By K Raveendran
After taking on the Supreme Court for the impasse on Collegium, which he described as ‘alien’ to the Constitution, Law Minster Kiren Rijiju has played another bite from His Master’s Voice – prime minister Narendra Modi’s favourite simultaneous elections.
Rijiju said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha the other day that elections have become a ‘big budget affair’ and that holding simultaneous polls to Lok Sabha and state assemblies would result in huge saving to the exchequer and by implication to the people.
”Simultaneous elections would result in huge saving to the public exchequer, avoidance of replication of effort on part of administrative and law and order machinery in holding repeated elections and bring considerable savings to political parties and candidates in their election campaigns,” the minister said. It would also provide stability in governance, he added.
Prime Minister Modi has been pushing this idea of synchronised elections, saying the policy paralysis caused forced by the operation of the code of conduct for elections immobilised the government machinery, deterring it from working for the welfare of the people.
Modi’s call was given a theoretical framework by think-tank NITI Aayog, which produced a note in 2017, reiterating the prime minister’s argument. This was followed up by the Law Commission, which in its report on Reforms in Electoral Laws had suggested simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies in the interest of stability in governance.
Elections to Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies were held simultaneously in 1951-52, 1957, 1962 and 1967.However, due to the premature dissolution of some state legislative assemblies in 1968 and 1969 due to the fall of governments, the cycle got disrupted.
The political situation obtaining in the country today is quite different from what it used to be in the 50s and the 60s, with Indian National Congress enjoying uninterrupted rule in all major states. So there was no conflict between the Centre and the state governments in terms of political interests and considerations. But today, several important states are ruled by parties opposing the ruling party at the Centre and any attempt to synchronise elections would mean encroaching upon the tenures of assemblies in the opposition-ruled states and, therefore, disruption rather than stability.
States accounting for nearly 50 percent of the country’s total population are now under the rule of parties other than those in power at the Centre, which means that simultaneous elections cannot be even considered without compromising the democratic rights of such a large population. Modi and his ruling party may consider this to be a sacrifice that is too small in terms of the perceived benefits of one-nation, one-poll idea, but it is unlikely that any other party worth its salt would subscribe to such views.
The idea was first mooted officially by the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in its report in 2015, which cited the huge cost savings as the primary justification for holding of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. The political situation that prevailed during the submission of the report had a number of instances when the tenure of the Lok Sabha had to be curtailed at least seven times until then due to unstable coalition governments. But that has long changed and houses being dissolved before time, whether Lok Sabha or state assemblies, has become a rarity these days.
The Law Commission, which studied the issue, had suggested that elections of legislative assemblies whose term ends six months after the general elections to Lok Sabha can be clubbed together, but with a rider that the results of such elections be declared at the end of the assembly’s tenure. The Representation of People Act, 1951 permits the Election Commission to notify general elections six months prior to the end of the terms of Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
The Law Commission report as well as the NITI Aayog paper had given a detailed plan on how to conduct simultaneous elections with a recommendation to start the process from 2019 general elections. The same opportunity would now be available in 2024, when parliamentary polls are due, for conducting simultaneous elections.
Five states, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Telangana are due for assembly elections in 2024 and can be held alongside the Lok Sabha polls. Elections in four states, such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan will be due in 2023 and early 2024 can be synchronized with the Lok Sabha polls by amending the Constitution. Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Delhi can be held along with the Lok Sabha elections if these states voluntarily dissolve their houses prematurely.
Technically, these are possible, but only on paper. But given the mindset of opposition parties against the much-hyped one-nation, one-poll idea, it is highly unlikely that the ruling parties in the states would agree anything even remotely close to simultaneous elections. (IPA Service)