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One Nation One Election: The Way Ahead

- 03 Oct 2019

Nearly 70 years of constitutionality has guided us through an unbridled path of socialism overlooking major ‘natural’ reforms that would have led India to a place where we couldn’t think off. But when it comes to reform that would settle scores with the legislative ‘mis-reforms’, the constitutional provisions shores these waves and guards them until they are being overlooked again.

Article 83 of the Constitution of India provides for the tenure of both Houses of the Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha). Article 83(2)[1] provides for a term of five years for Lok Sabha, from the date of its first sitting unless dissolved earlier. Similar provisions under Article 172 (1) provides for five year tenure for State Legislative Assembly from the date of its first sitting. Similarly, 73rd  and 74th  amendments to the Constitution in 1992 facilitated creation of State Election Commissions (SECs) as authorities mandated to perform the above duties for constituting the third tier of Government in both rural and urban areas (Panchayati raj institutions, municipal bodies etc.).[2]

The constitutional visionaries ought to have created a well-managed, non-staggering and disciplined executive branch that would think, but only about the development and not off being in power forever. ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ happens when the hunger of power go beyond human discipline. Why a reform like simultaneous election won’t bear well, when it is trying to restore a position that would have been envisioned by the constitutional reformers and that seeks a better administration for the country? Why rather than being engaged into elections constantly, give that amount of time to achieve developmental goals, which is what the nation and constitution thrives for.

The very idea or proposal of conducting a simultaneous had been drained out with the egregious political turmoil and the ranging electoral mishaps that were construed by the people in power. How do we talk about the legislative intent when there isn’t actual one? Prof. Shibban Lal Saksena, during the discussion of Article 289 (of the Draft constitution) stated that:

“It is quite possible that the elections to the various Legislatures in the provinces and the Centre will not be all concurrent.……in our Constitution all the elections will not synchronise but they will be at varying times in accordance with the vote of no-confidence passed in various Legislatures and the consequent dissolution of the Legislatures.’[3]

There is no skepticism on what Prof. Saksena envisioned has proven to be the present situation. The Law Commission of India headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy in its 170th report suggested simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for the sake of stability in governance. The relevant portion of the said Report is reproduced below-

 “This cycle of elections every year, and in the out of season, should be put an end to. We must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once. …...involving the misuse of powers in Article 356 by the president) or for other reasons, yet the holding of a separate election to a Legislative Assembly should be an exception and not the rule. The rule ought to be one election once in five years for Lok Sabha and all the state Legislative Assemblies”.[4]  

The constant reluctance for holding simultaneous elections has been more from the state parties. In the recent report of Law Commission of India[5] on the same issue, had noted views from various parties. AITC (All India Trinamool Congress), has strongly opposed the simultaneous elections stating that, the very idea of such elections is ‘Contrary to Constitutional Provisions, Articles 83 (2) and 172 (1) and Basic Structure of the Constitution and will not be feasible’.

In this report 10 (out of 21 state parties mentioned in this report) have voted in favour simultaneous elections, 2 (out of 21) have apprehensions that it may be or may not be good, and 9 (out of 21) had strongly opposed. Out of 3 (out of four national parties mentioned in this report) had strongly opposed the aspect of simultaneous elections. Such deference from these parties had been justified under the garb of the constitution or affirming that the national parties have been non-performing when it comes to a particular interest. Moreover also contending that, this very move is susceptible and that, ‘a Fixed term government will hamper the voice the opposition which will be detrimental to democracy’.[6]

It is the politician who gets distracted at one level of the federal polity by elections at another level.[7] However, to hope for a politician not getting distracted by elections is similar to expecting a wino not getting distracted in a vineyard. Therefore, it is better to assume that all distractions from governance would be eliminated by conducting simultaneous elections rather twiddling over the existing complexities.

 

The 79th Parliamentary Standing Committee Report recommended a two phase approach for holding simultaneous elections.  It is suggested that simultaneous elections be considered in two-phases. Drawing inspiration from the same, we reiterate the view with slight modifications. Phase I is suggested approximately mid-way in the term of the 17thLok Sabha i.e. 30 months after Phase I - around November – December 2021. Phase II is suggested to go along the Lok Sabha elections i.e. April – May 2024.Thereafter, it is envisaged to conduct elections every 2.5 years (30 months) in the country once the entire electoral cycles of Lok Sabha and all State Assemblies are synchronized by December 2021.[8]

To implement this, several extensions and early dissolutions to the tenure of assemblies would be required to be made. After analyzing the tenure of state assemblies, we can conclude that nearly 44.42% of India’s population can vote in Phase I and rest in Phase II. The detailed assembly-wise view of the above proposal with estimations of likely extension or curtailment for each assembly is given below.

Proposal for Phase I and approximate extensions/curtailments

Proposed Polling Date: November – December 2021

State

Population %

End of Term

Change Required

Assam

2.50%

May 2021

Extend 6 months

Kerela

2.76%

May 2021

Extend 6 months

Puducherry

0.10%

May 2021

Extend 6 months

Tamil Nadu

5.96%

May 2021

Extend 6 months

West Bengal

7.54%

May 2021

Extend 6 months

Uttarakhand

0.83%

March 2022

Curtail 3 months

Uttar Pradesh

16.5%

March 2022

Curtail 3 months

Punjab

2.30%

March 2022

Curtail 3 months

Manipur

0.24%

March 2022

Curtail 3 months

Goa

0.12%

March 2022

Curtail 3 months

Himachal Pradesh

0.57%

December 2022

Curtail 12 months

Gujarat

5.00%

December 2022

Curtail 12 months

Bihar

8.60%

November 2020

Extend 12 months

13 States

53.02%

-

 

 

As can be seen above, Phase I accounts for 13 states and 53.02% of India’s population while Phase II will include the remaining states and the Lok Sabha polls.

However, some exceptional cases here may need to be noted. In case of states such as Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Nagaland etc., implementing this proposal may require curtailing the terms of their Assemblies by more than 12 months. The only exception is Karnataka where synchronization with April-May 2019 cycle would require extension by 12 months. This is undoubtedly inconvenient. However, given the transformative impact of this initiative as, it will be necessary for all stakeholders to overcome such one-time inconvenience. The Government and key decision makers would need to work towards achieving consensus and co-operation across political parties and institutions like ECI for eventual implementation for the larger benefit of the country.


 

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