Revisiting the Idea of One Nation One Election

 In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “One country, one election.” Since then, there has been much debate about holding simultaneous elections, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party making a strong case for it. Basically, simultaneous elections for loksabha, state assemblies and municipalities once in five year is what one nation one election refers to and the concept is no new to Indian democracy as until 1967, there was a norm for simultaneous elections .[1]

 Taking the discussion of one nation one election a step further, on August 30, 2018, the Law Commission submitted a draft report to the government approving the plan. It also suggested alterations to the Constitution to enable this provision. The concept of returning to simultaneous elections was first suggested in the Election Commission’s annual report in 1983. It was also stated in the 1999 Law Commission Report. The latest drive was part of the BJP’s manifesto ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In January 2017, the Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject after Mr. Modi floated the concept again in 2016[2]. Recently, at the end of 2020, modi government seen again endorsing this concept and it is alleged that they are making a plan to introduce this concept in house and is planning for necessary constitutional changes to make this concept a reality.

Other nations with simultaneous election

In other nations, there has been precedent for simultaneous elections to federal and provincial legislatures.

 In South Africa, national and regional legislature elections are held every five years, and local elections are held every two years. Elections to the national legislature, regional legislatures/county councils, and local bodies/municipal assemblies are all held on a set schedule in Sweden[3]

Advantages of one nation one election

  • Benefits the government’s treasury: One of the most compelling reasons in favour of simultaneous elections is that it would reduce the burden on the government’s coffers. If India opts for this scheme, it will save a significant amount of money. The overall amount that can be spent on larger assemblies is 28 lacs. This means that if both states and UTs hold a single election, the overall cost would be about 11 billion dollars. Currently, about 5 states hold elections each year.   According to a report, more than 50000rs crores had been spent in 2019 loksabha elections and similarly 10000 to 15000rs crores had been spent in a Karnataka state assembly 2018 election. This way every year 4-5 assemblies generally have elections. So lakhs of crores been spent in our country in our country only for election which could be saved with simultaneous election concept.
  • Rapid Development Work: As a result of the Model Code of Conduct, no new programmes are launched while an election is in progress. The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) [4]is a set of guidelines that sets out many dos and don’ts that political parties, candidates, and governing parties must obey throughout the election process. The daily governance has been seriously harmed as a result of the suspension of several social services. As a result, at least one election would ensure that the federal and state governments’ policies and welfare services remain consistent.
  • Time saver: Elections are a massive, complicated, and time-consuming activity that must be conducted during the year. To ensure orderly, stable, and impartial elections, the Election Commission of India will need the assistance of a large number of polling officials as well as the armed forces. A one-time election would also save a significant amount of time and resources.
  • Free from  Engagement of security forces for significantly prolonged periods -The ECI enlisted the support of approximately 10 million polling officials to operate and supervise the election process across the country’s 9,30,000 polling stations during the 16th Lok Sabha elections. Similarly, for state assembly elections,  millions of officials more are used at one part or the another.
  • Efficiency of Government: If elections are not held every year, the government does not need to entice the general public with lucrative schemes or create caste and religion-based programmes. State and federal governments do not need to plan lucrative budgets every year and can make difficult choices for the economy’s benefit.
  • Smooth operation of government machinery: The concerned government deploys a large amount of manpower and machinery to ensure that the country’s and states’ elections are free and fair. Schools and colleges open on time, and teachers and other government employees are required to work in their offices, making life easier for the general public.

Get Rid of Promises That Aren’t True

  • During campaigns, the term “vote bank appeasement” is used often. With elections looming, most political parties are resorting to ruses to attract or tarnish their opponents’ reputations. They formulate just certain tactics that will give the vote bank some leeway and aid in the election’s victory.[5]

Can this idea be implemented?

      On 17 December, 2015 DEPARTMENT-RELATED PARLIAMENTARY STANDING COMMITTEE ON PERSONNEL, PUBLIC GRIEVANCES, LAW AND JUSTICE laid on the table its 79th report on the subject matter feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to the loksabha and state legislative assemblies. The Committee took note of the following documents/information when deliberating on the subject: –

     The Legislative Department’s background note on the subject; The Election Commission of India has submitted a background note on the subject.[6] Opinions/suggestions expressed in memoranda obtained on the subject from various organizations/institutions/individuals/experts and National and State Political Parties; Opinions expressed during oral testimony before the Committee by various official as well as unofficial witnesses and various other sources, In its report, committee firmly favored the idea of simultaneous elections and proposed two ways to implement this idea.

Analyzing committee’s proposal

 One plan was to phase in the transition to simultaneous elections, with general elections, 12 State Assemblies (all of which will be up for election in late 2018 or early 2019), and a Union Territory all taking place in 2019, when the majority of the states are already in the middle of their five-year terms.

The 12 states involved mainly large states and central India and southern India . In 2019, elections will be held in the Delhi NCT. Aside from political agreement and term extensions of up to six months in some states, constitutional amendments are required for such synchronisation to occur. [7]

 By the end of 2021, elections for the remaining State Legislative Assemblies and the Union Territory with Legislature (Puducherry) will be synchronised. From 2024 onwards, elections to the Lok Sabha, all State Legislative Assemblies, and Union Territories (with legislatures) will all be held at the same time.

 The second choice required two batches of synchronisation. First, in 2019, elections to the 12 State Legislative Assemblies and one Union Territory will be timed to coincide with the Lok Sabha elections. At the end of 2021, elections for the remaining State Legislative Bodies will be synchronised with those for one Union Territory. Elections will be held twice every five years as a result of the synchronisation of elections across the country.[8]

Election commission proposal on implementation of simultaneous election

 The Election Commission of India has suggested the following for the conduct of simultaneous election[9]

The Lok Sabha’s term would usually begin and end on a specific date (rather than five years from the date of its first sitting); The time for general elections to elect the new House would be set in such a way that the Lok Sabha might begin its term on the pre-determined date.

  To prevent premature dissolution, it could be stipulated that any ‘no-confidence motion’ against the current government must be accompanied by a ‘confidence motion’ in favour of a government led by a designated person as the future Prime Minister. Both resolutions should be voted on at the same time, according to the minister.

 In the event that the above scheme fails to prevent the Lok Sabha from being dissolved, the following alternatives can be considered:

If the remaining term of the Lok Sabha is not long (a period to be specified), there may be a provision for the President to administer the country with the help and advice of his Council of Ministers, which he may nominate, until the end of the term. At the appointed time, the next House is created.

 If the remaining term is long (period to be specified), a new election can be held, and the House’s term may be for the remainder of what would have been the original term.

 Both State Legislative Assemblies’ terms should usually end on the same date as the Lok Sabha’s. To begin with, this could mean that the terms of the existing Legislative Assemblies must be either extended beyond five years or shortened so that new elections can be held concurrently with the Lok Sabha election.

 In the case of the Legislative Assembly, it should be mandatory to pass a ‘confidence motion’ at the same time as a ‘no-confidence motion’ to form an alternative government. This will, in most situations, prevent Assemblies from dissolving prematurely. If any current Legislative Assembly has to be dissolved prematurely due to inevitable circumstances, there should be a provision for the Governor to carry out the administration of the State with the assistance and advice of his Council of Ministers, which he may designate, or for the imposition of the President’s Rule, until the end of the term.

 If any current Legislative Assembly has to be dissolved prematurely due to inevitable circumstances, there should be a provision for the Governor to carry out the administration of the State with the assistance and advice of his Council of Ministers, which he may designate, or for the imposition of the President’s Rule, until the end of the term. Similarly, if the government is forced to resign for any reason and no other option is available, provision may be made for a new election if the remainder of the term is comparatively longer (to be specified), and in other situations, rule by the Governor or President’s Rule, as suggested in (vi) above.

 Two one-and-a-half-month periods may be set aside to hold all bye-elections that fall due in a given year. If the above proposals for a standardised and synchronised term for the LokSabha and Legislative Assemblies are found unworkable, an alternative proposal would be to suggest arrangements for holding all elections due in a year at the same time. The benefit of this system is that general elections to multiple Legislative Bodies that are due in a year will be conducted at the same time rather than at different times in the year. All of the Assembly elections for that year can be held in the same year as the Lok Sabha election. As a one-time measure, this arrangement would also necessitate the amendments listed above, as well as the extension or curtailment of the terms of some of the Houses x x x[10]

Critical analysis of election commission proposal

  • Term – The term of the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies neither cannot be extended beyond five years unless an emergency is declared nor can be cut short as specified according to Articles 83(2) and 172(1) of the Constitution but election commission recommendation says for pre-mature dissolutions .[11]
  • Danger to Federal structure- the proposal given by election commission is vulnerable in the sense that the political party at centre may misuse this provision.

      According to election commission proposal, if there is a pre-mature dissolution, the governor would control the administration which can be easily misused by political party at centre if it is opposition in that state.

  • Constitutional amendment – for enabling this provision of simultaneous election, mass amendments are required then special majority with ratification of half of the states would be required. And practically, not all states would support this idea.
  • Presidential order- the Election commission proposal says for president to administer the country [point 4a]. The above proposal is problematic since as it says that president will choose his cabinet which can be big issue and there are chances of biasness. President would become more powerful than cabinet.
  • Dangerous to democratic order- there may be frequent chances of president rule and thus often a government would be created [point 4 a] which does not have even have a mandate of people of India.

Constitutional changes required

 To align the terms of the State Legislative Assemblies with the LokSabha, the state legislative assemblies’ terms can be reduced or increased accordingly, and a constitutional amendment will be required in the following articles-

  • The LokSabha’s term will be five years from the date of its first session, according to Article 83.
  • Article 85 grants the President the right to dissolve the LokSabha.
  • The legislative assembly’s term will be five years from the date of its first session, according        to Article 172.
  • Article 174: The Governor of the State has the authority to dissolve the Legislative Assembly.
  • Article 356: It requires the central government to enforce President’s Law in the event that the state’s constitutional machinery fails.
  • The People’s Representative Act, as well as similar legislative procedure, would need to be updated.[12][13]

DISADVANTAGES OF ONE NATION ONE ELECTION

  • Local problems will fade away: It has been observed that state assembly and Lok Sabha elections are fought on separate issues. Local/regional issues are the focus of regional parties, while national issues are the focus of national parties. As a result, there’s a good chance that regional parties won’t be able to raise as much concern about local problems because they’ll be dominated by national parties. As India is a secular and democratic country, the big picture is important, but the smaller details should not be overlooked. Local problems should not be forgotten.
  • Regional Parties Face Difficulties: In light of the preceding issue, regional parties would be unable to compete with national parties in terms of election spending and strategy. State Assembly elections, in particular, are closely linked to local concerns and voters. As a result, regional parties will not support a one-time referendum. This raises the issue of political agreement once more.
  • Election Results Delay: Currently, almost all regional parties are demanding that elections be held using ballet documents. If elections are held in a one-time mode, the results would be postponed by a considerable period of time precisely because all takes place at the same time. There are numerous polls all over the world. A considerable amount of time would be needed to obtain a consolidated outcome.
  • Constitutional Issues: Due to the country’s political structure, a one-time election seems to be almost impossible. Assume that elections are held concurrently, although it is not certain that both states and the federal government will be established by a majority vote. It’s also likely that certain parties form a coalition government that falls apart before the end of the five-year term. As a result, there is a chance of re-election around the country.[14] The problem is that simultaneous election on becoming a norm can ruin the whole system of our country. With so much constitutional amendments required, whole basic structure of the constitution can be shaken.
  • Misuse of power – Although simultaneous election may provide stability to government but there are very high chances of misuse of power. What if the ruling party is same at central and all federal states. What if a very weak opposition is formed. In that situation, The ruling party can misuse its power and can be protected until next elections

Are we ready for one nation one election?

The greatest concern about one party, one election is that India, as the world’s most populous country with significant regional disparities, would be unable to survive in a consolidated election system. There are concerns that holding simultaneous elections would result in the loss of our country’s federal system. So here’s a question: if India followed a simultaneous election scheme, will every Indian’s voice be heard fairly by the centre? And isn’t this a concept that any Indian should grasp? Is our country mature enough to embark on such a drastic transformation? We cannot say why the constitution makers did not adopt this idea 70 years ago because things were very different at the time, but are things now conducive enough to enforce this idea? This is the most important question that the government and every Indian person can pose.

CONCLUSION

While the concept of one country, one election is intriguing, if adopted, it would raise several concerns about our democracy, and we are unsure if our democracy is mature enough to address those questions. In the last 70 years, India’s democracy has faced many threats, ranging from demands for independent states to national emergencies, terrorism, and wars with neighbours, but it has continued to prevail, despite the early scholars’ predictions that India will be a failed experiment in democracy. After 200 years of colonization and British-style bureaucracy, India’s election in 1951 was a mammoth challenge, with such a large illiterate population, but India is now one of the few countries in the world where elections are so free and fair without jeopardizing democracy.

In the current situation, it seems that implementing the “One Country, One Election” process after the 2019 elections would be problematic because regional parties will not agree to do so after suffering the worst defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. As a result, the central government must complete the requisite preparations for the “One Country, One Election” before reaching an agreement with all political parties.

There is no denying that elections have taken away a very valuable part of governance because they are held every year in some part of the country, keeping politicians and other stakeholders busy and wasting a lot of money, but it should be noted that elections are an integral part of democracy and cannot be considered a burden on our democracy, and simultaneous elections are not the only option.

The concept of one party, one election requires close consideration because it has both advantages and disadvantages, as well as some very serious questions, such as does the government have the authority to change the constitution this drastically? Allegations such as “one country, one election” have the potential to dilute the constitution’s fundamental federal system and rob states of their power and rights. Is it possible that one referendum in one country goes against the wishes of the constitution makers? Would this result in the demise of regional parties? To maintain the fairness of the electoral process, the Election Commission must keep a close watch on it. How should the EC continue, given that the tenure of these elected bodies is set at five years and that elections for one or more State Assembly must be held at least once a year? Many of these issues, as well as all of the critiques, include in-depth analyses and interviews, and there is a need for dissenting viewpoints to be heard openly.

If democracy is the car that India drives, elections are the fuel which makes it run.

Author: Rishi Saraf.


[1] ibid.

      [2]  Keerthana R. JUNE 19, 2019.The Hindu Explains: One Nation, One Election. THE HINDU. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/one-nation-one-election/article28073916.ece.

[3] (FEASIBILITY OF HOLDING SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS TO THE HOUSE OF PEOPLE (LOKSABHA) AND STATE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLIES,2015 )

[4] (MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT)

[5] Singh H. Jun 20, 2019. One Nation One Election: Merits and Demerits. Retrieved from. https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/one-nation-one-election-1561032672-1.

[6] (Law Commission of India – Draft Report 2018)

[7] Keerthana R. JUNE 19, 2019.The Hindu Explains: One Nation, One Election. THE  HINDU. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/one-nation-one-election/article28073916.ece

[8] (FEASIBILITY OF HOLDING SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS TO THE HOUSE OF PEOPLE (LOKSABHA) AND STATE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLIES,2015 )

[9] Barman Roy  B.  Monday, December 21, 2020,EC is ready for ‘One Nation, One Election’: CEC Sunil Arora. Retrieved from. https://www.mendeley.com/guides/apa-citation-guide.

[10] ( Debroy, Desai. ANALYSIS OF SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS : THE “WHAT”, “WHY” AND “HOW” A Discussion Paper)

[11] ( Debroy, Desai. ANALYSIS OF SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS : THE “WHAT”, “WHY” AND “HOW” A Discussion Paper)

[12] Singh A., One Nation One Election: Constitutional Challenges. Retrieved from http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1763-one-nation-one-election-constitutional-challenges.html

[13] (CONSTITUTION OF India,1950)

[14] One Nation One Election: RSTV –  The Big Picture. Retrieved From https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/one-nation-one-election-rstv-big-picture/.

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