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Go for simultaneous elections
Holding Lok Sabha and State Assembly polls together will not only lighten the financial and administrative strain on the EC but the Government can also function smoothly without interruptions caused by the model code of conduct
Holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies has come into focus once again after the Election Commission favoured the idea but also said that all political parties should be brought on board before such an exercise is conducted. Election Commissioner OP Rawat said early this month that "The Election Commission has always been of the view that simultaneous elections will give enough time for incumbent Government to formulate policies and implement programmes continuously for a longer time without interruptions caused by imposition of model code of conduct."
The EC had asked for funds to purchase new EVMs and VVPAT machines to meet the requirements and claimed that it would be logistically equipped by September 2018 to hold Parliamentary and Assembly polls together. The Commission would require 24 lakh each electronic voting machines and voter verifiable paper audit trail machines. Presently, according to constitutional and legal provisions, elections are to be held within six months ahead of the end of the term of a State Assembly or the Lok Sabha.
The framers of the Constitution had envisaged simultaneous polls to Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies and the practice continued till 1967 but it got derailed due to various factors including dissolution of some Assemblies after the liberal use of Article 356.
The idea to go back to conducting simultaneous polls has travelled over the years. BJP leader LK Advani had floated the idea in 2012 and the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee were also receptive to the idea. The BJP 2014 manifesto also promised that if it came to power it would evolve a method to hold simultaneous polls. In 2015, the report of the Standing Committee on Law held that it would save huge expenditure on elections and stop policy paralysis.
In February 2016, Modi pushed the idea while speaking in the Lok Sabha suggesting, "Political parties should not look at the idea through the narrow prism of politics." In September 2016 Modi Government invited public views on the issue in the "Mygovt."Portal. It raised questions including whether it was desirable to hold simultaneous polls and what happens to Assemblies whose tenure ends before or after the proposed date of holding simultaneous polls. It also raised the question whether the terms of the Lok Sabha and Assembly should be fixed and what happens if by-elections are necessitated or if the ruling party loses majority mid way.
The Niti Ayog has also favoured this step spelling out that a synchronised two phase polls from 2024 would be feasible in its "Three-year agenda, 2017-18 to 2018 -19, report". It said that simultaneous polls would not only keep alive the enthusiasm of the voters but also lighten the financial and administrative strain on the Government and the Election Commission. It would also avoid repeated enforcement of Model code of conduct. In December 17 last year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law observed that several structural changes would need to be done in case a decision was made in this regard including constitutional amendments. Finally, on October 4, 2017 the Election Commission has favoured the idea but with some riders.
Is there a case for simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies? There is indeed a case because it will save a lot of money which could be utilised for developmental purposes. While the poll expenditure in 2009 was Rs 1,100 crores, in 2014 it shot up to Rs 4,000 crores and is expected to go up further in 2019. Secondly, the strain on the security forces would become less as the voters could cast two ballots in the same polling booth. Frequent elections also bring candidates to the voters more often resulting in the confusion of the illiterate voters. Thirdly, as SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner, has remarked ".... elections have become the root cause of corruption in the country". In fact it is during the elections that the black money is generated more.
At the same time the challenges are also huge to enforce simultaneous polls. First of all, the Government is yet to attempt the important task of finding a consensus. Creating a political consensus for simultaneous polls may be the biggest hurdle for the Modi Government. Key political parties such as Indian National Congress (INC), All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), Communist Party of India (CPI), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) etc. in their submissions to the Parliamentary Standing Committee have expressed their reservations about the do-ability.
Secondly, stakeholders including the Government, Election Commission and political parties should find some agreeable principles for holding simultaneous polls.
Thirdly, while it might be easier to persuade the BJP-ruled States to curtail their Assembly terms, the Opposition-ruled States may or may not agree for this. The regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, Naveen Patnaik of Odisha and others may not agree. Even the NDA allies like the Shiv Sena and Akali Gal might not agree. Fourthly, The Representation of People Act 1951, which covers various modalities of conducting elections in the country, also needs to be amend and the Constitutional amendments require two-thirds majority and the BJP is nowhere near that.
IN balance, holding simultaneous polls will be advantages on many counts including poll campaign, poll expenditure, Government funds and security arrangements. Politicians should give up their narrow political outlook and go for what is good for the country. When it was successful in the fifties and sixties then why not now?
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist.)
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