A Dream Called “One Nation One Election”

Meeting of minds may be a good beginning in our pursuit of the goal of “One Nation, One Election.” But the realisation of the dream of One Nation, One Election will require not only the meeting of minds, but also a resolute determination to act together

By Maj Gen C P Singh (Retd)

Blog

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi said ‘One Nation, One Election’ isn’t just an issue of deliberation but also a need of the country. It sounded like a dream come true to all Indians. The quality of political ideology has taken a downward spiral in the recent times, and it appears difficult to achieve this. In present Indian polity, self interests of politicians are supreme, interest of their political party comes second and national interest comes last, always and every time. Any idea, how so ever, good or bad is supported or opposed on the party lines. Support is never issue based. The so called intellectuals or experts have also fallen into two groups- we or they.

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Every day, we find the elections are on for either Lok Sabha or State Assembly or Panchayat. Each of them has a separate voting list. While the eligible age for voting is fixed at 18 years, having three voter lists is not understood but no effort is made to reconcile and make one voter list for all. May be vested interests again overtake the national interests. Very aptly said by the PM, “We must remember that when politics take over people and nation-first policies, the nation has to pay adversely in such situations.”

Historical Perspective

Historically, elections during the first two decades after Independence for the House of the People and state legislative assemblies were held simultaneously, i.e., during 1951-52, 1957, 1962 and 1967. Dissolution of certain assemblies, followed by the dissolution of the House of the People in 1970 and subsequent general elections in 1971, along with indiscriminate use of Article 356 (President’s Rule) disrupted the schedule of simultaneous elections, forever.

“We must remember that when politics take over people and nation-first policies, the nation has to pay adversely in such situations,”
– Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The idea made its début in the first annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. It had supported holding simultaneous elections to reduce expenditure, for effective use of manpower and human resource. It also creates hardship for common people. The topic was revived and rejuvenated by the 170th Report of the Law Commission, submitted in 1999. The proposal gained momentum with the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Thereafter, NITI Aayog issued a Working Paper on the subject in 2017 titled, “Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The What, Why and How.” It broadly recommended a gradual move to synchronisation of elections to Parliament and state legislative assemblies between 2019 and 2024.

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Global Reality Check

On a study of the international scenario, it is revealed that a system to ensure simultaneous elections or fixed term does exist in certain countries like Germany and UK, for sure. Even in US, the term of President is almost fixed for four years because of very difficult impeachment process.

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The Need

The idea made its début in the first annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. It had supported holding simultaneous elections to reduce expenditure, for effective use of manpower and human resource

The arguments in favour of holding simultaneous elections can be summarised as follows:-

• Money and administrative expense will be drastically cut; political parties spend a lot on elections campaigning. In 1951 elections, 53 political parties contested and the expense declared was 11 crores. In recent 2019 elections, 610 political parties contested and the expense as per ADR is 60,000 crores.

• Government will have time for some constructive work because imposition of model code of conduct hampers developmental and welfare activities.

• The ruling parties will be able to focus on legislation and governance rather than having to be in campaign mode forever.

• The entire State and District level administrative and security machinery will only be busy with the conduct of elections once in a period of five years, contrary to the current practice.

• Large numbers of teachers are involved in the electoral process adversely affecting education sector. This will be avoided.

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Why the Opposition

In the lighter vein, if elections are held once in five years, the politicians will be unemployed for five years. However, the following reasons merit consideration:-

Political Consensus: Amendments to Constitution require brute majority by one party. It’s a difficult process by design so that only utmost necessary amendments are made after due consideration. Since, no party can achieve that in today’s scenario, a political consensus is essential, for the large scale amendments. There is need to rise above the petty politics, keeping the Nation First ethos in mind.

Ratification of the amendments by not less than one-half of the state legislatures may also be required to be taken as a matter of abundant precaution. Perhaps the biggest hurdle would be creation of a political consensus for simultaneous elections. This would require some states to agree to curtail the terms of their assemblies and forgo their regional identities.

Amendments to the Constitution: Besides, a large number of amendments to laws, rules and regulations would need to be carried out, making the task very arduous, if not impossible. To conduct simultaneous elections in India, many amendments to the Constitution of India are to be made. Briefly these are –

o Article 83 (Tenure of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), Article 83(2)11 ), Article 172 (1) (five years term of State Legislative Assembly), Article 83 (2) and Article 172 (1) (Extension of Parliament and State Assemblies, Article 85 (2)(b) and 174 (2)(b) (power to dissolve Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies)

o The Representation of People Act 1951, which covers various modalities of conducting elections in the country, also needs to be amended.

Legal Scrutiny. It is against the constitutional fabric. All these large scale amendments will result in hundreds of cases landing up in courts and in all probability; these will be turned down by the Supreme Court because the fundamental structure of the Constitution cannot be changed.

The proposal gained momentum with the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Thereafter, NITI Aayog issued a Working Paper on the subject in 2017 titled, “Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The What, Why and How.” It broadly recommended a gradual move to synchronisation of elections to Parliament and state legislative assemblies between 2019 and 2024

• Simultaneous elections threaten the federal character of our democracy.

• Large national parties would reap the economies of scale and will be, to the disadvantage of regional parties.

• In case of hung Lok Sabha, there is no provision for President’s rule like in case of states. Given the fractured polity of the nation, we may be forced into national elections in quick succession.

Roadmap

‘One India One Election’ would be a good change if it could be carried out with the proper execution of policies and rules, taking care of the rising need for good administrative staff and security. A focused group of constitutional experts, think tanks, government officials and representatives of political parties should be formed to work out appropriate implementation related details. The tenures of some state assemblies will be curtailed or extended, for which a political consensus is prerequisite.

The implementation could be carried out in three phases as under-

• Phase 1- All elections in a year be held together.

• Phase 2- General elections be held once in 30 months, once with national elections and once for remaining states somewhere midway.

• Phase 3- In the final phase, all elections are synchronised and scheduled to be held together.

‘One India One Election’ would be a good change if it could be carried out with the proper execution of policies and rules, taking care of the rising need for good administrative staff and security

Conclusion

Meeting of minds may be a good beginning in our pursuit of the goal of “One Nation, One Election.” But the realisation of the dream of One Nation, One Election will require not only the meeting of minds, but also a resolute determination to act together. Harmonious Coordination between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary will be Key to unlock the “One Nation One Election” dream.

This brilliant idea of “One Nation, One Election” appears to be a bit utopian at present, like the fabled ‘Ram Rajya.’ However, those who dare to dream big have the perseverance to fulfill their dreams and pioneer the change. The well meaning citizens of this country look up to our dynamic PM Narendra Modi to be the harbinger of Change.

-The writer is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda. He can be contacted at www.majgencpsingh.com