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
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