PM Narendra Modi while addressing the concluding session of the 80th All India Presiding Officers Conference pitched for ‘One Nation, One Election’.
On the occasion of Constitution Day, PM Modi emphasized the need to introduce the formula of ‘One Nation, One Election’. Although he has been suggesting the idea since he took the PM oath in 2014, this might be his strongest pitch of all time. He says, ‘One Nation, One Election’ isn’t just an issue of deliberation, but also the need of the country. He adds, election taking place around the country every now & then hampers the developmental work. At the time of elections, once the Model Code of Conduct gets implemented, the development work gets affected & slowed down. Also, a separate list of voters for different elections is a complete waste of time & money. The PM says separate lists for Lok Sabha, state assemblies & panchayat polls are a waste of resources.
‘One Nation, One Election’ will not only reduce the cost of holding elections, but this will limit all elections to a single season. He said, “the idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ is not a matter of debate, but is the need for India”. He had been pressing for holding a constructive dialogue to enable the Election Commission to simultaneously hold elections to bring down expenses. This will even give the government free time to implement welfare schemes. It’ll help any ruling party to focus on governance rather than being under the constant pressure of elections.
System of ‘One Nation, One Election’
It means that the election for Lok Sabha & all the state legislatures will take place at the same time. This concept isn’t new. India has held elections in 1952, 1957, 1962 & 1967 based on this system. In 1968 & 1969 some legislatures assemblies and Lok Sabha in Dec 1970 were dissolved. It was only after that; the elections were conducted separately. Presently only Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh & Orissa hold assembly elections together with the Lok Sabha elections.
India now holds elections to LS & state assemblies separately. Only after the tenure of 5 years comes to an end, or the house is dissolved, elections can take place. The Constitution of India doesn’t say whether the country can have this system or not. However, some of the provisions of the COI might get violated by holding simultaneous elections. Article 83(2) & 172 speaks about the tenure of Lok Sabha & State assemblies respectively. Under Article 356, the state assemblies can be dissolved for specific reasons. Dissolving the assembly for simultaneous elections would be a violation of COI. Besides, this system is also violative of the federal structure. Since the country follows a federal form of government ‘One Nation, One Elections’ will violate the basic structure of our constitution. From a political & legal aspect, many problems may arise. Holding the elections simultaneously will require an amendment to the Constitution. Both the houses must support such an amendment. Without that, it won’t be possible to dissolve state governments & hold simultaneous elections.
Implementing the system will require restructuring the Indian cycle for election. This is crucial for synchronizing elections for state & center. Voters will have to cast their vote, both for LS & state assemblies on a single day at the same time or in a phased manner. The most beneficial idea behind this system is saving time & money. It will also significantly contribute to boost voter’s turnout.
Recommendations for its Implementation
In the year 1983, the annual report of the EC mooted shifting back to simultaneous elections. Even in the year 1999, Law Commission headed by B P Jeevan Reddy suggested this idea in its report. Again in 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had taken up this matter with Sonia Gandhi, Congress President. However, the idea could never be pursued. In 2015, a report “Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People and State Legislatures” also suggested the benefits of this system. It said that simultaneous elections will reduce the huge expenditure incurred to conduct separate elections. It will reduce the burden on manpower used in elections. Also, the impact on delivery of essential services & policy paralysis resulting from imposing MCC will be reduced.
After PM Modi again pitched this idea in the year 2016, NITI Aayog & Law Commission subsequently submitted their reports. NITI Aayog suggested elections to LS & state assemblies in a phased & synchronized way for the year 2024. The Law Commission headed by Justice B S Chauhan in the year 2018 made some recommendations. He suggested that the leader of the majority party can be elected as the PM/CM by the entire house. This will help maintain stability. Also, in case the government falls midterm, the new government would only be there for the remaining term.
The report also suggested no-confidence motion against the government must be followed by a confidence motion. The report even said that several amendments have to be made to the Constitution, Representation of the People’s Act, 1951. Along with that, Lok Sabha and State Assemblies also have to be amended.
Feasibility of ‘One Nation, One Election’
Many claim that the idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ is not feasible. Former Chief EC, TS Krishnamurthy says, the proposal has ‘strong merits & serious demerits’. He adds, during simultaneous polls, taking care of law & order is challenging. With the limited central paramilitary forces, this may be difficult. Also, with such a massive number of voters, preparing the logistics can be tough. Although, it has the merits of saving money & disrupting normal governance. It will also help reduce casteism, communalism & corruption during elections. But federalism is a bigger issue. Soli Sorabjee, Former Attorney General of India says that the Constitution is not a hurdle. Effective & impartial implementation will decide whether it will be feasible or not. Justice Jasti Chelameswar, Former SC Judge says that it is a good idea. However, the situation in which state assemblies can be dissolved must be taken care of. SK Mendiratta, Former Legal Advisor to EC suggests synchronization of the term in which the tenure for different states ends.
Criticism of the Idea
Most of the recommendations are to implement the system with appropriate amendments. But many leaders think of it as an impractical idea. The government has not provided any background data on the proposal.
No concrete proposal by the BJP government has been made, whether there will be any constitutional amendments. Merely discussing the issue shall not serve any purpose. It will reduce the government’s accountability if elections are conducted once every 5 years. At least, continuous elections help common people to hold ministers & executives accountable for any wrong policy. The voters will find it difficult to make any judgment because the state elections will then directly affect the center elections, and the issues for both the nation & states are different. Not only that, the voters will be burdened to cast two votes at the same time.
Also, there can be a misuse of Article 356 of COI i.e., President Rule, in case the state fails to function. This will violate the essence of federalism. The basic structure of the Constitution which also includes federalism will get affected. And every law & amendment that touches the structure of federalism shall be annulled by the Judiciary. It will be void in nature.
The idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ would be a great advantage if elections for LS & state assemblies are held simultaneously. Huge amounts of money & manpower are used in conducting separate elections. If this idea is implemented with appropriate amendments, it will prove to be a great advantage to the government treasury. However, there must be a consensus among the parties & people of India for amendment. The percentage of voters coming out of their houses to vote will increase if simultaneous elections take place. The parties must prioritize nations’ good over their good. Otherwise, as a whole, the policy is in favor of the common good of the entire country.
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