The issue of holding Elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies simultaneously has become a matter of wide-scale public discussion, soon after the Government of India on the 2nd of September this year came out with a Resolution stating that in the national interest, it is desirable to have simultaneous elections in the country and constituted a High-Level Committee of eight members to examine the issue and make recommendations for holding simultaneous elections in the country. Soon after, one of the members, Shri Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Single Largest Party in Opposition in Lok Sabha, dissociated from the Committee on the ground that the terms of reference of the committee had been prepared in a manner to guarantee its inclusion. He also clarified that the sudden attempt to thrust a constitutionally suspect, pragmatically non-feasible, and logistically unimplementable idea on the nation a few months before the Election raised serious concern about the ulterior motives of the government.
The government is of the view that the cycle of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies from 1951-52 till 1967 which got broken had led to elections almost every year and within a year too at different times resulting in massive expenditure by the Government and other stakeholders, diversion of security forces and other electoral officers engaged in such elections from their primary duties for significantly prolonged periods, disruption in developmental work on account of prolonged application of Model Code of Conduct.
It is relevant to note that the issue of simultaneous Elections has been examined by the Law Commission in its 170th Report on Reforms of the Electoral Laws and by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in its 79th Report on ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Election to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’. However, there had not been any decision by a competent authority in favour of having simultaneous elections in the country.
The present Committee has been mandated to examine and recommend, among other matters, (a) specific amendments to the Constitution, Laws and the rules made thereunder for the purpose of holding simultaneous elections; (b) examine and recommend, if the amendments to the Constitution would require ratification by the States; (c) examine and recommend the modalities of use of a single electoral roll and electoral identity cards for identification of voters in elections to the Lok Sabha, State Assemblies, Municipalities and Panchayats.
Interestingly the Committee is not mandated to examine the feasibility or desirability of simultaneous Elections but to examine and recommend how simultaneous Elections are to be conducted. This assumption is most likely to be challenged as this does not appear to have been discussed and decided upon in a competent national platform. The government is of the view that in the national interest, it is desirable to have simultaneous elections in the country. Many may not be in agreement with this perception either.
Why simultaneous elections are necessary merits a discussion. It is said that it would avoid massive expenditure by the Government and other stakeholders, diversion of security forces and other electoral officers engaged in such elections from their primary duties for significantly prolonged periods, and disruption in developmental work on account of prolonged application of Model Code of Conduct.
The most fundamental issue that has been lost sight of here is the basic structure of our Constitution. We have a Parliamentary Democracy and India is a Union of States where the Executive at the center and at the states is accountable to the legislature and through it to the people. A government that loses majority support in the legislature falls and if an alternative government is not possible, the Assembly/Lok Sabha goes to polls. Such a situation frustrates the one nation one election discipline. If we must have one nation one election, the state where the government falls, would be placed under President's Rule and the arrangement would continue till the country goes for the general election. This would mean that a state of the Union would not have a parliamentary government for a long time. This will be against the basic structure of the Constitution. In case the Government at the Centre loses the majority in Lok Sabha, say, after a year of the General Election, there has to be an Election for the Lok Sabha too. Would in such a situation all states would also go for election for their Assemblies?
The argument that a simultaneous election would be less expensive needs closer examination. Some experts feel that elections at different times in fact promote greater economic activity and help economic growth. The internal security situation in many parts of the country is getting more difficult and authorities have not been able to hold elections in some states in one day due to constraints on getting adequate security force support. Consequently, elections have been held in some states in phases. For example, the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election was held between March 27 and April 29 in eight phases. Assembly elections were held in Uttar Pradesh from 10 February to 7 March 2022 in seven phases. In the case of the election in 2022 for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, while the election could have been held simultaneously, elections were held first in Himachal Pradesh and then in Gujarat. The Himachal polls were held in a single phase on November 12 and results were announced on December 8, twenty-six days after the election.
In spite of specific provision in the Constitution that election to the Panchayats and Urban Local Body will have to be completed before the five-year term, elections to 109 municipal bodies including three municipal corporations in Odisha were delayed by more than three years. To avoid such contingencies in the future, perhaps a desirable arrangement would be to abolish the State Election Commissions and entrust the responsibility of conducting the election to Panchayat and Urban Local Body to the Election Commission of India.
One Nation one Election in India would seriously affect the federal spirit of our Constitution. Even if it happens, the Election process is going to be too protracted and it would be months before the last voting is completed. Declaration of results would be unduly delayed.
The issue is too important to be rushed through. The Committee would have to deliberate on many important issues to make its recommendations. If the Constitution needs to be amended even without having the approval of the majority of states, the process of amendment would take time. Formation of the Committee does not mean the country would have a simultaneous election regime anytime soon. Even after the Committee makes its recommendations, there is a need for broad-based consultation with stakeholders and a consensus should emerge through patient dialogue.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)