By : Dr. Dalip Singh IAS (Rtd) 1988 batch Haryana
India has election festivity one after another throughout the year after year for the last fifty years. It is like marathon which never ends. India is fatigued to keep the democracy alive. Why should India not hold all the elections (up to Panchayat level) once in five years? Will it really change the dynamics of political spectrum? Political parties and election commission are debating on the major electoral reforms. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi has been empathetically advocating one nation, one election, one electoral roll concept since 2016. He has termed this phenomenal idea as ‘need of India’ as polls taking place every few months adversely impact development works. Pitching strongly, he has observed that we must have deep study and deliberations on this innovative concept and put it in practice. These elections are parliament, state legislatures and local bodies consisting of panchayats and municipalities.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is the only national party inclined to hold simultaneous polls and included it in its manifesto in 2014. The political consensus is lacking and surprisingly the proposal has not found favour with other national political Parties in the country including INC, BSP, TMC, CPI, CPI(M) among others. After Prime Minister flagged the issue The Law commission of India has also submitted a report to the Government in 2018 endorsing the proposal. NITI Aayog has also prepared a working paper in 2017. Advocating the idea. The Election Commission of India also supported it in 1983. The State Election Commissions have yet to come out with their support to the new concept.
There are two constitutional bodies in India entrusted with the task of superintendence, direction, and control of various elections. At the national level we have Election Commission of India (ECI) created under Article 324 of the Constitution of and is responsible for conducting elections for 543 members of Lok Sabha (lower house), 245 members of Rajya Sabha (upper house) and 4120 MLAs (Members of Legislative Assemblies) in 28 States and 8 Union Territories. Most of the times in media and other platforms it is believed that the PMs call relate to MPs and MLAs only. That is far from truth.
At the State level we have State Election Commissions (SECs) created in each state under Article 243K and 243ZA of Constitution of India for conducting elections to a gigantic number of Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs) and local bodies elections. The State Election Commissions are also Constitutional bodies having similar powers and functions like Election Commission of India. These little known but vibrant State Election Commissions conduct the elections in 664277 Indian villages having 290327 Gram Panchayats comprising more than 3100000 elected representatives. (3000000 Sarpanch and Panches, 180000 Panchayat Samities members and 17527 Zila Parishads members. That is not all. SECs further conduct elections to unban local bodies in India comprising 80000 representatives in 4509 Municipalities. (Corporations, Councils and Committees). The elections to these hundreds and thousands rural and urban healthy local bodies are conducted under State acts, rules, statues. Like ECI the SECs also use identical EVMs, model code of conduct and other procedures essential for elections. Elected members of these local bodies (Panchayats and Municipalities) are generally referred to as democratic representatives at the grass root level. Unfortunately, the magnificent work being done by State Election Commissions has not been highlighted and appreciated by the intellectuals, think tanks, media, and other organisations. The Association of Democratic Rights in India (ADR) and Commonwealth Local Govt Forum (CLGF) are perhaps the only NGOs which raising voice for the issues relating to local body elections.
In Indian democracy elections occupy a central stage. We have elected representatives at a central, state, districts, blocks, and village levels. The vision of Narender Modi is that all elections at all stages should be held simultaneously. The idea is to realign the Indian election cycle in a manner so that elections to all elected bodies whether at the central level or the state level should synchronise with one and another. At present the tenure of Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies are not in synchronisation with one another. The concept goes further to include the elections to Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies simultaneously along with the Centre and state elections. As far as having a single voter list is concerned there ere are 80 crore voters in the country. Ironically all institutions whether ECI or State Election Commissions use separate electoral rolls for elections at various levels. The Key recommendations are that; i) the leader of the majority party be elected as PM or CM by the entire House, Lok Sabha, or assembly for stability. II) In case a government falls mid- term, the term of the new government would be for the remaining period only. iii) A no-confidence motion against the government should be followed by a confidence motion.
Simultaneous polls will reduce enormous cost involved in separate elections. It will check poll expenses, party expenses and save public time and money. The preparation of electrol rolls, verification of voters at booth level, de-limitation of constituencies/wards require months before every election. Since electoral rolls have now been fully digitised by ECI and up to date data is available on 1st January every year, same may be utilised by all elections in the country instead of preparing their own voter’s list every time. The Governments and the ruling parties can focus on governance instead of being constantly in election mode. It will boost voter turnout as the voters remain apathetic to so many elections happening at different intervals. In a campaign called ‘the lost voters’ launched by the Hindustan Times recently has revealed that more than 35% voters are either migrants or do not permanently stay at the place of their registered place and hence not in a position to cast their votes on the day of poll for innumerable elections coming for off and then. The elections involve engagement of entire administrative machinery including civil, police and security forces from top to bottom which results in poor governance and delays in initiating or completing the development works. The model code of conduct is imposed by election commissions which normally remains in force for 45 to 60 days. During this period nothing moves without the nod of Election Commissions.
Those voicing concerned against simultaneous polls say that national and state issues are different. The regional parties target regional issues whereas national parties keep in view the national interest. The regional parties may be at disadvantage while dealing with the national parties. Holding simultaneous election may affect the judgement of the voters who will be confused to cast their vote for centre, states, rural and urban bodies in a single day.
Another argument put forward against the concept is that adoption of this concept would require large scale amendments in Indian constitution which may be violative of spirit of the constitution. For examples for Parliamentary elections article 83 and article 85 of Constitution need to be amended which deal with duration and dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President. Similarly, for state legislature article 172 and article 174 would need amendments which again relate to duration of state legislatures and the dissolution of state assemblies.
Further, article 356 of Constitution dealing with the President rule and the Representation of People act would require large-scale amendments. The critics fail to observe that Indian constitution has already been amended more than hundred times and if need be it can further be amended in the interest of the state by the Parliament. There is also an argument that simultaneous elections would require more electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) which will further increase the cost of elections. This will also result in delays in declaring election results and invite legal hurdles.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has emphasised the need to adopt one nation one election one electoral roll to boost the development. Many Chief Ministers have echoed the PMs concerns saying that “they are always in election mode”. India had till 1967 simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State assembles. Gradually with the untimely dissolutions of elected bodies we have reached a stage where we have elections somewhere sometimes. Being an IAS officer, I have been personally involved in superintendence, direction, and control of elections at the national, state, and local bodies. I had the pleasure of conducting MP, MLA’s election as returning officer and in other capacities. I was appointed as general observer bye ECI in general and by elections of MPs and MLAs on more than seven occasions. The idea has earned my respect too as entire machinery of the central government or state government gets engaged in the election process which goes on for 45 to 60 days and sometimes even more. The entire administrative machinery comes under the direct control of election commissions and all other activities come to a grinding halt. On the criticism that it would require more EVMs and manpower, it may by countered by adopting online-internet-postal ballot and linking the voter ID with Aadhar. The problem may be further tackled by allowing voters to vote online from any where on the globe on the day of polling and dispensing with the physical presence of voters at the polling booth. It’s heartening to note that ECI has already ordered pilot studies on common electoral rolls and working on Adhaar based internet voting.
Narendra Modi is moving towards one major political reform to have common electoral roll so that nation saves manpower, time, and money. It’s an idea which can be argued till eternity, but time has come to implement it and emancipate India from the democratic uncertainties and unending marathon.
The author is an IAS officer of 1982 batch having vast experience in conducting in India. He has served as State Election Commissioner of Haryana. Views expressed are personal.