Why implementation of ‘One Nation, One Election’ isn’t too simple

If the idea is implemented, it would mean arbitrarily cutting or extending the terms of existing legislatures to bring their election dates in line with the due date for the rest of the country

By Karthika Jayakumar

As the Central government constitutes a committee, headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind, to deliberate on the implementation of ‘One Nation, One Election’, the political corridors look shaken once again. Notably, the committee was constituted a day after the Centre announced a Special Parliamentary Session to be held between September 18 and 22. It is very likely that the Centre introduces the ‘One Nation, One Election’ bill in Parliament during the special 5-day session.

Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said, “Right now, a committee has been constituted. A report from the committee will come out which will be discussed further. The Parliament is mature, and discussions will take place, there is no need to get nervous. India is called the mother of democracy.”

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The idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ refers to the holding both Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections simultaneously. In India, the exercises to elect the members of the Parliament and the state Assemblies are held separately when the tenure of the incumbent government comes to an end or it gets dissolved for some reason.

Support and benefits

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has been advocating for the implementation of this idea for a long time now. It was also one of the key issues in the 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Those in favour of the idea, emphasise how it will bring down the overall expenditure of the electoral exercise.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which was a BJP ally in 2018, had supported the idea then. The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) also backed the proposal. The Shiv Sena (which was then undivided and an ally of the BJP) had also voiced its support.

The ECI had pegged the expenditure of simultaneous elections at Rs 4,500 crore. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections cost Rs 3,870 crore while the 2015 Bihar elections alone cost Rs 300 crore.

The same group argues that this method will improve governance and the efficiency of the administration instead of always being in ‘election mode’. According to those who back the idea, to ensure free and fair elections, the entire state machinery has to focus on it. That impacts day-to-day functioning of the administration. Simultaneous elections will likely increase voter turnout and make it easier for the electorate to cast their votes at once, and leave enough time for officials to focus on core duties.

‘One Nation, One Election’ is also expected to bring consistency and continuity in policies and programmes of both the centre and the states, they argue.

Opposition and challenges

The biggest challenge pertaining to the scheme is to sync the terms of the various state Legislative Assemblies with that of the Lok Sabha. There is no clarity on how to deal with situations like mid-term polls or the President’s rule. Regional political parties claim that having two elections simultaneously negatively affects their chances of highlighting issues of concern at the local level and that it will give the powerful national parties an undue advantage.

Since 2014, regional parties have been putting up a better fight against the BJP rather than the main Opposition, Congress. For example, in 2019 when Odisha and Lok Sabha polls were held simultaneously, Odisha yielded less than 6% support for the BJP.

Critics highlight that such a measure would also severely undermine the country’s democracy and federalism. Some parties also argue that there might be a possibility of people voting for national issues even in state elections and that may lead to bigger national parties winning in both State and Lok Sabha polls, thereby sidelining regional parties.

The opposition bloc INDIA, also slammed the decision as a “threat” to the country’s federal structure. Samajwadi Party (SP) national president Akhilesh Yadav, who is also part of INDIA bloc, suggested conducting a pilot programme in Uttar Pradesh first. “Simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in India’s most populous state would not only test the capability of the Election Commission of India (ECI) but the BJP would also get the idea of “how eager the people are to remove them from power.”

“No matter how many diversions and distractions the ruling regime throws at the people, the citizens of India shall not be betrayed anymore,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said on X (formerly Twitter), without making any direct reference to the formation of the Kovind-led committee.

Opposition parties including Congress, Trinamool Congress (AITC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) opposed the proposal of simultaneous elections in the country way back in August 2018.

TMC had even warned that simultaneous elections could lead to an “emergency-like” situation. The DMK had said that the idea of simultaneous elections goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution.

Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, which joined hands with Congress and the RJD recently, also highlighted that regional parties will be at a disadvantage with the ‘One Nation, One Election’ proposal.

However, for the bill to come into force, multiple Constitutional amendments and the tweaking of the Representation of the People Act would be required, along with multiple logistical challenges like acquiring more Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines (VVPATs).

A glance at history

It is interesting to note that the practice of holding simultaneous elections is not new in the country. Over a period of 100 days, simultaneous elections were conducted for the first time in independent India between October 25, 1951, and February 21, 1952. This setup started losing value as states were restructured and Assemblies were disbanded.

Yet, simultaneous polls were held again in 1957, 1962, and 1967. In 1970, the Lok Sabha itself was dissolved prematurely and fresh elections were held in 1971. By 1972, the trend died down and no state election coincided with the general election.

If the idea is implemented, it would mean arbitrarily cutting or extending the terms of existing legislatures to bring their election dates in line with the due date for the rest of the country.

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