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[Yojana Archive] One Nation-One Election

May 2021

Have you been hearing the words ‘simultaneous elections’ often these days? That’s because there is a proposal to conduct the elections to the Lok Sabha and a State assemblies at the same time.

What are simultaneous polls?

  • Currently, elections to the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held separately — that is whenever the incumbent government’s five-year term ends or whenever it is dissolved due to various reasons.
  • This applies to both the state legislatures and the Lok Sabha. The terms of Legislative Assemblies and the Lok Sabha may not synchronize with one another.
  • For instance, Rajasthan faced elections in late 2018, whereas Tamil Nadu will go to elections only in 2021.
  • But the idea of “One Nation, One Election” envisages a system where elections to all states and the Lok Sabha will have to be held simultaneously.

Simultaneous polls in India

  • India had concurrent elections for the first two decades.
  • Starting from the first general elections of free India in 1951 and the next three cycles of elections, the country witnessed concurrent Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
  • Exceptions to these were a few states like Kerala where a mid-term election was held in 1960 on the premature dissolution of the Assembly.
  • In Nagaland and Pondicherry where the Legislative Assembly was created only after the 1962 general elections.

End of the era

  • The fourth Lok Sabha constituted in 1967 was dissolved prematurely in 1971 ahead of its normal term resulting in a mid-term Lok Sabha election.
  • This was the beginning of the end of simultaneous elections in India.
  • Extension of the term of Lok Sabha during the National Emergency declared in 1975 and the dissolution of Assemblies of some States after the 1977 Lok Sabha election further disturbed this cycle.
  • Currently, there are at least two rounds of Assembly general elections every year.

Making simultaneous elections a reality

  • Sections 14 and 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, empower the Election Commission to notify elections any time during the last six months of the term of the House and not earlier than that.
  • Therefore, if the terms of the Houses are expiring within a window of three to four months, it would be legally possible to hold elections simultaneously to constitute the new Houses.
  • In other words, to contemplate simultaneous elections, we need, as a starting point, a situation where the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies of all States and UTs have their terms ending together.

Synchronizing the terms of the Houses

  • Both the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies (ordinarily) have a term of five years.
  • Article 83 of the Constitution provides for the tenure of Lok Sabha. Identical provisions are present in Article 172(1) regarding the term of the Legislative Assemblies.

There is no duplication of work in preparing the electoral rolls for the two elections and hence no extra labor or expenditure is involved on this count.

What is required?

  • This necessarily calls for either extending the terms of several of the Houses or curtailing of terms or a combination of both, that too by two to three years in some cases.
  • For enabling such curtailing or extension of the term, the relevant Articles of the Constitution mentioned above will have to be suitably amended.

Why Simultaneous Elections?

Two seemingly relevant factors in favor of simultaneous elections as opposed to separate elections are:

  1. Effort saving: Simultaneous elections reduce labour, time and expenditure in the conduct of elections; and
  2. Instances of pause in governance are addressed if elections are conducted in one go instead of staggered elections.

[1] How is effort saving possible?

  • Electoral roll: Polling stations for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly elections are the same. So is the electoral roll.
  • Labour: There is no duplication of work in preparing the electoral rolls for the two elections and hence no extra labour or expenditure is involved on this count.
  • Logistics: In the conduct of elections, all logistic arrangements are replicated for the two elections when the same drill can cater to both the elections if held together.
  • Security: This will also mean saving in terms of human resources. Another area of saving in simultaneous elections would be in the deployment of the Central Police Force.

[2] Governance pause can be avoided

  • Instances of pause in governance is due to the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
  • MCC is a set of behavior guidelines for candidates and political parties that comes into operation from the date election is announced by the Election Commission.
  • A crucial part of the MCC is the restrictions on the party in power.  If all elections are held together, the restrictions under MCC will be through in one go.

[3] Help reduce campaign expenses

  • Simultaneous elections can bring considerable savings in the election propaganda campaign expenditure for the political parties.
  • Given that political funding is a major factor in the increasing menace of corruption, the move to reduce campaign expenditure is a welcome initiative.

[4] Voter turnout

  • A nationwide election could push up the voter turnout since a once-in-five-years event is bound to attract more enthusiastic participation across all sections.
  • Frequent elections can bring in the election-fatigue factor at least among some sections of electors.
  • The simultaneous elections help address the fatigue element and the usually observed urban apathy in voting. Better electors’ participation will further add to the credibility of the election.

Exceptions to this debate: Local Bodies’ Elections

  • The local bodies’ elections have not been considered for the analysis here.
  • This is for the reason that the elections to local bodies cannot be clubbed with the proposed simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha.

Why?

  • The elections to local bodies are conducted under the superintendence, direction, and control of a different constitutional authority, namely, the respective State Election Commission.
  • Holding local bodies’ elections along with the other elections will require the team of the same polling officials to report to and take instructions from two different authorities simultaneously.
  • There is a distinct set of polling stations too for local bodies’ elections.
  • Further, the litigation forum before which these elections can be challenged is different.

Challenges in ensuring simultaneous elections in India:

[1] Synchronizing the Houses

  • Bringing the terms of all the Houses to sync with one another necessarily calls for either extending the terms of several of the Houses or curtailing of terms or a combination of both.
  • This may be by two to three years in some cases.
  • For this, relevant Articles of the Constitution will have to be suitably amended.

[2] Midterm dissolution cannot be controlled

  • Even if the terms of the Houses are in sync as a one-time measure, we will still need an adequate legal safeguard in place to avoid mid-term dissolution and protect the simultaneous elections cycle.
  • This can be a tough task in conventionally fragile states with smaller assemblies with coalitions.

[3] EVM related expenses

  • One aspect that could offset the savings would be the doubling of expenses on electronic voting machines (EVMs).
  • Considering that the incidental recurring expense in the storage and security of the EVMs will also be a considerable amount.
  • The overall expenditure in holding elections may not see any substantial dip on account of simultaneous elections.

Arguments against the idea

  • National and state issues are different, and holding simultaneous elections is likely to affect the judgment of voters.
  • Since elections will be held once in five years, it will reduce the government’s accountability to the people. Repeated elections keep legislators on their toes and increases accountability.
  • When an election in a State is postponed until the synchronized phase, President’s rule will have to be imposed in the interim period in that state.
  • This will be a blow to democracy and federalism.

Way forward

  • We need an adequate legal safeguarding place to avoid mid-term dissolution and protect the simultaneous elections cycle.
  • For maintaining the electoral cycle, some countries have legal provisions to the effect that for a ‘no-confidence motion’.
  • Their proposed resolution also contains a constructive ‘vote of confidence in an alternative government to continue with the tenure.
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