Complexities of simultaneous polls
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pitch for ‘one nation, one election’ on the Constitution Day to push for simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pitch for 'one nation, one election' on the Constitution Day to push for simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections in the country needs to be examined for both benefits and drawbacks. The idea, if pushed without weighing both may give rise to a plethora of constitutional and legal crises. The objectives of curtailing expenditures, preventing frequent policy paralysis and disruption in executing development work through holding of simultaneous polls are good. Due to imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and engagement of government officials and machinery for long in electoral exercises which are getting bigger with rise in population the development work are disrupted and incumbent government is incapacitated by the MCC from making new policy announcements. However, simultaneous polls are not going to prevent policy paralysis due to political instability resulting from tampering of people's mandates in the states by the two major national parties -the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress through defections of legislators. Besides, the claim that expenditures in simultaneous poll will be reduced is also questionable as double the number of electronic voting machines, and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines will be required.
The number of EVMs and VVPAT will be more than the double if the number of candidates is more. India is a multiparty democracy and the Constitution allows any eligible voter of 25 years above and not convicted of any offence and sentenced to an imprisonment of two years or more, to contest as a candidate and must be given level playing field by the Election Commission of India (ECI). It is the limit of the expenditure of candidates which needs to be reduced to provide a level playing field to smaller parties and independent candidates. The expenditure limit for a parliamentary constituency was Rs 25 lakh and Rs 10 lakh in a state assembly constituency in 2009. The Modi government has increased the limit to Rs 77 lakh for a Lok Sabha constituency and Rs 30.6 lakh in state election recommended by the ECI. Higher cap on expenditure limit allows money to play a crucial role in wooing the voters while most candidates with less money but more commitment to serve the electors find it difficult to stay in the race, baring exceptions of those being backed by a strong support base of a party or the individual candidate. The unofficial expenditures by major parties and rich candidates for media blitzkrieg well ahead of election process has assumed an enormous proportion. Such aberrations of parliamentary and state elections need more attention and immediate reforms. There is also lack of clarity to what happens to the provision of No-Confidence Motion and what happens if it is passed or when the Motion of Confidence is lost.
If the incumbent government fails a no-confidence motion and opposition parties fail to cobble up the required numbers to stake claim for an alternative government formation it will lead to the situation of imposition of the President's Rule and keeping the assembly in animated suspension or dissolution of the House requiring elections. It will lead to chaos it the state has to wait till next simultaneous general election to elect a new House. In between two general elections, the provision of No-Confidence Motion keeps the incumbent government in check from adopting anti-people policies as the Constitution provides that the Union Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha and the state cabinet to the state assembly and they must enjoy the majority in the House. Strengthening of the anti-defection laws is critical to ensure that provision of No-confidence Motion is genuinely used by the opposition and not to tamper the people's mandates to create political instability. Unfortunately, political parties have taken advantage in loopholes in the anti-defection laws and elected representatives switching loyalties after being elected on a party ticket not only resulted in political instabilities in several North-eastern states but also betrayed the electors. Multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural demography which vary from state to state makes India a plural society. The electoral issues also differ from state to state. National issues overshadowing the regional and state issues in simultaneous polls is a possibility. If that happens, the aspirations of the electors will not be reflected in the mandate for state assemblies which is not healthy in a constitutional democracy like India which is inclusive and pluralistic. The Prime Minister's suggestion for a single electoral roll for all elections is welcome but in Assam, preparation of a correct electoral roll has become too complicated with issues of updating the National Register of Citizens, complexities of cut-off dates in implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act with provisions of the Assam Accord and judicial process and may require many years. The simultaneous polls, if pushed without addressing these concerns and complexities will only open a Pandora's Box.