With Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently supporting the idea of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies, discussions about the feasibility of the idea are expected to pick up pace. However, as a constitutional amendment will be required to implement the idea, simultaneous elections may take a long time to become a reality.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Major General (Retd.) Anil Verma, who heads the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said, “It is a complicated affair, to say the least. If we are to reach anywhere near accepting or rejecting it, discussions need to start first with different stakeholders, since this will require a constitutional amendment.”
WHAT IS SIMULTANEOUS?
As explained in a discussion paper submitted by the NITI AAayog, the term simultaneous elections refers to “structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies are synchronised together. In such a scenario, a voter would normally cast his/her vote for electing members of the Lok Sabha and state Assembly on a single day and at the same time, but which can be conducted in a phase-wise manner as per the existing practice, provided voters in a particular constituency vote for both state Assembly and Lok Sabha the same day.”
The NITI Aayog makes its main purpose clear in the opening remarks of its discussion paper itself. The purpose is to end conducting elections every year and easing the financial burden on the economy that conducting elections involves. As the NITI Aayog explains, “Besides Lok Sabha elections in 2014, polls to about 15 state Assemblies were held during March 2014-May 2016. In 2014 alone, elections were held in March-May, September-October and October-December time frames. In some cases, elections to state Assemblies were announced within a month of concluding elections to other state Assemblies. Add elections to the third tier of government (Panchayati Raj institutions/Municipal bodies in rural and urban areas), by-elections etc., and the number of elections in any given year would increase substantially. Such frequent electoral cycles end up negatively impacting administrative and developmental activities in poll-bound states/ regions and the larger governance process in general as well. As a result, a serious need to evolve a mechanism to end this frequent election cycles has been expressed by various stakeholders since quite some time now. The idea of undertaking simultaneous elections is being seriously considered as a potential solution to the above problem.”
However, India has conducted simultaneous elections in the past. Post the adoption of the Constitution, elections to the Lok Sabha and all state Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously from 1951 to 1967. The cycle of synchronised elections got disrupted for the first time in 1968-1969 due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies. Thus, the first, second and third Lok Sabhas enjoyed full five-year terms. The term of the fifth Lok Sabha was extended until 1977 under Article 352. After that, the 8th, 10th, 14th and 15th Lok Sabhas could complete their full five-year terms. The 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabhas were dissolved prematurely. Various state Assemblies also faced similar issues over a period of time. As a result of all such premature dissolutions and extensions, the cycle of simultaneous elections got disrupted.
The 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabhas were dissolved prematurely. Various state Assemblies also faced similar issues over a period of time. As a result of all such premature dissolutions and extensions, the cycle of simultaneous elections got disrupted.
Maj Gen (Retd) Verma said, “The implementation needs to be thought through in detail. There are several factors to be weighed in. One of them is availability of the security forces who are deployed during elections. The states require Central security forces. Elections today are done in phases to ensure appropriate movement of these forces. If simultaneous elections were to be implemented, how will the system ensure deploying enough security personnel for smooth and fair elections?”
Then there is the issue of “wave elections” on which of Dr M.R. Madhavan, president, PRS Legislative Research, said, “From 1989 to 2014, the 31 Assembly elections that were held along with Lok Sabha elections show that in 24 elections, the major political parties polled almost a similar proportion of votes for both the Assembly and the Lok Sabha, while only in seven instances was the choice of voters somewhat different. If elections are held separately, then regional parties have a better scope of winning.”
When Prime Minister Modi urged various political parties to consider the proposal of simultaneous elections, Lalu Prasad Yadav rejected it by saying that the suggestion that the idea was political propaganda to sideline regional parties. However, President Pranab Mukherjee supported the idea of simultaneous elections when he said, “With numerous elections throughout the year, normal activities of the government come to a standstill because of the model code of conduct. This is an idea the political leadership should think of. If political parties collectively think, we can change it.”
However, former Chief Election Commissioner, Dr S.Y. Quraishi, at a discussion meeting at ADR, had earlier explained, “This issue is not politically motivated. I do not reject the idea, but there is no clarity on how it will be implemented. Elections have become the root cause of corruption in the country and political donations require quid pro quo; hence, after winning elections, the politician-bureaucrat nexus indulges in ‘recovering the investment’ and that is where corruption begins.”
Emphasising on numerous preliminary factors that need clarity on how they can affect simultaneous elections for the worse, D. Dhanuraj, who is chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research, said, “We cannot ignore the lack of transparency in corporate lobbying done during elections. Other than this, we have a whip culture. (A whip is the instruction issued by political parties to vote according to the party line in a legislature. Violation of the party whip could lead to expulsion under the Anti-Defection Act.) If the MPs/MLAs choose to defect or if there is a case of a hung Assembly, what is the solution to it?”
“If the government in the state gets dissolved, but the simultaneous elections are scheduled in another two years, would you expect the state to go under two years of presidential rule or would we pre-pone the elections for the entire country? Similarly, if there is no majority in the Lok Sabha or the Central government gets dissolved, then the procedure we will follow needs to be detailed extensively. This is a country of multiple parties; simultaneous elections cannot be easily implemented here without debating the idea’s pros and cons,” D. Dhanuraj added.