Bribery in public services continues to plague India with corruption watchdog Transparency International underscoring India has the highest bribery rate in Asia, 46% paid bribes as it was demanded, 32% used personal connections else they would not receive service and 63% said if they reported sleaze, they would suffer retaliation. Leaving the public angry and frustrated. Sic.
Lost in this din was Prime Minister Modi pitching once again for ‘One Nation One Poll’ nee simultaneous elections to elected bodies at various levels at the 80th All India Presiding Officers Conference last week. It would not only save the Exchequer and Parties money but enable Governments both Centre and States to concentrate on delivering good governance, he added. Besides, giving ample time to netas to take people-oriented schemes to the aam aadmi.
Specially against the backdrop that money makes the clogged and corrupt electoral mare go around in the Great Indian Political Circus and how! Wherein netas use polls to amass money, political energy is diverted in injecting a heavy dose of vote-bank politics with politicians progressively allowing this malady to become chronic thereby gravely undermining governance. Power, more power and absolute power is replete with I-me myself syndrome. Worse, even the semblance of administration is dispensed with. All in the vicious grip of Perpetual Election Syndrome with the devil taking the hindmost!
Questionably, is it an idea whose time has finally come? Can one hold simultaneous polls for Parliament, State Legislatures right down to Panchayats? Is it in national interest? Given that over the last few decades the country has been afflicted by PES week after week, month after month. Wasteful expenditure, noisy campaigns, rallies, blocked roads disrupting our lives. A year-long merry-go-round, wreaking havoc on our body politic — right, left and centre.
Let’s face it. With State after State going for elections every year, running the Central Government has become a challenge when the country is in PES. In 2011, 5 States Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Puducherry and Bengal, 2012 UP, Goa, Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand, 2013 Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram.
In 2014 Lok Sabha and four States Maharashtra, Haryana, Telengana and Andhra, 2015 Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand and J&K, 2016 Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Assam, 2018 Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram, 2019 Lok Sabha, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka and Goa and Bihar recently.
Think. One mega election every five years with a common voter list would not only save time and money spent in electioneering but it is one way to 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. As many good initiatives are dumped due to poll considerations lest it upset a caste, community, religion or region. All, becoming victims of policy paralysis, mismanagement and poor implementation.
Another benefit of concurrent polls is it would result in huge financial saving as over the years election costs have sky rocketed. Statistics say it all: In 1952, the first national election for Lok Sabha and Assemblies the cost was just over Rs 10 crores. In the subsequent two elections 1957 and 1962 expenditure came down to almost Rs 6 and Rs 7.5 crores respectively.
Recall, till 1971 simultaneous elections were held for the Centre and State legislatures. It was only when Indira Gandhi dissolved Lok Sabha and advanced polls by a year that this synchronization fell apart. This resulted in many unstable Governments at the Centre and States leading to early dissolution of the Lok Sabha or Assemblies.
Moreover, expenditure saw an upward spiral. It doubled to over Rs 23 crores in 1980, further doubled to Rs 54 crores in 1984 and Rs 154 crores in 1989. In 1991expenses shot up to Rs 359 crores, 1999 it was Rs 880 crores, 2004 Rs 1300 crores and 2014 Lok Sabha elections entailed Rs 4500 crores expenditure, though the Centre for Media Studies said it was over Rs 30,000 crores and a staggering Rs 60,000 crores in 2019.
The Bihar Government spent over Rs 725 crores for last month’s Assembly polls, the less said the better about expenses incurred by candidates, Parties and Election Commission. A complete waste of the taxpayer’s hard money being spent over and over again mindlessly.
Obversely, many believe it is not advisable to have simultaneous poll. The proposal could be motivated by political considerations, as when concurrent elections are held voters tend to vote for the same Party. Also, poll issues at the Centre and States are quite different and it would create confusion. A Party could be deserving of support at the Centre for its policies and performance at the national level. Yet, the same Party could be deserving of popular punishment and defeat for its policies and performance at the State level.
Further, a fixed term for the Lok Sabha and State Legislatures 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 till 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.
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. In sum elections are the bedrock of our democracy but 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!