Elections are the backbone of any democratic nation and to keep the backbone straight and supporting we need to keep a check on the bents. Elections being the backbone need to be free and fair without any malpractices so to keep a check on the process of election of the, largest democracy in the world, we have Election Commission Of India which not only regulates the election process but gives suggestion to reform the system. One such suggestion of this commission was simultaneous election which one of the most argued issues in the nation now-a-days. This write up is an attempt towards understanding and analyzing the whole process of simultaneous elections. This manuscript provides a well researched and analyzed documentary of the whole proposal.
India is world’s largest democracy and for this democracy to run efficiently timely elections is important, and for this purpose we have election commission of India which regulate and supervise this process this process. It also functions as an advisory body for the election machinery in India. To conduct free and fair elections over such a vast piece of land with world’s second largest population is much of a herculean task to do. It is also upon the election commission of India to think and propose better options and ideas to make this process of elections more transparent and accessible. However in context of one nation one election ex- CEC of India Sunil Arora, said that “one nation one election is not happening very shortly unless political parties sit together and evolve consensus and bring about requisite amendments in law”. It’s been seen that simultaneous elections attract both support and criticism from all the sides of political arena. Some are backing this idea whereas some are marking this as a strategy to saffronise the nation.
Meaning and scope of simultaneous election:
Indian Constitution and other relevant statutes in the country confer on every citizen who is a major and eligible to caste his/her vote a right to vote. According to this every eligible person has his/her right to choose a representative. Also Article 324 of the Constitution of India provides for a central body to control, govern and supervise the election process in the country, i.e. Election Commission of India [ ECI ]. Function of this body is to conduct and overlook the election process of the parliamentary election (both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and President) and State Legislative Assembly elections. Similarly there’s this state election commission which overlooks the third tier election in state constituencies, both rural and urban.
Coming back to definition and meaning of one nation one election or simultaneous
elections, it simply implies that the whole election process of the nation that is divided into phases that will be clubbed together under this regime. Up until now the elections in India are conducted separately for state legislative assemblies and the parliaments, which cause a lot of disturbance in the term of the ruling governments. Due to separate 5yr terms the ruling party’s focus keeps on changing that disturbs the working of the government. With the proposal of simultaneous elections it is intended to conduct all the parliamentary and state elections together on same day and same time. The third tier election that is for Panchayat and Municipal Corporation cannot be conducted alongside other because according to Niti Aayog the count of seats in this tier is much more than the other two further it will also create a hooch-pooch and will increase the chances of errors and frauds. So the term “Simultaneous Elections” is defined as structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronized together. In such a scenario, a voter would normally cast his/her vote for electing members of Lok Sabha and State Assembly on a single day and at the same time. To clarify further, simultaneous elections do not mean that voting across the country for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies needs to happen on a single day. This can be conducted in a phase-wise manner as per the existing practice provided voters in a particular constituency vote for both State Assembly and Lok Sabha the same day (according to niti aayog’s report on simultaneous elections)
History : Is The Idea New To The Country?
Looking at the hustle around the idea, it may seem that it’s a complete alien thing that’s been tried to implement in the country but much to our surprise its not at all a new thing, indeed it was being practices in the country after independence till 1967 when it got disrupted. The first, second and third lok sabha elections were successful after that the cycle got disrupted due to premature dissolution of governments and after that emergency which extended till 1977 under Article 352. The idea of reverting to simultaneous polls was advocated by the Election Commission in its annual report of 1983. In 1999 the Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in its report. The recent push came by the BJP in it’s election manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. After Mr. Modi floated the idea once again in 2016, the planning commission, Niti Aayog prepared a preliminary scientific paper on the subject in January 2017. In the working paper of the Law Commission that was brought out in April 2018, it said that at least “five Constitutional recommendations” would be required to make a successful start. The final take on holding concurrent elections is yet to be taken (according to the hindu).So this proposal is a step towards bringing back the earlier election cycle. Some relevant constitutional and non-constitutional amendments that need to be done before getting into the project:
- Article 83 which deals with the term of the house of parliament.
- Article 85 dealing with the dissolution of lok sabha by the president.
- Article 172 which deals which the span of the state legislature.
- Article 174 deals with the dissolution of the state legislature.
- Article 356 state emergency and president’s rule in the state.
- The Representation of People Act, 1951 Act would have to be amended to build in provisions for stability of tenure for both parliament and assemblies.
Why Simultaneous Elections?
When we are talking about a reform to be made we must know whether it is required or not? To answer this question we can refer to the 2017 report of Niti Aayog on simultaneous elections by Bibek Debroy and Kishor Desai. According to their report India’s current election process involves a lot of loopholes which lead to malpractices in the election in the country. Not only these malpractices but the conduct and procedure involve a lot of money and human hours which can be utilized in some other work. As maintained by this report the loopholes in the present procedure can be classified into:
- Effect on development programs and governance due to imposition of Model Code of Conduct by the Election Commission.
- Frequent elections lead to massiveexpenditures by Government and other stakeholders.
- Appointment of security forces for remarkably prolonged periods and
- Other issues.
A ] The Model Code Of Conduct [MCC] is a set of rules that led down the do’s and don’ts for the contesting candidates and political parties during election process. This conduct is adopted and agreed by all the parties and the compliance is supervised by the Election Commission Of India. During the general elections this code is applied to whole of India effectively except regular administrative works almost all the developmental projects are suspended for the time being. This leads to unnecessary delays in the growth and development works of the country.
To understand the extent of impact of this point, an analysis of the period over which Model Code of Conduct remained operational since the announcement of the 16th Lok Sabha elections in March 2014 has been done. The analysis indicates that in the year 2014, governance and developmental activities due to imposition of Model Code remained largely suspended for about 7 months: 3 months across the country and about 2 months in Jharkhand & J&K and another 2 months in Maharashtra and Haryana (niti aayog2017 report).
B ] Every year government India spends a huge sum of money on the conduct of elections. Due to unsynchronized terms of governments of states every year there is election in any one of the states and this thing costs a huge amount of money of the government. During state elections state governments funds the elections and during the general elections central government conducts all the proceedings. It takes a large force of human resource to conduct this herculean task and this force needs to be paid for the work done. Not only just the human resource election process involves a lot of exploitation of other resources of nation which could have been used in some other fruitful work. Money involved in payment of the staff is a problem along with the amount of money spent on election campaign.
Political parties spend an enormous amount of money on the campaign and a lot of rampant black money transactions are also involved which go unchecked. With regards to the expenditure incurred by candidates and political parties, the ECI vide Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 prescribes maximum limits for election expenditures by a candidate. For example, currently the limit is Rs. 70 lakhs per candidate for a parliamentary constituency (i.e for elections to Lok Sabha) in larger states like UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh etc. This limit is Rs. 28 lakhs for an assembly constituency in the same States. On the other hand, there are no such prescribed expenditure limits for political parties(2017 niti aayog report). The cost incurred in conducting the elections is increasing by every election. Compared to the cost incurred for conducting 2009 Lok Sabha elections at about Rs. 1115 crores, the same for the year 2014 more than tripled to about Rs. 3870 crores( ADR report).
C ] As stated above conducting elections in india is a mammoth, time consuming and complex activity. Election Commission of India takes help of significant number of polling staff and armed forces to conduct a safe, smooth and fair election. This requires a significant number of armed force personnel to shift from their current duties to election proceedings.
For conducting elections to the 16th Lok Sabha, the Eelection Commission of India took the help of around 10 million personnel as polling officials for conducting and supervising the election process across 9,30,000 Polling Stations across the country. This translates to an average of about 10.75 personnel per polling station. For fulfilling the required security arrangements, the Election Commission generally involves Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). As the nee for CAPF is typically higher than the supply, police forces such as State Armed Police, Home Guards, District Police etc. are often deployed as well to supplement security arrangements. The role of such security forces starts much before polling and ends only after the counting of votes and declaration of results effectively covering the entire duration of the elections. In the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha, the Election Commission deployed 1349 companies of CAPFs.
- Other than these major issues some other issues like,
- Disruption of normal public life due to frequent elections.
- In lieu of winning the election the parties use caste, religion and communal agendas for vote gain which keep this evil alive in the nation.
- Frequent elections also impact the governance and decision making power of the ruling party, this leads to a weak government and poor governance.
Arguments Against The Proposal
The idea is largely supported by the members in party line as well as opposed by many due to several reasons, where some believe it is a political move to saffronise the nation and some think it’s a threat to democracy whereas some doubted the doability of the idea. There are several different views on the proposal of simultaneous election, let us study some of them.
It is argued that national and state issues are different, and conducting parallel elections is likely to affect the discernment of voters. Since elections will be held once in five years, it will reduce the government’s answerability towards its subjects. Repeated elections keep law makers on their toes and increases responsibility. When an election in a State is kept on hold until the synchronized phase, President’s rule will have to be enforced in the interim period in that state. This will be a blow to democracy and federalism.
Local issues will fade out: It is observed that elections for state assemblies and Lok Sabha are competed on different issues. Regional parties campaign on the basis of local issues while national parties target national issues. Hence, there are chances that local parties won’t be able to raise the local issues strongly and it will fade out in the light of big national issues.
Hard time to Regional Parties: It will be hard on regional parties as they will not be able to compete with national parties in terms of election expenditure and election strategy and large election campaign. Assembly elections are very much associated with the local or regional issues which cater to the needs of local voters. Hence one time election will not be completely accepted by the regional parties.
Delay in Election Results: At present when the elections are unsynchronized then too it takes a lot of time for result declaration and a lot of facade is created out of it each time. Now when almost all the regional and small parties are demanding to conduct elections through ballet papers. If elections are conducted in one time mode then the elections results will take a hell lot of time to get declared and there will be a lot more issues that would occur due to parallel elections, doubts will be raised and questions will arise on the fairness of results.
Constitutional Problems: Simultaneous election seems very impossible due to democratic set up of our country. Suppose if elections are hold simultaneously but it is not very certain that all the states and central government will be elected with full majority. There’s ver high possibility that some parties make alliance government which can fall any time before 5 years. So there is a possibility of re-election in the whole country which will disturb the whole nation without any reasonable cause.
Requirement of Huge Machinery & Resources: We all know that India is the largest democracy in the world so it will be daunting task to conduct one time election in all the states, UTs and Lok Sabha. It will for sure require a huge machinery and resources. On the other hand society as a whole should also be ready for such a big change. Indian society is not that mature at this time that it can handle such changes without being influenced by the pervert ideas of the political parties.
Operational feasibility / Do-ability: This point highlights greater challenges which are needed to be sufficiently addressed within the constitutional and statutory boundaries. This includes associated aspects such as – How would terms of Assemblies/Lok Sabha be synchronized for the first time? Would it be feasible to extend or curtail the existing terms of some State Assemblies to facilitate the one time election policy? If elections are held simultaneously, what would happen in case the ruling party or coalition loses majority in between term, either in Lok Sabha or in State assemblies? Should the term of Lok Sabha and assemblies be fixed? Operational challenges – Is it practically feasible for the Election Commission of India to conduct elections at such a massive scale – considering logistics, security and manpower resource requirements?
Impact to voter behavior: The primary basis of this criticism is that Indian voters are not mature / informed enough to discern their voting choices for State Assembly and Lok Sabha in case simultaneous elections are held. This situation could lead to – a) National issues impacting electorate’s behavior for voting in State Assembly elections; or b) State issues impacting electorate’s behavior for voting in Lok Sabha elections. As a result, voter behavior gets influenced and he/she may vote for the same political party, which in most cases may be larger national parties which will lead to the standing and survival of regional parties very difficult.
One nation one election or simultaneous election is still a proposal made by the current government in 2016. An all party meeting happened but nothing solid/certain seems to be happening in the near future, a consensus of all the leading parties is needed and considering the current political conditions across the nation it does not seem to be getting a consensus on anything regarding simultaneous elections.
We saw that this idea like any other also has two sides to it, on one side where it was seen that there are indeed some profitable merits to it the other side also seems to have valid doubts regarding the practicality and feasibility of the process. After studying both pros and cons and the process thoroughly we can rather wait for government take any further step over it. Overall this write up is an analysis of the idea and a trial to give fair view to the reader.
- Niti Aayog report on simultaneous election, 2017
- Source: http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/Contesting.aspx 20
- http://adrindia.org/content/discussion-%E2%80%9Csimultaneous-elections-%E2%80%93- possibilities-and-challenges%E2%80%9D-26th-oct-wednesday 21
- http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/electoral-reforms-necessary-to-curb-blackmoney-modi-116062701266_1.html 22
- http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/gujarat-assembly-polls-in-2017-to-costabout-rs-240-cr-says-election-commission/ 24
- Paragraph 6.2: Report of the Parliamentary Standing committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice – 79th report (Dec 2015) on the topic of simultaneous elections 25
- Paras 12, 13 and 14 of the Strategic Plan Book of ECI 26 Source: Page no. 28 to 30, “India Votes – The General Elections 2014” published by the Election commission of india.
- J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law.
 http://adrindia.org/content/discussion-%E2%80%9Csimultaneous-elections-%E2%80%93-possibilities-and-challenges%E2%80%9D-26th-oct-wednesday 21
Author Details: Chhavi Sompura (Student, Faculty Of Law, Maharaja Sayajirao University Of Baroda, Gujarat)