On June 19th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue of ‘one nation – one election’ in an all-party meeting. Now the issue has surfaced again, which seems to be important in the Prime Minister’s agenda. It is not the first time that the issue of ‘one nation – one election’ was discussed. This issue has become a topic of discussion in various forums in the past. The concept of one nation one election puts forth the idea to structure the election cycle in the country in such a way that the elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies will be held simultaneously.
The idea of ‘one nation one election’ is not new
Holding of the elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies has been long debated in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always supported this idea for various reasons. The Election Commission, Niti Aayog, Law Commission and Constitution Review Commission considered this issue carefully.[Ref.] It is worth mentioning that elections to panchayats and municipalities are also held in the country, but they are not included in the process of ‘one nation – one election.
The Lok Sabha and the state assembly’s elections were held simultaneously in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967. But after the assemblies of some states were prematurely dissolved in 1968-69 for various reasons, this practice was discontinued.[Ref.] For the first time, in 1971, Lok Sabha elections were held ahead of time. And therefore, the question is likely to arise that when it has been done earlier too, what is the problem now?
What is the need for ‘one nation and one election’?
If we look at the elections in our country, we find that every year elections are held in some states. It affects administrative and policy decisions as the country remains in the electoral mode continuously. It is often seen that ruling politicians avoid taking substantial and long-term decisions to gain a short-term political advantage in a particular assembly election, which can ultimately help the country in the long run. Elections are the biggest celebration in any democracy, but it might cost dearly if every day becomes a festival. It puts an unimaginable burden on the country’s economy. According to an estimate in the recently concluded 17th Lok Sabha elections, more than 60 thousand crore rupees were spent, and the country remained in the electoral mode for almost three months. And for this reason, the idea of ‘one nation – one election’ seems good at first sight, but whether it is practical or not, experts have different opinions on it. The most important thing for this idea to come true is consensus, and the road to the agreement is challenging. In the absence of political consensus, it will not be possible to make necessary amendments to the constitution, for it requires a two-thirds majority, which cannot be done without consensus.
Benefits of ‘one nation one election’?
Keeping an eye on and controlling election expenses, party expenses etc. would become convenient if this principle is implemented. 17th Lok Sabha election, completed in 7 stages in 75 days, is described as the most expensive election ever at an estimated cost of Rs 60 thousand crores.[Ref.] In this context, an average of Rs 700 was spent on one vote, and Rs 100 crore was spent in each Lok Sabha constituency. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, about 30 thousand crores were spent, which increased to double in just five years.
The ‘one nation-one election’ formula will save public money, reduce administrative setup and load on security forces, establish government policies, and ensure that the administrative machinery is developing rather than being engaged in electoral activities. It will be easy for voters to examine government policies and programs at the state and central levels and decide which political party made promises and how much they met them. It is also crucial for the politicians in power to see that frequent elections overcome the disruption in governance and administration. By holding elections once in five years, all the stakeholders, i.e., political parties, Election Commission, paramilitary forces, citizens, can get more time for its preparation.
Challenges in the way of implementation
The biggest challenge in this way is to coordinate the tenure of Lok Sabha and state legislatures so that both can be elected within a specific time frame. To synchronise the term of the state legislatures with the Lok Sabha, the state legislatures tenure can be reduced and extended accordingly, but this will require some constitutional amendments:
Article 83 states that the term of the Lok Sabha will be five years from the date of its first sitting. It gives the President the power to dissolve the Lok Sabha.
Article 172 of our constitution states that the term of the Legislative Assembly shall continue for five years from the date fixed for its first sitting.
Article 174 empowers the Governor of the state to dissolve the assembly.
Article 356 empowers the Central Government to impose President’s rule given the failure of constitutional machinery in the state.
Apart from these, the Representation of People’s Act and the related parliamentary procedure will also have to be amended [Ref.] It is challenging to bring all political parties around for a ‘one country – one election. Some political experts believe that the concept of ‘one country-one election’ may prove contrary to the country’s federal structure. In addition, the amount of money spent in elections is at the top of the reasons for promoting corruption. In such a situation, stopping the frequency of elections can prove a decisive step against corruption.
An EVM is currently being used at every polling station with a VVPAT machine for polling. The number of EVM’s and VVPAT machines required will be doubled if the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections are held together.[Ref.] Keeping such a large number of EVM and VVPAT machines together will also be burdensome, as the Election Commission is currently facing the challenge of keeping them safe. It will require Better and more vigilant security arrangements with additional polling personnel, and this work is impossible without increasing the number of central police forces.
It is true that holding elections simultaneously for the Lok Sabha and the state legislature will save government revenue and time and will not affect the policy-making process. Comprehensive election reforms are required to bring the country out of this cycle of elections. This includes reforming the Representation of People Act, prohibiting black money, curbing the increasing criminalization in politics, creating political awareness. There is no prominent flaw in the concept of ‘one country – one election’, but its implementation requires a solid political will where all political parties cooperate in debates on this issue; only then can public opinion be taken into consideration. Being a mature democracy, India can execute such firm decisions.