Simultaneous election: A realistic proposition?

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“The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”

-Frederick Douglass

The need for simultaneous election to Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies has been debated and felt for quite some time now. As elections have become a big budget affair and expensive, the Law Commission of India in its 170th  report on Reform of Electoral Laws (1999) has suggested simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies for the sake of stability. Both, the former President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi besides the NITI Aayog have in the past made a strong pitch for holding the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections simultaneously. They have suggested that any decision by the Election Commission in this regard after consultations with political parties will be accepted. The Niti Aayog, while suggesting a synchronised two-phase Lok Sabha and Assembly polls from 2024 in its report, has made the Election Commission the nodal agency to look into the suggestion and recommended setting up of a working group of stakeholders for deciding a road-map for the purpose. Those who are pushing for simultaneous polls, on the grounds that it will save time and money, also feel that it will save the nation from the cycle of frequent elections that hits governance hard. Simultaneous elections will also avoid repeated enforcement of the model code of conduct which affects administrative actions by the government.

Now, the Election Commission has said it would be possible, logistically, to hold simultaneous polls prevalent till 1967 by September 2018. The election commissioner OP Rawat by saying that “We will be logistically ready to hold simultaneous polls by September 2018, but it is up to the government to take a decision and make necessary legal amendments for it,’’ has put the ball in the Centre’s court to initiate the process of holding discussion with the stakeholders to convince them that once all elections are held together, after the mammoth election process is over, the government will get a clear four years in which to carry out important reforms—and since this is also a large enough window for their results to be visible, it will make life easier for them.

The idea is worth debating as some have questioned its feasibility because of the logistics and because of what it may entail for India’s federal structure. The ECI had in the past pointed out to the standing committee, the several difficulties that might be encountered for conducting simultaneous elections. The primary issue is the large scale purchase of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. Now, according to Rawat, the EC has enough resources for EVMs and VVPATs. The biggest challenge for the government will be achieving political consensus, which seems to be improbable. Regional parties will be more opposed to the idea than national parties because they feel that it might undercut the federalism – people will vote for the same party for both the state and Centre when elections are held simultaneously. But our voters are smart enough to make a difference between a state issue and a national issue and a few concurrent polls had proved that in the past. So, their fear that it will lead to an “opposition-mukt Bharat” would sound to be an invalid proposition. No doubt, the holding of simultaneous elections will be an arduous task, yet time has come to make a beginning. Once a political consensus is built on the issue, a slow and steady transition will follow the suit.

 

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