Dr. Asangba Tzüdir
For some months now, the issue of holding simultaneous elections across the country has attracted considerable debates where a stakeholder discussion called for the ‘One Nation, One Poll’ proposal by the Law Commission of India. In this strain, the recent letter by the National BJP President Amit Shah to Law Commission calling for ‘One Nation, One Poll’ have further heightened the debates with the Congress ‘accusing’ that Shah violated election laws. Shah’s letter comes two days after the Chief Election Commissioner, Om Prakash Rawat proposed holding one election in a year as an alternative to the simultaneous elections whereby having simultaneous elections will require huge manpower especially security forces.
The BJP supremo has claimed that ‘One Nation, One Poll’ was pushed in National Interest adding that, in a progressive democracy such as India, having separate elections strained the resources of the state, where having multiple elections cost a hefty amount and that a single poll involve lesser waste of resources. As reported in firstpost, Shah wrote, “There is no relation between Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Voters vote on different issues in both polls. Therefore we must have faith and trust the voters.”
Speaking to reporters, BJP party leader Bhupendra Yadav claimed that there are over 9,30,000 poll booths and over one crore workers posted during polls. Rs 1,600 to Rs 1,700 crores were spent in 2011 polls and Rs 4,000 crore in 2014 polls. He further added that such exercise has been successful in several countries.
Adding to the chorus, the Prime Minister also batted for ‘One Nation, One Poll’ saying that election cycle in current form weakens federal structure. On the economic front, he views that it will enable undivided attention to governance and development, and that multiple poll means heavy burden on exchequer where the exercise of electioneering itself involves lots of resources. He also highlighted concerns about wastage of time where, multiple polls means frequent campaign period besides creating delays in development decisions. The number of police engaged in election duties would also rather focus of policing.
The Law Commission and NITI Aayog have stood that simultaneous elections are somehow acceptable because “elections to Lok Sabha and all state Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously between 1951 and 1967.” The opposition has constantly denounced the Law Commissions agenda terming that ‘One Nation, One Poll’ is “anti-democratic” and “unconstitutional.”
In its draft working paper, the Law Commission has laid out ways to ensure concurrent terms for the Lok Sabha and Assemblies in the event of dissolution of house through a no-confidence motion or a hung verdict in an election and also proposed some election schedule options like holding elections together with Lok Sabha elections in 2019 and 2024 or in 2019 and 2021-2022 such that elections are held every two and half years.
The concern is that, without testing such proposals against constitutional principles like democracy or federalism, the Law Commission has rather suggested amendments on how to conduct simultaneous elections. Taking the simultaneous elections conducted during the period 1951-1967 where, several states were forced to go to polls under varied circumstances, does not, in any way serve as a justification to have simultaneous elections. Further, the composition of the Rajya Sabha is determined by the composition of the State’s legislatures and which is crucial for federalism because of its powers to enable parliament to make laws on matters in the state list. To change this political process means impairing the federal structure of Rajya Sabha.
Top congress leaders have approached the Election Commission with their objections because the altering effects will be such that, the ‘contentions’ especially on the federal structure or any other basic feature of the Indian Constitution cannot be left open ended. Besides, the timing of this proposal is conspicuous especially coming at the heels of the 2019 elections. All of a sudden it was opined that, India as a developing Nation can’t afford to have multiple polls. Amit Shah should also know that for a country to be democratically progressive, it is imperative that such proposals should not come at the cost of impairing democratic values.
(Dr. Asangba Tzudir is a Freelance Research and Editing Consultant. He contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to email@example.com)