Only a Piece­meal Re­form

India Today - - BIG STORY - T.S. KRISHNAMURTHY The au­thor is a former In­dian Rev­enue Ser­vice Of­fi­cer and a former Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner of In­dia

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

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