Feasibility of holding Simultaneous Elections in India

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A few days back I attended a beautiful conclave where brilliant ideas and perspectives on the “Feasibility of holding Simultaneous Elections in India” have been addressed by three distinguished persons. First-person was Shri V S Sampath, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India, from 2012 to 2015.  The second distinguished person was Mr. M.G. Devasahayam, an Economist cum Administrator with a distinguished career spanning 40 years, with direct and first-hand experience in the working and ethos of Indian Army, Civil Services, Government, Public & Private Sector, Political system as well as NGOs.

The third speaker was Dr. G Viswanathan, a former Parliamentarian, Founder and Honorable Chancellor VIT University. Beauty of that conclave was that all three distinguished persons are belonging to different fields and thus it gave versatile picture of decided topic. Overall I was impressed with their dissent, thought processes and proposed solutions.

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It was started by Dr. G Viswanathan where he first discussed about the electoral reforms in India and then came back to the topic whether would it be feasible to hold simultaneous election in India or not followed by other two distinguished persons. Dr. Viswanathan questioned about the election processes and relate it to the ethos of the Indian democracy. I am satisfied with his reason that in spite of having more vote percentage to BSP party in Uttar Pradesh she got very less seats as compared to the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav.

After that he questioned about the party symbols in election process. It’s a harsh reality that logo has been stuck to the mind of the people and consequently it effects the electoral ethos. People don’t worry about the candidates to whom he/she is going to vote. People see the party symbols and vote for that party irrespective of the public qualification parameters like behaviour toward people and interaction and delivery capabilities.

Directly or indirectly he questioned the party system in Indian democracy. He has been some kind of political experiences in Tamilnadu. He further added that due to party symbols some sorts of confusion are created in public mind while voting. After listening all the guest, I generated a kind of blueprint of the ideas regarding holding simultaneous elections in India.

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A couple of months back Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested holding simultaneous elections to panchayats, urban local bodies, states and Parliament so that parties and workers spending too much time and money in electioneering, can make use of the time for social work and to take people-oriented programmes to the grassroots.

If we see the historical background then we will get that, in 1951-52, the country’s first general election was held. There was a simultaneous General Election to Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies. This continued in three subsequent General Elections held in the years- 1957, 1962 and 1967. At the time, voters gave more importance to assembly candidates. The assembly candidate was considered ‘nearer’ and ‘closer’ than the Lok Sabha candidates.

But in 1968 and 1969, the cycle got disrupted due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies. Similarly, in the year 1970, the Lok Sabha itself got dissolved prematurely. As a result of premature dissolution and extension of the terms of Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the cycle of simultaneous elections got disturbed. Things changed dramatically after the Congress began to lose power in states and the opposition began to gain ground.

Now questions are that why simultaneous elections in India is needed and how frequent election affect country adversely in policy making and its delivery. First issue is that Frequent elections affect long term policymaking and governance as the government is trapped in short-term thinking. It is so because every decision is seen as bait for votes. Hence, to end this vicious cycle of elections, it should be recommended for holding of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections all over the country.

The second issue is that It also destabilizes duly-elected governments puts pressure on political parties, especially smaller ones, as elections are becoming increasingly expensive. Thirdly and most important issue is that The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which comes into force with the announcement of poll dates, prevents government from announcing any new schemes, make any new appointments, transfers and postings without the approval of election commission. This brings normal work of the government to a standstill. If frequent election happens then it stalls more work and puts government to a standstill for longer time.

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Apart from those issues some more stuffs are there which doesn’t permit for simultaneous election. Fourthly It is felt that crucial manpower is often deployed on election duties for a prolonged period of time. If simultaneous elections are held, then this manpower would be made available for other important tasks. For instance, for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which was held along with 4 state assemblies saw the deployment of 1077 in situ companies and 1349 mobile companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF).

Fifthly it is supposed that by holding simultaneous elections, the expenditure of the candidates is reduced. Since both the candidates of assembly and parliament belonging to the same party, can supplement their expenses. It is also expressed that frequent elections tend to disrupt the normal public life and affect the functioning of essential services. Frequent elections lead to frequent disruption of road traffic by political rallies and also lead to noise pollution.

Now comes to the constraints in organizing simultaneous election in India. First reason is that not all voters are highly educated to know whom to vote for. They may get confused and may not know whether they are voting for candidates contesting assembly or parliament elections. Secondly it is being claimed that frequent elections seriously hinder decision making. Despite these claims, there is no empirical evidence to show that frequent elections have in any way affected the quality of governance or decision making.

Thirdly it is being propagated that a lot of money could be saved if elections happen simultaneously but I think it does not hold weight to justify it. It is so because money has never been a problem for those who stand in elections. If anyone needs to worry about the huge expenditure incurred during elections, it is the corporate sector. Everyone knows that it’s their money that sustains our democratic elections. But they never complain about excessive infusion of money in elections because of the enormous benefits they will reap after elections.

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Apart from above points it could be argued that frequent elections bring the politicians back to the voters, create jobs (though temporary) and prevent the mixing of local and national issues in the minds of the voters. It also ensures that the mood of the nation at a particular moment does not hand over political power across a three-tiered democratic structure to one dispensation or individual.

It gives people a chance to distinguish between the national, state and local interests, rather than being swept away in a “wave”, often manufactured by corporate media and the economic muscle of commercial carpetbaggers. Frequent elections give some kind of benefits that local and national issues do not get mixed up to distort priorities. In voters’ minds, local issues overtake wider state and national issues.

If we look at some government machinery’s recommendation then we will find that they speak in favor of recommending simultaneous election in India. The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its report on ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies’ said that a solution should be found to reduce the frequency of elections to relieve people and government machinery from frequent electoral processes.

It also recommended a cycle of elections, according to which elections to some legislative assemblies whose term end within six months to one year before or after the election date could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha (November 2016). For the rest of the states, elections could be held along with the 2019 General elections to Lok Sabha. Even the Law Commission in its 170threport [Reform of Electoral Laws (1999)] suggested holding simultaneous elections at all levels for stability in governance.

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