of elections. Hence, the time for the mother of all democratic reforms has certainly come. Even common citizens should not look at it as a political gimmick. It is basically a way of regulating measures for all kinds of irresponsible tendencies emerging in politics due to elections happening every year. Even to purge our politics from the unscrupulous elements, every citizen, every political party and every democrat should support the idea of simultaneous polls.
(The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and Chairman of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. As told to Dr Pramod Kumar)