MOTHER OF ALL POLLS

The ‘One Na­tion, One Poll’ plan is laden with lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges and could have un­demo­cratic con­se­quences. But it could be very good for the rul­ing party

India Today - - INSIDE - Cover by NILANJAN DAS

Si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions may be good for the BJP. The Op­po­si­tion is less en­thu­si­as­tic

TOWARDS THE END of his ad­dress on the open­ing day of the on­go­ing Bud­get ses­sion of Par­lia­ment, Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind made an im­pas­sioned plea for a se­ri­ous de­bate on si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions. The rul­ing party, the BJP, has been vig­or­ously ad­vo­cat­ing the idea, the club­bing of state assem­bly elec­tions along with that to the Lok Sabha. This, de­spite the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic con­cerns many, par­tic­u­larly in the Op­po­si­tion, have ex­pressed. Only four times in the coun­try’s elec­toral his­tory were both polls held to­gether: the very first gen­eral elec­tions af­ter In­de­pen­dence in 1952 and the next three till 1967.

The his­toric split in the Con­gress in 1969 ul­ti­mately led to the pre­ma­ture dis­so­lu­tion of the Lok Sabha, thus dis­rupt­ing the si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions pat­tern. An­other fac­tor that deep­ened this dis­rup­tion was the lib­eral use of Ar­ti­cle 356 of the Con­sti­tu­tion by the Con­gress party to dis­miss state gov­ern­ments and dis­solve as­sem­blies be­fore the end of their terms. Given th­ese cir­cum­stances, it was not pos­si­ble to hold si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions.

Now, it’s the BJP that is ea­ger to push through the pro­posal—which it first mooted over a decade ago—cit­ing long­term eco­nomic and other gains. Of course, it’s also eye­ing short­term po­lit­i­cal goals, like ‘Mis­sion 360’ in 2019, prospect­ing more seats of its own as well as for elec­toral al­lies in the new Lok Sabha.

Modi has made it plain that he is keen on the ‘One Poll’ idea. Barely seven months into his term, in Jan­u­ary 2015, the par­lia­men­tary stand­ing com­mit­tee on per­son­nel, pub­lic griev­ances, law and jus­tice had ar­gued for

the fea­si­bil­ity of si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions. By the year-end, it had sub­mit­ted a re­port in­clud­ing the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion’s views. What hap­pened in be­tween re­vealed the PM’s abid­ing in­ter­est. Soon af­ter the stand­ing com­mit­tee was tasked, then chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner Hari Shankar Brahma recorded that Modi’s prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary Nripen­dra Misra had in­formed him that there was ‘a strong feel­ing’ in favour of hav­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous polls and that the re­peated state elec­tions (in the 36 states and Union ter­ri­to­ries) were caus­ing great so­cioe­co­nomic dis­rup­tion while also af­fect­ing the de­liv­ery of im­por­tant gov­ern­ment schemes. By early 2016, the law min­istry had asked the EC for its com­ments on the par­lia­men­tary panel’s re­port and at a meet­ing of BJP lead­ers on March 19, Modi spoke of si­mul­ta­ne­ous elec­tions in glow­ing terms.

In the nor­mal course, the NDA will have to work on amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion by rop­ing in at least two-thirds of the states, in­clud­ing those gov­erned by po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries, to achieve the au­da­cious goal, which many crit­ics, in­clud­ing con­sti­tu­tional ex­perts, dis­miss as an ab­sur­dity. “For a per­ma­nent change in the elec­toral sys­tem, Ar­ti­cle 172, which gives the Lok Sabha and state as­sem­blies a term of five years and not a day more, ex­cept an ex­ten­sion of one year in case of an Emer­gency, the Con­sti­tu­tion will have to be stud­ied and amended,” ex­plains Union law min­is­ter Ravi Shankar Prasad. “The change will have to en­sure that you can’t bring a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion with­out hav­ing a pos­i­tive vote of

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