Issue of simultaneous polls

Harihar Swarup

Is the idea of holding Lok Sabha and assembly elections simultaneously possible? Presuming it is possible, will it be practical and will all opposition parties support it? The RSS-BJP combine that sets the agenda for governance of the country has floated the idea of simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and 29 states and seven union territories. Their contention is that simultaneous elections will save money and time and the elected representatives—MPs and MLAs—will be able to devote more time and energy for the task of governance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in March 2016 initiated the idea and the Niti Ayog also circulated a paper on the issue. Now, on October 5, 2017, the Election Commission stated that it would be ready to hold assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously after September 20, 2018. If simultaneous polls are to be held in 2018-19, what happens to the assemblies in the states that went to poll last year or this year? And, after simultaneous polls are held, what if a full five-year term is interrupted by political realignments in an assembly, or assemblies?
If the idea of simultaneous poll is accepted, the elections for eight assemblies which was due to be held in 2018 will be postponed. The BJP will make every effort to push this idea. However, the move will definitively be opposed by Mamata Banerjee, the CPI(M) and some other regional parties even as allies of the BJP and some regional parties such as the DMK and Telugu Desam will support this proposal.
When it was decided in 1971 to delink the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections, the justification given for the decision was that the Lok Sabha elections should be contested on national and all India issues and, assembly elections should be fought on regional and local issues.
The practice of separate elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies was necessitated because of different circumstances. In March 1977 Lok Sabha election, an alliance of five groups—the Congress (O), Lok Dal, the socialists, Jan Sangh and Jagivan Ram’s Congress for Democracy—defeated Indira Gandhi’s Congress on ‘the platform of excesses committed by Emergency regime.’
The Morarji Desai government along with Home Minister Charan Singh, after assuming power in 1977, asked the then President to “dismiss” the nine state assemblies where the Congress was in power because the people had defeated the “guilty” Congress at the Centre and nine state governments were equally guilty and should be kicked out. Separate Assembly elections were, therefore, held in 1977 because of these circumstances.
From 1952 to 1967, simultaneous Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections were held. It is from 1971 onwards that a delinking between Lok Sabha and assembly elections took place. And for three decades of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s the schedule for holding of elections became quite unpredictable.
A multiplicity of political parties is a reality and it cannot be wished away. The BJP’s electoral success in 2014 means that the centre be ruled by one party as stability at the apex level is of vital importance. That is what people of India wished as reflected in the election results of 2014 Lok Sabha poll. But it does not mean that the ruling party at the centre should rule states as well. Perhaps the BJP-RSS may have floated the idea of restoring to simultaneous polls with that end in view, observers say.
It is unfair to voters of non-BJP ruled states that their elected governments be given marching orders earlier than schedule. BJP’s track record of dealing with non-BJP state governments, beginning with 2014, does not inspire confidence among the opposition parties. In spite of Bommai case verdict, the Modi government dismissed the Congress governments in Uttarakhand and Manipur; now it has launched an anti-communist and anti-Mamata movement in Kerala and West Bengal.
In this atmosphere where a serious trust deficit exists between the BJP-led Central government and non-BJP state governments, the proposal for simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections will not make a headway and should be rejected.
Constitution experts say notwithstanding the protestations of the proponents of the proposal of simultaneous election, it is clear that this is a step towards moving the country to a unitary state from a federal state.
It may be recalled that this is not the first time the idea of simultaneous elections had been put forth. It became a topic of discussion even in early-1970s when the Congress was in a very strong electoral position in the country.
History seems to be repeating itself now with the BJP-led NDA. (IPA)

Wednesday, 18 October, 2017