President Kovind’s call for simultaneous polls

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“Advice is like snow – the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 Those who had framed the Constitution of India had envisaged simultaneous polls to Lok Sabha and the state assemblies and the practice continued till 1967 but it got derailed due to various factors including dissolution of some assemblies after the use of Article 356. Once again holding of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies has come into focus after President Ram Nath Kovind, in his opening address to the budget session of Parliament on January 29 backed the idea. In his address prepared by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government, the president called for “a sustained debate” and says all political parties “need to arrive at a consensus on this issue”.

While favouring the idea the Election Commission had last year said that all political parties should be brought on board before such an exercise is conducted. In 2015, the report of the Standing Committee on Law had pitched for simultaneous polls on obvious grounds of reduction of expenditure, curtailing imposition of the Model Code of Conduct, minimising disruption of normal public life and lessening pressure on crucial manpower deployed for prolonged periods in poll-bound States. In February 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed the idea while speaking in the Lok Sabha suggesting, “Political parties should not look at the idea through the narrow prism of politics.” The most critical questions pertaining to the debate, however, have less to do with logistics but political necessity, constitutional validity and indeed multi-party democracy.

Now that President Kovind has re-emphasised Prime Minister Modi’s desire to hold simultaneous national, state and local body elections, time has come to look closely at its feasibility. Whether this proposal can make headway or not would become clear in the coming weeks and indications would be available in the debate on President’s address in both Houses of Parliament. However, there are several questions those need to be answered before such a change is introduced. If the ruling party at Centre or in any state loses majority before the completion of its term, will it be denied to continue to rule till national poll is held? Problem could become even more complicated if the government at the Centre falls in case of desertion by members or any other reason. It is also argued that holding simultaneous elections would influence the voter behaviour in a way that voters would end up voting on national issues even for state elections. This, in fact, is the strongest argument against the call for simultaneous elections. The question is can our voters not decipher what they want at the state level and the national level to vote differently?

Outcome of the last assembly polls in Gujarat, where BJP remained in power with a narrow victory and emerging anti-incumbency factor, though limited  in certain pockets, may force Modi opt for snap polls to Lok Sabha ahead of May 2019, when the five-year term of the current House ends, along with some state assembly polls due in 2018.  Simultaneous elections may seem feasible for Prime Minister Modi. A wide range of discussion and consensus across political parties, strong political will are required to turn it into reality. The BJP must strive to evolve a consensus on it.

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