Only a Piecemeal Reform
Simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies is administratively feasible provided there’s adequate infrastructure. Political parties have not come out with their views clearly even though a parliamentary committee, law bodies and the NITI Aayog have examined the proposal and made recommendations taking into account the pros and cons of the issue.
The idea has certain advantages. First, the time and effort needed in conducting state and Lok Sabha polls separately in a country as large as India will be more as recurring conduct of state polls demand more manpower, time and funds. Secondly, the monitoring of political parties is easier if elections are held in one go. Thirdly, electoral violence and vituperative personal attacks that heighten bitterness during the electoral process will be limited to a certain period of time. Political parties have turned out to be the weakest link in India’s democracy. The more frequently elections are held, the more they resort to violence directly or indirectly. And this single advantage should justify simultaneous elections.
Finally, the election expenditure for political parties as well as the Election Commission, in effect the taxpayers’ money, is bound to reduce over a period of time—notwithstanding the initial expenditure on additional voting machines and extra manpower that may seem to increase it substantially.
In the long run, the gains on holding elections simultaneously will outweigh the negatives, particularly from the viewpoint of the political parties, funds and the manpower required. We will also save a substantial amount of money because voters’ roll preparation for polls will be less expensive and it may not require revisions every election. Another argument in favour of simultaneous election is that the enforcement of the model code of conduct will be easier if elections are held simultaneously.
All this does not imply that we can hold elections simultaneously anytime soon. The biggest impediment is that our Constitution provides for dissolution of Houses by the ruling party or by a vote of confidence. This would mean that as long as there is no fixed tenure of the Houses in the Centre and the states the simultaneous election scheme cannot be implemented. For this, the Constitution has to be amended providing fixed tenure for all Houses. The problem is more acute when we have state legislatures with small membership such as Goa, Puducherry and the northeastern states where the tendency to dissolve the assembly is more frequent than in the states with legislatures having more than 200 MLAs.
Secondly, there is a criticism that this proposal will affect the federal spirit of the Constitution, as the voters may not be able to assert their views pertaining to local/state issues with the national issues getting prominence. This is not correct. It is also easy to argue that smaller parties may not be able to assert their electoral presence in such a scenario. This, too, is not true because we have had instances where polls were held for states like Odisha along with the Lok Sabha election.
However, holding polls simultaneously alone will not enable us to achieve quality democracy if other electoral reforms such as getting rid of candidates with criminal records and regulation of political parties by a separate law are not implemented. Initiating one reform and leaving the others will only result in a piecemeal step to improve our disturbed democracy.
Initiating one reform and leaving the others will not enable us to achieve quality democracy