A topic that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pitching since 2014 has resurfaced after the citizens of the country gave a resounding mandate to the BJP-led NDA government in the recent Lok Sabha elections. Modi has argued that conducting elections at regular intervals not only cause burden to the state exchequer but also disturbs governance as new welfare schemes cannot be implemented once the model code of conduct comes into force. India spends huge amount of resources for elections every year in the form of security arrangements and government machinery mobilisation besides other preparations. This burden, he said, can be lightened through “one nation, one election”, that is, to conduct simultaneous polls for Parliament, State Assembly and other civic bodies once every five years. It was tested in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Odisha in the recent general elections, and the exercise turned out to be a success though the outcome can be different if it is implemented in all states and Union Territories across the country.
While the proposed reform is genuine and can help reduce expenditure by both the government and political parties besides checking corruption and unrest that usually accompany election, it can turn out to be a misfit in a federal democracy. This calls for a need to meticulously plan and dissect the concept before implementation. For instance, what if the Lok Sabha is prematurely dissolved? Will all the State Assemblies be dissolved in such an eventuality? Similarly, if a State Assembly is dissolved before the completion of its tenure, will the Lower House of the Parliament be dissolved too and go to the polls? Dissolving Lok Sabha or State legislatures before the completion of five years or letting the minority party to be in power is not practical and goes against the federal principles of India’s democracy. Placing the country or states under President’s rule until five years is completed, in case of dissolution, too is impractical. This makes “one nation, one election” concept more complex than it sounds. To sum up, the federal spirit of Indian democracy could be wiped off altogether if the think-tanks, intelligentsia and lawmakers of the country do not come up with a pragmatic solution.
Considering the complexity of holding simultaneous elections and in a bid to build a consensus, the BJP-led NDA government convened an all-party meeting on Wednesday to discuss the matter. It is encouraging that the government advocates healthy debate instead of forcibly implementing the proposed reform. However, many political parties, including Congress, Samajwadi Party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Bahujan Samaj Party and Trinamool Congress gave a cold shoulder by staying away from the meeting. For whatever reasons the parties refused to attend the meeting, it was unfortunate that they undermined the spirit of debate and discussion in a democracy. The chiefs of various political parties should have welcomed the call for debate and discussion on simultaneous elections around the table, assessed its pros and cons, and even scrapped it all together if it’s not feasible. The leaders of Left parties, in spite of the ideological differences they have with the BJP, attended the meeting and reportedly expressed their apprehensions on the implementation of “one nation, one election.” That should be the spirit.