Prime minister Narendra Modi’s declaration that his government would set up a committee to examine and give recommendations on one-nation-one-election proposal has led to a debate with Congress and some other major opposition parties opposing the proposal straight away. The issue needs to be debated and a consensus must be reached.
It is a proposal which, if implemented, would radically change the political system in the country and would require amendments to the constitution. The moot question is whether it is desirable for a country which prides itself for unity in diversity to go in for such a political system and whether the benefits would outweigh the losses to the democratic system of the country.
If the government at the Centre falls for whatever reasons and there is no alternative? Shall it lead to Presidential rule in the country till the next elections are held?
The idea by itself is not new. One of the earliest suggestions had actually come from the Election Commission which had suggested way back in 1983 that such a system be worked out. Subsequently the Law Commission headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, had stated in Its report in 1999 that "we must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”.
There are arguments both in favour and against the idea of holding simultaneous elections.
Those in favour of holding simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies argue that it would drastically reduce the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections. They also argue that frequent elections cause policy paralysis resulting from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time and that the normal governance gets affected as governments get into the election mode and put on hold developmental projects.
Those against the idea point to the complexities of such an exercise including the practicality of implementation. They think such a measure would help the party in power at the centre at the cost of the regional parties. The most important argument is : What would happen if the state governments fall or in cases where such governments are dismissed for failing to maintain law and order. Suppose it happens within one year of the election. Would it mean that the particular state would come under Central rule and would remain so for the next four years ? Even worse would be the scenario if the government at the Centre falls for whatever reasons and there is no alternative ? Shall it lead to Presidential rule in the country till the next elections are held ?
After all, out of the 17 Lok Sabhas since 1952, seven were dissolved ahead of schedule — in 1971, 1980, 1984, 1991, 1998, 1999 and 2004. There were only two Lok Sabha elections, in 1952 and 1957, when elections were held simultaneously for Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. In the recent 2019 elections, only four State Assemblies went for elections with the Lok Sabha elections. These were Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
Then there are also the constitutional provisions which need to be rectified. The Law Commission headed by Justice B S Chauhan held in 2018 that simultaneous elections could not be held within the existing framework of the Constitution. These could be held together "through appropriate amendments to the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act 1951, and the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and state Assemblies”. This would entail that at least 50 per cent of the states would have to ratify the constitutional amendments.
The Opposition parties, including the Congress, are likely to remain opposed to the proposal. Congress had described the proposal as "impractical” and "unworkable”. The Trinamool Congress has declared that it was "anti-democratic and unconstitutional”, while the left parties had also questioned the practical aspects of the proposal. The government, if it persists with its proposal, shall have to wait until it has the numbers in Rajya Sabha to carry through the necessary amendments.
It is, however, advisable that the government makes an in-depth study and tries to evolve a national consensus. It shall have to come out with a water tight case with no ambiguity on the provisions and it must allay the fears of different political parties and citizens.
One way out for the time being could be acceptance of the suggestion mooted by the Law Commission in its draft report last year that all elections due in a calendar year be conducted together. Till now the Election Commission has the powers to order elections where Assembly elections are due within six months. One step at a time would be a better idea.