Opinion

India’s Perpetual Election Circus

Barely have the victory bugles in the recent five Assembly polls ended that Parties are gearing up for the next round of the Great Indian Political Circus in December. Wherein politicians of every colour, caste-creed with a heavy dose of vote-bank politics, replete with I-me myself syndrome are serenading voters. Worse, even the semblance of administration is being dispensed with resulting in a chronic malady.

Let’s face it. Post 2019 Lok Sabha elections till date the country witnessed 24 State Assembly polls and is now readying itself for Gujarat and Himachal end year, followed by Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya February, Karnataka  May, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram November, Rajasthan and Telangana in December 2023, Andhra, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim April 2024, Maharashtra and Haryana October and Jharkhand November/December. In February 2025 Delhi goes to polls followed by Bihar in November/December.

As the country jostles under the weight of all-year Perpetual Election Syndrome (PES) which is wreaking havoc on our body politic, it is time now for our Parties to seriously collectively think of changing this to One Nation One Election for Parliament, State Legislatures right down to Panchayats.

In fact, Prime Minister Modi mooted this idea since 2016.  As it would not only save the Exchequer and Parties money but enable Governments at the Centre and States to concentrate on delivering good governance which come to a stand-still because of the code of conduct. Besides, it gives ample time for netas and workers to take people-oriented schemes to the aam aadmi.

In 1999 both the Law Commission and Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, PublicGrievances, Law and Justice recommended simultaneous Lok Sabha and State Assemblies elections for improving our electoral system. Whereby both polls are synchronized together to enable voters cast their votes on a single day at the same time or alternatively, in a phase-wise manner.

Think. One mega election every five years with a common voter list would not only save time and massive expenditures by Government and various stakeholders on frequent electioneering, black money, halt engagement of Government personnel and security forces for a prolonged period of time and perpetuation of caste, religion and communal issues etc.

Besides, it would get rid of incompetence, malfeasance and casual governance, enabling Central and State Governments to work, take hard decisions in public interest and deliver good governance without worrying about the impact on its vote banks. Many good initiatives are dumped due to poll considerations lest it upset a caste, community, religion or region.

Frequent polls give rise to short-sighted populist and “politically safe” measures over “difficult” structural reforms which may be more beneficial to the public from a longer term perspective. Leading to sub-optimal governance and adversely impacts the design and delivery of public policies and developmental projects and other Government activities. All, becoming victims of policy paralysis, mismanagement and poor implementation.

Recall, elections to Lok Sabha and all State Assemblies were held simultaneously between 1951 till 1967 when the cycle got disrupted due to premature dissolution of some Assemblies in 1968 and 1969. In 1970 Fourth Lok Sabha was dissolved prematurely and fresh elections held in 1971. Resulting, in many unstable Governments at the Centre and States leading to early dissolution of the Lok Sabha or Assemblies.

True, poll issues at the Centre and in States are different; consequently it is not advisable to mix them. As it could create confusion for voters as a Party could be deserving of support at the Centre for its policies and performance at the national level but deserving of popular punishment for its performance in a State.

Two, simultaneous poll  could be motivated by political considerations, as when concurrent elections are held voters tend to vote for the same Party. Further, having a fixed term of the Lok Sabha and the State Legislature goes against the basic tenets of Parliamentary democracy. Hypothetically, if a Government enjoying the people’s mandate is voted out, it would continue to hold office or be replaced by another Government, which might not necessarily enjoy the popular mandate.

Plainly, a Government which lacks the confidence of the House would be foisted on the people, with no say in the matter. Smacking of de facto dictatorship or monarchical anarchy, an idea which translates in to unrepresentative governance.

However, some feel simultaneous elections could be held for State Assemblies and they be given a fixed term. If an elected State Government was to fall, the Centre could impose President’s rule until the time for a fresh poll. But the Lok Sabha cannot have a fixed term as there is no provision for President’s rule at the Centre. This could create more problems than solving them.

Some Constitutional experts offer a solution. If the remainder of Lok Sabha term is not long there could be a provision for the President to carry out the administration of the country, on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers to be appointed by him till, the time the next House is constituted at the prescribed time. Or if the remainder of the term is long then fresh election may be held and the term of the House in such case should be for the rest of what would have been the original term.

Either way, the idea needs to be debated extensively. Its pros and cons weighed before arriving at a final solution as the alteration would entail changing the Constitution’s basic structure. Further, though the BJP backs simultaneous polls, Congress, Left and Trinamool think it’s impractical, unworkable, not feasible and anti-democratic.

Where do we go from here? Pertinently, in 2015 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law recommended “a practicable method of holding simultaneous elections.  In 2018, the Law Commission tabled a set of recommendations proposing for a system of elections modelled on Sweden, South Africa and Belgium. In Sweden, elections to county and municipal councils take place in tandem with the country’s general elections every four years. Ditto in South Africa where concurrent polls are held every five years.

Belgium’s Federal Parliament elections are also held every five years, coinciding with the European Parliament elections. A similar system is prevalent in Spain, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Albania, Israel, Lesotho Philippines, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Guatemala and was introduced in Indonesia last year.

The US model could be considered. The President and State Governors are elected directly for a fixed four-year term and choose their own teams. The President is answerable to the House of Representatives and Senate but is not required to seek their confidence vote. This ensures good governance, stability and continuity enabling him to take hard decisions without fear of losing power.

Clearly, time for winds of change to blow out India’s PES as elections are the bedrock of our democracy and we should avoid duplication of polls. With States in election mode every year, running the Government is akin to running with the hare and hunting with the hound. India’s democracy should not be reduced to a tu-tu mein-mein between Parties all the time. Modi could well position One Poll as the next big reform to ‘clean’ India, take the Opposition  by surprise and market it as enough of destructive PES!

 

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Poonam I Kaushish

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