[op-ed snap] Simultaneous elections are a bad idea

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Simultaneous election is a hot topic of discussion these days.


News

The idea is gaining traction: Forthcoming General Elections

  1. A paper put out by NITI Aayog argued in favour of the proposal of simultaneous elections.
  2. More recently, the Law Commission invited political parties to a consultation on the simultaneous elections proposal.
  3. The most attractive argument in favour of simultaneous elections is the allure of the phrase, “one nation, one election”

Arguments in Favour

It was suggested that imposing a uniform calendar on elections for the Centre and the states and holding these synchronized elections every five years would involve:

  • Saving money and administrative expense,
  • Avoid “policy paralysis” caused by elections constantly being fought somewhere or
  • Other issues under the Election Commission’s model code of conduct.

No match with GST Rationale

  1. This matches the “one nation, one tax” rationale for the goods and services tax (GST), which, of course, came into force via its own constitutional amendment on 1 July 2017
  2. Simultaneous elections would sweep away the messiness of a nation always in election mode and replace it with the tidiness of elections everywhere, every five years, like clockwork
  3. “One nation, one election” would make sense if India were a unitary state. But we are a union of states, which is philosophically and politically an essentially different conception of the Indian nation-state

Why can election calendar not be synchronous with Centre?

  1. A government may choose to dissolve itself, or a government may fall if its loses its majority, and then the governor, acting on behalf of the president of the republic, will be obliged either to ask another combine to form a government, or must perforce call fresh elections.
  2. Keeping a hung assembly in a state of suspended animation while the governor rules the state, presumably under guidance from the Centre, until the next predetermined election date rolls around, is nothing other than anti-democratic in spirit.
  3. Suppose a Union government loses its majority within the middle of a fixed five-year electoral cycle. The normal course of events would be for either a new government to be formed, or for fresh elections if that is not possible.
  4. Now, if instead, we have president’s rule for the duration of the five-year period under the advice of a council of ministers drawn presumably from the now-defunct Lok Sabha and the still functioning Rajya Sabha will lead to constitutional oligarchy.

Threat to federal structure

  1. Apart from these philosophical considerations, a move to have simultaneous elections threatens the federal character of our democracy at a more practical level.
  2. It gives pole position to large national parties, such as the current or previous governing party, which govern and campaign at the Centre and in most if not all states.
  3. These parties would reap the economies of scale of one large election every five years, to the disadvantage of regional parties which campaign for Lok Sabha and assembly elections only in their own states.
  4. Likewise, in a single big election, national issues would tend to come to the fore and drown out issues of regional interest.
  5. The latter would presumably dominate an assembly election, which occurs organically rather than one forced to fit the Procrustean bed of a single national election.

Way Forward

  1. In sum, “one nation, one election” will only serve the interests of those bent on further centralization of an already overly centralized union.
  2. It will do a grave disservice to the federal character of our union as envisaged by the founders.
Electoral Reforms In India
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