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This article has been written by Sahajveer Baweja, a third-year student of the Rajiv Gandhi National Law University of Law, Patiala.

Broadly speaking there are three kinds of electoral practices in the world. They are competitive elections, semi-competitive elections, and non-competitive elections.  Majorly, India deals with the competitive election which is held on the basis of universal franchise and held among multi political parties. The current competitive electoral process is known as the third wave of the historical growth of the electoral practice.[1] Elections are the fundamental aspect of any independent nation and thus an integral part of politics in a democratic structure of governance. Globally, India is recognized as the largest democracy in the World and factually, Democracy can function only upon the faith that elections that are carried out are free and fair and not influenced and rigged. Free and fair elections are the fundamental right of every citizen. The Supreme Court has held that free and fair elections amount to the basic structure of the Constitution and necessarily includes within its ambit the right of an elector to cast his vote without fear of reprisal, duress or coercion.[2] 

Simultaneous polling is a concept in which the Parliament elections, as well as Legislative assembly elections, are held at the same time. Currently, the elections held as soon as the tenure of five years is completed or the party who is in power loses confidence in the house. For explaining, the Lok Sabha elections which take place in the Centre takes place after every five years like it held in 2014 and then in 2019 and now it is expected to take place in 2024. Similarly, a Vidhan Sabha election which takes place in the State depends on the tenure or the confidence in the house and takes place cyclically. Simultaneous polling as a model is firmly backed by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he wants to amend the present model of election by introducing this new model.[3].  Launching this model involves the restructuring of the Indian election cycle in such a manner that election to the centre and state are synchronized. The voters would be burdened with casting two votes at one time; one for the centre and the other for the state.[4]

The concept of one nation one election is not a novel idea for India. Seeing the history of elections that took place, we could find the roots of this system. The first three elections in our country (1952, 1957, and 1962) took place under the realm of simultaneous polling. So, the concept was inherited with the beginning of the era of our independent India. This norm of simultaneous polling was abridged after 1968 due to following dissolution of some Legislative assemblies in 1968-69 and that of Lok Sabha in 1970. Thus, this period laid the foundation stone of separate polling in order to protect the interest of a democratic nation and to protect the federal structure of the country.  During this period Indian electoral systems suffered from serious maladies and lead the election system into a pit of political corruption.[5] Again, the idea of reverting back to simultaneous polls was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. Although no actions were taken after the presentation of the annual report, again the idea was referred by the Law Commission’s Report in 1999. The push that it got in the 21st century is just because of the 2014 BJP election manifesto that put reliance on such a system.[6]

Does it affect The Basic Structure of The Constitution?

Supporters of One nation one election cite a number of reasons to demand such structure for elections. What is required to see is whether such a system of simultaneous voting is under the constitutional ambit and whether it affects the basic and federal structure of the Constitution? As per the judgment delivered by the constitutional bench in Keshavnanda Bharti v. State of Kerala[7], it was held that any amendment that affects the basic structure of the constitution will be void in nature. Federalism was accepted as a basic structure in the case of Keshavnanda Bharti v. State of Kerala [8]and was reiterated in the case of SR Bommai v. Union of India[9] and thus any law or amendment that touches the structure of federalism shall be annulled by the judiciary.

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Supposedly, if simultaneous polling happens in our country where the Parliament and all the legislative assemblies go for election in chorus and unfortunately 3-4 legislative assemblies loses confidence in the respective house before the completion of five year tenure; what shall be the options open for the constitutional government in regard to state assembly functioning as the next election would take place after completion of five years which would break the cycle of simultaneous elections. The first option could be that the state emergency under article 356 will be activated or the second option could be that the state government even in minority would be allowed to govern till the completion of its five years. Undoubtedly, in both cases, there is a grave attack on the basic structure of the constitution as allowing the government in which the citizens have no confidence will be against democracy and federalism. Similarly, in another case, allowing the centre to rule state government for the remaining tenure completely violates the essence of federalism and federalism itself means that state and centre should not interfere in each other’s offices. Hence, the common parlance one nation one election violates the spirit of the constitution. 

Does it reduce the cost?

One of the predominant arguments that have always been in favour of the idea of holding simultaneous elections is that it leads to a reduction of cost, both for the Exchequer and political parties. As per the ‘Electoral Statistics Pocket Book 2015’[10], Expenditures incurred by the Government of India, the cost of conducting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections alone was about INR 3870 crores. Newspaper reports indicate that the Government incurred a cost of about INR 300 crores in conducting elections to the Bihar Assembly alone in 2015, which speaks a lot about how much of the financial resources go into the conducting of elections.[11]  In order to understand the truer picture of how far the expenditure can be reduced we need to lay reliance on the ‘Report of the Parliamentary Standing committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice’ which revealed that the cost of holding elections for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies would result in the expenditure of Rs. 4500[12] crore by the ECI in case elections are held simultaneously but that can also be saved through other methods.

However, an important point that needs to be considered here is that, whether it is just the cost involved that bothers democratic India or it is the effective and efficient implementation of principles of democracy that matter the most. It is important to note that though expenditure forms a relevant consideration while considering the issue but it should not be given undue importance so as to compromise the implementation of the basic principles of democracy.

Does it lead to the dominance of centre’s ideology?

The last thing that one can do on this Earth is to stop the political parties from indulging in politics involving the enrolment of populist policies in order to woo the voters. It is not that just one party adopts this method but every player in this field adopts this methodology. Going by this idea we can clearly chalk out that the political party ruling at the Centre would be available with much more resources and powers as compared to the parties having their base in just one state or few states. This undoubtedly places the party ruling at the Centre on a higher pedestal as compared to all the other parties. This enables the party ruling at the Centre to roll out policies that can help them in gaining votes in certain regions. The party at the Centre can easily influence and disparage the importance of indigenous and state-level issues, relating to various fields of development and growth, and thus, allowing the national issues to encroach upon and dominate the local and state-level issues.[13]  This, however, is not an invention that can be attributed to any single party as it has been seen over the years that majority governments at the Centre adopt various kinds of strategies to influence a larger number of voters, or to manipulate public opinion in favour of their government.

Further, a study published by IDFC institute[14] makes a mention that, “on average, there is a 77 percent chance that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both the State and Centre when elections are held simultaneously”. This means that in about 77% of the total Assembly constituencies, the winners came from the same party as that of the Parliamentary constituency. This clearly leads us to a situation where larger national parties will enjoy the undue advantage and thus undermine the importance of the regional parties which play a very significant part in the participative democracy of India. Therefore, the idea of simultaneous elections can lead to the destruction of the very basis of the Indian democracy i.e. the free and fair elections and this would lead to an unfair balance of preference in favour of certain parties.

This would not be justified and would hurt the very conscience of our democracy as the parties enjoying the dominance would do so just because of their presence on the national level rather than on the basis of their performance or work for the welfare and well-being of the people. The argument that the voters are well informed and can oversee these biases does not hold good for this issue as not even a scintilla of doubt as to the fairness of elections should be left which can give undue advantage to one party over the other thus compromising with the implementation of free and fair elections which forms the crux of democratic elections.

Engagement of security forces

There is no doubt as to the fact conducting of elections is a very complex activity and involves the use of a huge number of resources. The Election Commission of India, which is responsible for conducting elections, can’t be expected to perform all the activities in relation to elections; therefore, it needs to take the help of a substantial number of polling officials as well as armed forces to ensure smooth, non-violent and fair polls.[15]  Therefore, when we talk of simultaneous elections, one of the questions that pop up into our mind is whether there would enough security forces available for conducting the same. Another question is whether it is better to use all the available security forces to conduct the elections once rather than engaging them time and again for election duty. Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) are usually engaged by the Election Commission for providing the required security arrangements and since the demand for CAPF generally remains more than the supply, police forces such as State Armed Police, Home Guards, District Police, etc. are often engaged in order to supplement the efforts of the CAPF so that the elections can take place in peaceful conditions.[16]

The role of such security forces is not just limited to the days on which the polling is actually conducted but starts much before polling and extends up to the time the counting of votes and declaration of results takes place. Therefore, though the idea of engaging the CAPF for the purposes of internal security rather than taking their services time and again for the conducting of elections appears to be good. But, the essential point that needs to be understood is that the availability of these forces has always remained less than the supply and thus conducting simultaneous elections can lead to compromising with the availability of the adequate amount of security for smooth and safe elections.

Do the merits overpower the demerits?

Considering the implementation, the idea of simultaneous elections the first thing that comes to the mind is that whether in a huge country like India will it be feasible to adopt this system. On the face of it, it can be clearly noticed that the number of resources and infrastructure required couldn’t be made available at a single instance and in case the limited resources are used to somehow manage the things, there are chances of compromising with the conducting of free and fair elections. Further, as per the current scenario, usually about 5-7 elections are held every year in the country. This comes with a clear idea that it would be impossible to harmonize the electoral cycles of State Assemblies with Lok Sabha for the first time till the time certain arrangements are made in a way to extend the tenure of some of the Legislative Assemblies and reducing the terms of some others.[17] Therefore, the Centre will need to bring on board all the involved stakeholders before the implementation of any such idea. Although, the Parliamentary Standing committee on Personnel, Public grievances, Law, and justice noted that “…. frequent elections lead to disruption of normal public life and impact the functioning of essential services. The holding of political rallies disrupts road traffic and also leads to noise pollution”, but still the idea of free and fair elections has to be kept at the top of the mind before implementing any of the ideas relating to simultaneous elections.

In addition to this, as we have observed above that in case the elections are conducted simultaneously it could lead to, national issues impacting electorate’s behavior for voting in State Assembly elections, or State issues impacting electorate’s behavior for voting in Lok Sabha elections.[18] This can result in people voting for larger national parties and local regional parties which form an essential component of Indian democracy thus, impacting the conducting of free and fair elections. Also in an article[19] written by Dr. S. Y. Qureshi on simultaneous elections pointed out some additional points as counter-arguments to simultaneous elections. He mentioned the following points, “a) Having to face electorate more than once every 5 years enhances the accountability of politicians and keeps them on their toes and b) many jobs are created during elections, boosting the economy at the grass-root levels”.

Therefore, considering the merits such as the reduction in expenditure as well as the reduction of the engagement of security forces whole year around to oversee the smooth conduction of elections, we find that the demerits overpower all of them as the main aim is free and fair elections. Although, the merits may appear to be beneficial for some subsidiary issues but the very foundation of the Indian democratic system can’t be compromised in order to achieve these subsidiary benefits, thus more focus should be laid on the fact that the elections take place in an environment which can ensure that the elections are unbiased and no illegitimate forces may impact the conducting of elections.

Suggestions

As we have discussed the practicality and observed the suspicious outcome of merits which aren’t able to supersede the demerits of having such a model, there can be several alternates to one nation one election system which can ensure that the merits it is supposed to bring can be brought through other alternatives.[20] The very first alternative is to reduce the number of phases in which the election takes place. Recent 2019 Parliament elections held in seven phases which increases the cost of elections as well as the duration of elections. What happens with the higher number of phases is that the political quintessence keeps floating in the air for the whole duration. Such things result in communal disturbance of the social order hampering the life of millions of people. In addition to that, even the cost of elections increases because as we know the majority of the amount that is spent during the elections is by the political parties for their campaigning. If the election continues for a long time, political parties will also continue their campaigning for the whole duration increasing the costs. By reducing the number of phases, the duration of election will minimize which shall result in less spending by the political parties as well as it will ensure less disturbance to the tranquil atmosphere of the society by not mixing it with political color.[21]

The other alternative that can be worthy enough to be implemented is to set a cost cap for the political parties so that spending can be reduced. The supporting argument for the implementation of simultaneous polling majorly revolves around the benefit of a huge amount of money that can be saved. If mitigating the cost of the elections is an instrumental concern, setting up a cost cap will fulfill the desired result. As it is an undebatable fact that the elections are so expensive for the nations is just because of the huge amount of money that is been spent by the parties for their campaigning. As there is a lack of checks and balances on the spending power of political parties and the channel through which the money is funded to them, political parties use this privilege for their desired ends and spend according to their free will.[22]

Looking at the current scenario, one nation one election should not be the thing that is to be nudged in manifestos. The reality of our country demands better societal living and an increase in the ease of living. Dominance and power are catalysts to make incorrect things correct. One who holds power also holds the responsibility of its fragile usage. Free and fair elections should just not be a utopian concept but a reality and for that changing the present model of elections as discussed above isn’t the viable solution. What is required in our nation is to have a system of checks and balances and well-adjusted amendments in the current model of elections so that changing the whole structure of elections does not become our only remedy?[23]

Endnotes

[1] Samuel P. Huntington, The third wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century, University of Oklahoma Press, The Journal of Democracy, Vol. 2 No. 2 Spring, 1991.

[2] PUCL V. UOI, AIR (2003) SC 2363.

[3] PM Narendra Modi calls for one nation, one election in Independence Day Speech, India Today (15th Aug, 2019) https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/pm-narendra-modi-one-nation-election-independence-day-speech-1580998-2019-08-15.

[4] R Keerathana, The Hindu Explains: One nation, one election, The Hindu (19th June , 2019) https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/one-nation-one-election/article28073916.ece.

[5]Jitendra Sahoo, One Nation, one election in India, 4 SJIF (2016).

[6] Prabhash K Dutt, One nation, one election: An RSS-BJP agenda lingering for two decades, India Today (19th Jun, 2019) https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/one-nation-one-election-an-rss-bjp-agenda-lingering-for-two-decades-1551812-2019-06-19.

[7] Keshavnanda Bharti v. State of Kerala, ‎(1973) 4 SCC 225.

[8] Ibid.

[9] SR Bommai v. Union of India, 1994 AIR 1918.

[10] Election Commission of India, Electoral Statistics Pocket Book (2015).

[11] Vithika Salomi, Bihar Polls Cost State Exchequer Rs. 300 Crore, The Times of India (Nov. 7, 2015, 5:04 PM), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/elections/bihar-elections-2015/news/Bihar-polls-cost-state-exchequer-Rs-300-crore/articleshow/49694866.cms.

[12] Parliament of India, Rajya Sabha, Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies, Report No.79, Dec. 2015.

[13] Rohit Kumar, The BJP’s Election Strategy Obscures the Local in Favour of the National, EPW (Oct. 3, 2019) https://www.epw.in/engage/article/bjps-election-strategy-obscures-localfavour.

[14] Praveen Chakravarty, Nudging the Voter in One Direction, The Hindu (April 6, 2016, 3:50 AM), http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/state-assembly-elections-nudging-the-voter-in-one-direction/article8438114.ece.

[15] Bibek Debroy & Kishore Desai, Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: the “What”, “Why” and “How”- A DiscussionPaper,http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Note%20on%20Simultaneous%20Elections.pdf.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Supra note 6.

[19] S. Y. Quraishi, Holding LS, Assembly Polls together is Desirable but not Feasible, The Quint (Sept. 5, 2016) https://www.thequint.com/opinion/2016/06/13/holding-ls-assembly-polls-together-is-desirable-but-not-feasible.

[20] Mritunjay Tripathi, One Nation, One Election: Is Holding Simultaneous Polls Feasible in India? News 18 (23rd Apr, 2019) https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/opinion-one-nation-one-election-is-holding-simultaneous-polls-feasible-in-india-2113801.html.

[21] Alternative to One Nation, One Poll, ntv  (19th Jun, 2019) https://www.ntvtelugu.com/en/post/alternatives-to-one-nation-one-poll.

[22] Sidharth Kapoor, Why One nation, One Poll needs greater consensus, orf (27th June, 2019) https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/why-one-nation-one-poll-idea-needs-greater-consensus-52451/.

[23] Ganesh Puthur, One nation, one election: is it time for India to Reinvent its election Process? Yka (Oct, 2019) https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2019/10/one-nation-one-election-the-way-ahead/.


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