Decades together, India has been rightly taking pride in its functional democracy. Aspects like smooth conduct of elections as per the schedule, seamless transfers of power when there is a change in the mandate and diminishing role of violence over the years, have made election management system in India earn admiration from all over the world. While such aspects certainly merit recognition and praise, it doesn’t mean that no reforms are needed in the way we in India conduct elections. For several years, many important reforms suggested by the election commission of India as well as individuals and organisations are waiting for decisions at various levels.While these reforms are mainly about campaign finance, preventing inducement to voters on the eve of elections, curbing unreasonable controls that are imposed immediately after imposition of model code of conduct and the much talked about paper proof of votes caste through EVMs; the wider subject of multiplicity of elections and its menacing impact on governance is often neglected,considering that multiplicity of elections is unavoidable.
One Nation One Election
Multiplicity of elections makes the entire nation in a permanent election mode. In India, in a span of five years apart from Lok Sabha Elections, the nation witnesses at least eight rounds of assembly elections— in some years even two rounds—and innumerable rounds of local elections including municipalities and gram panchayats.
Nation has been paying a heavy price for this seemingly inevitable Multiplicity of Elections. It starts with a long, arduous Code of Conduct, which is ethically correct but practically problematic. In the name of Election Code, the entire Government machinery almost gets an official license to stop working or at least stop completing the undergoing work. Election Code has become more of a stumbling block than a true code of administrative impartiality ending every kind of favoritism. Secondly, the idea of Good Governance habitually takes a beating every time elections are round the corner. Governance involves larger Good of the People and not just earning popularity. But when elections are around, rulers are scared to take even simple regulatory mechanism related decisions as the lurking fear of people going against them tops their thought process. As a consequence, postponing unpopular decisions has set in as a practice and we all eventually have to pay its price. Thirdly, when elections are near, populist demands are pushed by various groups as they know that at least for now, the Government may not dare to say no. All this has promoted both, competitive populism and a tendency to indulge in competitive compromises with Good Governance. Fourthly, the financial cost of conducting elections independently is also so huge that a nation like India doesn’t afford the same in any way. The fifth point is about multiplicity of electoral mechanisms as well. From electoral rolls to distribution of booths and polling stations, either there is needless differentiation or duplication and that causes both, needless expenditure and wanton creation of confusion. One Nation- One Election has the potential of taking care of many such issues, undoubtedly!
Multiplicity of elections also impacts upon the quality of mandate. Public memory is always short, but repeated elections — being a contest between almost the same competitors —is also likely to lure them to switch their preferences within a relatively shorter span of time. This amounts to creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and political instability as well.
The idea is widely being discussed today in various academic circles and expert groups after Prime Minister Narendra Modi informally floated this in year 2016 in an all-party meeting held prior to the Budget Session. Mr Modi who himself is a strong votary of the concept has thereafter raised it again for wider debates and discussions at various forums. Pitching in the case for simultaneous elections he had said that ‘Elections are held all the time and continuous polls lead to a lot of expenditure. Huge number of government employees including a large number of teachers are involved in electoral process causing maximum harm to the education sector. Security forces too have to be diverted for the electoral work leaving the borders precarious’.
The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice under Chairperson Dr. E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan in its report submitted on December 17, 2015 on the “Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies‟ too favoured the One Nation One Election idea. Citing the reasons for its recommendation, the report had mentioned that ONOE would reduce: (i) the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections; (ii) the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time; and (iii) impact on delivery of essential services and (iv) burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time.
The idea further got reassertion from Former President Shri Pranab Mukherjee during his Republic day speech when he mentioned that “The time is also ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after Independence when elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held simultaneously. It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties”.
Exploring the possibility of conducting simultaneous elections remains a difficult yet probable solution to all the problematic issues which are the direct outcome of multiplicity of elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among others; is a strong votary of One Nation-One Election.
He has appealed political scientists and researchers, politicians and election administrators as well as people at large to discuss the idea of simultaneous elections and deliberate on various issues concerning its practicality and implementation mechanism. Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini is organising this National Seminar on ONOP on this setting. We have invited political scientists, researchers, students, persons who are associated with election management and political party representatives as well as citizens to contribute in this churning of ideas.
Themes to be Discussed at the Seminar
This Seminar will have following sessions spread over a period of two days
- Multiplicity of election and its challenges
- Simultaneous elections: Concept, Feasibility and Execution
- No-Confidence and Dissolution of Houses related issues and solutions
- Idea of aligning local body election with General Election: Feasibility and Implementation related issues
- Simultaneous Election: Global experiences
- Constitutional provisions