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Modi Govt forms Committee for ‘One Nation One Election’; Is this another ‘Master Stroke’ of Modi-Shah?

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A political slugfest has sparked ever since the Modi government formed a committee headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind to explore the possibility of ‘One Nation, One Election’. Notably, this development has come a day after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi on Thursday called a special five-day session of Parliament starting on September 18 to September 22.

If Modi government makes that happen, then India will be only the fourth country in the world to hold polls simultaneously. The other three countries that hold simultaneous elections are Belgium, Sweden and South Africa. The fact that Sweden holds elections for county and municipal councils concurrently with general elections every four years.

Modi government has formed a committee, which includes Ex-President Kovind, Home Minister Amit Shah, Congress leader Ahir Ranjan Chowdhury, former Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Finance Commission Chairman NK Singh, former Lok Sabha Secretary General Subhash C Kashyap, Senior Advocate Harish Salve and former Chief Vigilance Commissioner Sanjay Kothari.

This high level committee will examine and make recommendations for holding simultaneous elections to the House of the People (Lok Sabha), State Legislative Assemblies, Municipalities, and Panchayats. The HLC will also suggest amendments to the Constitution and other laws as may be required.

The idea and practice of holding elections to the state assemblies and the Parliament is not new in India’s case. But yes, the challenges are many. And if India indeed opts for ‘one nation, one election’, the world’s biggest democracy will set another unique example.

India had Simultaneous Elections policy for a couple of years

India began its electoral endeavour in 1951 with simultaneous elections. Independent India’s first elections were held between October 25, 1951, and February 21, 1952, an exercise for over 100 days.

However, as states were restructured and assemblies were prematurely disbanded, this set-up fell apart. Nonetheless, simultaneous elections were held in 76% of the states in 1957, and 67% in 1962 and 1967.

The continuity of this synchronized electoral cycle was shattered in Kerala in July 1959, when the Central government dismissed the Communist Party-led government under E M S Namboodiripad. As a result, state elections were held in February 1960, within three years of the last assembly poll.

Simultaneous elections for the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha were held till 1967. However, in 1968 and 1969 some legislative assemblies were dissolved prematurely followed by the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in 1970. This forced a change in electoral schedules for the states and the country.

By 1972, the synchronized election trend had been broken, as no state election coincided with the general election for the Lok Sabha.

It’s a long pending plan of Modi Govt

There is a buzz that the Modi govt is planning to introduce a bill on ‘One Nation, One Election’ during a special session of Parliament that has been called from September 18 to 22.

PM Modi has consistently advocated for simultaneous elections since his massive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Even the 2014 BJP poll manifesto also mentioned it on page 14 under Institutional Reform, stating The BJP “will seek to evolve” a method for “holding Assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously” through consultation with all political parties.

By 2019, when the BJP released manifesto for Lok Sabha polls, it mentioned it under “Good Governance” and “Simultaneous Elections” on page 24. It was mentioned that party will be trying to create a mechanism to hold simultaneous elections for Parliament, State Assemblies, and local bodies to reduce expenditure, utilize government resources and security forces efficiently, and enable effective policy planning. It aimed to build consensus on this with all parties.

PM Modi met the heads of various political parties to discuss simultaneous polls just a month after he assumed office for the second time in 2019. In 2022, the Election Commission stated it was ready to hold polls but could only do so after amending the Constitution, a task reserved for Parliament. The EC had advocated for One Nation, One Election back in 1982-83.

Opposition is against the Government on this issue

Given the strong protest lodged by the Opposition parties, many of which rule a number of critical States, the One Nation, One Election Bill looks like a hard nut to crack for the government. Some opposing the move believe it’s an attempt by the Modi government to shift from a Parliamentary to a Presidential system. Others argue it undermines diversity, favouring national parties over regional ones.

Some fear that if State politics influence national elections, it may lead to unstable governments, contrary to federalism. Additionally, the possibility of unclear mandates could necessitate frequent fresh elections. While cost reduction is cited, expenses have risen even in non-partisan panchayat and local body polls. Many view combining these polls as unrealistic and a threat to democratic ideals in the long term.

One nation One Election- Pros and Cons:

Those in favour say–

  • Polling is expensive but organising state assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously may reduce that cost.

-Besides, simultaneous elections may save time and the government can get five stable years to focus on governance instead of winning polls.

-To ensure that a state government does not fall without an alternative, the Law Commission recommended that a no-confidence motion against a government should be followed by a confidence motion so that if the Opposition doesn’t have the numbers to form an alternative government, the regime in office cannot be removed.

Those against it say:
-Electronic voting machines (EVMs) which have a life span of 15 years, would only be used three times under the One Nation One Election proposal.

-To implement the new election rules, five articles in the Constitution and Representation of the People Act (1951) would have to be amended. Every recognised state and national party would have to agree to the change.

– No proposal made a provision for hung legislatures or the premature dissolution of governments.

-If the Centre will continue to have the power to dismiss the state government (under Article 356), there cannot be the One Nation One Poll rule eligible.

-Voters may end up voting on national issues even for state polls which would benefit larger national parties and marginalise regional parties.

-Under this rule, a wave of one person or one issue may give unbridled power to rule.

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