Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again initiated the debate on “One Nation One Poll”, which entails coinciding the terms of the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, thereby curtailing frequent elections in the country. In fact, within three weeks of resuming his second term, Modi convened a meeting of political parties to discuss the contentious issue. Several opposition outfits, including the Congress, failed to turn up at the all party meet, thereby indicating that it would be extremely difficult to have a consensus on the subject.
The principal argument that is being made to support the concept of “One Nation One Poll” is that it would curb expenditure as well as allow the Central and state governments to focus on governance and development issues, thereby relegating politics to the back seat for the major portion of their terms.
However, in a large and robust democracy like India, it is virtually impossible to predict what can happen; there are several states where the phenomenon of “Aya Ram Gaya Ram” is most pronounced, and where MLAs have no qualms over switching parties. Politics has always been a game of possibilities and such a shift from one organisation to the other showcases the options in hand. Recently, four Telugu Desam Party MPs from the Upper House have gravitated towards the BJP, leading to a rise in the numbers of the ruling dispensation in the Rajya Sabha. It is clear that the MPs may have defected, but so far as the masses in Andhra Pradesh are concerned, they are yet to accord a legitimate mandate to the BJP.
The “One Nation One Poll” debate has to take into account uncertainties that exist in the political arena. Many state governments often get elected with wafer-thin majority, as was the case last year both in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress eventually formed the government. The changed political scenario can precipitate a crisis and the terms of these governments may have a premature end. Therefore, if that happens, the state Assembly elections may once again be held, throwing up either the same result as last time or a totally different outcome. The short point is: how can a fixed term be ensured if political activities act as a catalyst leading to the fall of a duly elected government with the opposition not having sufficient numbers to take over?
Serious deliberations have to also take place regarding the Central government. Although this government is strong and stable and thus is likely to last its full five-year term, the same cannot be assumed in the future on the basis of what has happened in the past. In 1999, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government lost the trust vote by a single vote on the floor of the House, and the alternate which was sought to be put in place after Sonia Gandhi’s famous statement of, “we have 272” did not prove correct. The opposition was divided, thereby forcing an early election, which the NDA, led by Vajpayee, triumphed seamlessly, with the people blaming the Congress for necessitating a mid-term poll.
A similar situation occurred in 1990, when the BJP, which was supporting the V.P. Singh government from outside, withdrew support following the arrest of Lal Krishna Advani in Bihar during his Somnath to Ayodhya rathyatra. The Prime Minister did not face the House, and resigned, leading to a brief stint by Chandrashekhar, whose term was cut short after the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, pulled the carpet from under his feet.
The H.D. Deve Gowda and the I.K. Gujral governments faced identical situations and now are a part of history. In 1977, a full majority government led by Morarji Desai collapsed after a section of the Janata Party led by Chaudhary Charan Singh and Raj Narain parted company with him. There are situations that are created, over which no law or legislation can have control, and thus to bring about curbs through Constitutional amendments would be viewed as anti-democratic. It is possible that if enactments in Parliament to support this concept are approved, the judiciary may step in and strike down the law on grounds of being inconsistent with the basic structure of the Constitution.
Modi is right in the sense that political parties should spend more time on governance and development issues rather than concentrating merely on politics, with one state or the other always in the poll mode. However, he has nothing to fear since his party has done extremely well under his leadership, and in future polls also would perform creditably in most areas, given the state of the opposition. While allowing the matter to be discussed threadbare, he should ensure that in states where the BJP is in power his overall development agenda is implemented with sincerity and without any delay.
The question of expenditure is of much consequence, but the bigger debate could be regarding the funding of political parties. Electoral reforms have to be brought about and the Election Commission is seized of many disputable matters. There has been a demand, so far as funding is concerned, that there should be a level playing field for the parties. The bigger parties, particularly the BJP, have no problems of collecting donations, but the smaller ones do have to face the prospect of dealing with huge financial shortfalls. The topic now is in the public domain, and the opposition parties must offer their views, so as to cover all aspects of the subject. Between us.