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One nation, one election?

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Introduction

India witnesses an average of 5-6 elections per year, making elections an incessant phenomenon in India. Elections of the Lok Sabha and State Legislature are not held in sync making elections a frequent chain of cycles. ‘One Nation, One Election’ since 2016 has been endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Needless to say, political parties instead of indulging in administrative actions and justice, are always in an election mode. But an unsynchronized election was not the situation in the post-independence era. Taking the most relevant scenario for bringing this point forward – in 2014, apart from Lok Sabha elections from March-May, it also witnessed elections of state assemblies from September – October, and October – December. The never-ending cycle of election mode needs to end, therefore revolutionary changes need to be brought in to change the structure of elections and regain the simultaneous system of election followed till the 1970s. but how was the situation previously? 

The General Election – The Generous One

It was the post-constitution era. We had just secured a long-awaited independence and Indians were beaming with patriotic fervour. It witnessed sincere candidates, zealous voters, whopping 69 phases; it was the largest ever election held in India. Held between 25th October 1951 and 21st February 1952, they were the first-ever elections to the Lok Sabha and state legislatures. The elections to the state legislatures took place simultaneously. 

Simultaneous polls – not so long-lasting cycle:

The system of general elections continued for a period of three terms viz. 1957, 1962 and 1967. The system could last only for a short while and the cycle of simultaneous elections came to an end due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969. The Lok Sabha too saw its abrupt dissolution in the year 1970 and fresh elections were held in 1971. The 5th Lok Sabha also witnessed an extension in its term till 1977 under Art. 352 of the Constitution of India, 1950. Pursuant to this, few of them went smooth, while few underwent dissolution. Due to the unforeseen circumstances and inconsistencies in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures’ tenure, the system of simultaneous elections did go haywire and soon the system grew out of sync. Thus, began the not-so-synced elections in India since the 1970s. 

Why are simultaneous polls the need of the hour? 

  1. Extensive cost and administrative effort are involved in executing elections successfully.
  1. It needs to be carefully managed, administered which also brings into the involvement of manpower to run the elections smoothly and efficiently. Around 4,500 crores were required in 2014 for the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. In 1999, the Law Commission headed by Hon’ble Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy in its report on Reform of Electoral Laws had specifically pointed out the need for simultaneous elections for the betterment of the electoral system in India. More recently, the Hon’ble President of India and the Hon’ble Prime Minister strongly pitched their support for holding simultaneous elections at public forums. The Hon’ble President noted “With some election or the other throughout the year, normal activities of the government come to a standstill because of code of conduct. This is an idea the political leadership should think of. If political parties collectively think, we can change it… The Election Commission can also put in their idea and efforts on holding the polls together and that will be highly beneficial. Simultaneous elections cannot be conducted within few days. They need to be executed in a phased and efficient manner making it plausible to conduct elections of Lok Sabha as well as state assemblies simultaneously. 
  1. Engagement of security forces – the security forces are engaged during the elections to keep the elections running smoothly. The security forces have to be present safeguarding the persons during the election. Continuous elections make the security forces held up continuously. Keeping one election would reduce their burden to a great extent. 

Constitutional provisions

The change involved in the electoral system for simultaneous elections is humoungous and it may change the face of democratic functions. 

Articles in the Constitution of India to be referred to – Articles 83, 324-329.

Statute to be referred: Representation of People Act, 1950 and Representation of People Act, 1951 and the Rules framed thereunder, viz., Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 and Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

To ensure the conduct of elections in a free and fair manner the constitutional makers included Part XV in the Constitution of India to empower Parliament to make laws 

Article 324 – Election Commission of India: 

The change involved in the electoral system for simultaneous elections is humoungous and it may change the face of democratic functions. The Article that mandates elections in India is Article 324 of the Constitution of India. Article 324 (1) states ‘the superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President held under this Constitution shall be vested in a Election Commission. 

This Article mandates the Election Commission of India for the control and direction of elections of central and state elections. The power of Election Commission of India is administrative, advisory and quasi-judicial. It also enforces the Model Code of Conduct – do’s and dont’s to be abided by by the political parties during the process of elections. It is enforced from the date of announcement of election by the Election Commission and till the election ends. 

The significance of the Model Code of Conduct is that even major changes in the election mechanism will have to be abided by the political parties.

Thus change brought into force under Article 324 r/w 327 and 328 of the Constitution of India cannot be disobeyed. The superintendence and power given to the Election commissioner shall have to be amended to the extent of change in the structure of elections.

Art. 327 – Power of Parliament to make provision with respect to elections to Legislatures:

The Parliament has the power to make laws concerning elections of either House of Parliament and either house of the Legislature of state. Thus it is eligible to make laws, amend laws and even repeal any law related to elections.

Article 328: Similar to Article 327, the Legislature of a state has the power to make, amend and repeal election laws. 

Thus Article 327 and Article 328 shall have to be amended so as to make the elections complacent in a phased manner. 

Article 83 – Tenure of Houses of Parliament: 

The Constitution of India provides for the tenure of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha under Article 83(2) which is for a period of 5 years. It also mentions that in the event of proclamation of emergency, the term of the House may be extended not exceeding one year, but it also provides that the term may be dissolved prematurely. This effectively means that the period cannot be extended but it can be dissolved prematurely.  

The Representation of The People Act, 1950:

To provide a legal framework for the conduct of elections, Parliament passed the Representation of the people act, 1950, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and Delimitation Commission Act of 2002. 

The key provisions laid down in Representation of People Act, 1950:

  1. Allocation of seats 
  2. Preparation of electoral rolls 
  3. Qualification of voters 
  4. Delimitation of constituencies 

The Representative Act as so far as preparation of electoral rolls, delimitation of constituencies are concerned shall have to be amended. The term “simultaneous elections” would mean restructuring the terms of Lok Sabha and state assemblies so much so that they are synchronized together. Article 83 of the Indian Constitution as discussed previously provides for premature dissolution of The Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. The terms of Lok Sabha and the state assemblies cannot be extended more than 5 years except for any emergency. Thus, To sync them together, the state assemblies will have to dissolve prematurely so as to bring them in line with the terms of Lok Sabha. 

Sec. 20 of the Representative of the People Act, 1941 provides with general duties of electoral.

Stages / solutions to sync elections: 

  1. A fixed year – 2024: 

2024 is the year when the next Lok Sabha elections would take place. It is this election year that might change the face of elections in India. 

  1.  How would the sync be possible? 

The State assembly elections in order to get synchronized will have to face reduction in their elected period, even at times President’s rule could be called for too. 

TenurePossible outcome 
2017 – 2022, 2018-2023Presidents’ rule in those states which finish their tenure in 2022 and 2023. Even though President’s rule is for 6 months, it can continue for 3 years. The EC will have to certify that elections cannot be conducted in the state. 
2019 – 2024Best possible outcome. These State Assembly Elections will end by 2024. These state would already be in sync with the Lok Sabha (LS) elections.
2020 – 2025The tenure of these State Assemblies will have to be reduced to 4 years to sync the elections with LS elections in 2024.
2021-2026Similar provision as of 2020-2025

This is a set of possibilities that can be implemented to bring the elections into sync.  

Pros and cons of simultaneous elections:

Cost reduction:

The money that is used for elections comes from the public exchequer, the lesser the elections, the lesser would be the expenses. The amount of expenditure involved in elections is huge. Many a time politicians spend more than the limit prescribed thinking that it may end up giving them more votes.

Government efficiency: 

The continuous cycle promotes instability, thereby hindering the real object of governance: efficiency and focus. The moral code of conduct which is administered during elections hampers economic development. Keeping elections within 1 year in phases would definitely bring out focus, efficiency, and a definite mechanism. 

Stability:

Who doesn’t want a stable governance? Stability can only be achieved if there is stability found in elected bodies. These elected bodies need to have a fixed tenure starting and ending at the same time.

Centralization:

India always focuses on decentralization. But implicitly centralization in the case of simultaneous elections is bound to happen. 

This might favour one of the political parties that has a stronghold over the voters nationwide, even though they are weak in certain states. It is these certain state political parties that might get affected due to simultaneous elections. 

Loss of diversity: 

Many a time, elections in different states take place according to the people of that state, their way of living, their choices, their economic and social living, all of these factors play a major role in defining political strategies for every political party. If elections take place together this diversity may be at risk of withering away. 

The Task: 

It is always easier said than done. The magnanimous task of simultaneous elections is the ‘sync’. It would involve constitutional and statutory amendments, every state party should agree as well as obey the new mechanism implemented. The electorate is huge, having 7 lac polling stations throughout the country. An election to be conducted smoothly requires prevention of violence, booth capturing, altering the EVM, bringing in paramilitary forces, availability of public officials, teachers. 

Thus, to make this phased manner to be successful is a big task but it could be achieved with structural amendments, cooperation from political parties and effective implementation. The main hindrance is not the phased manner, which was even possible during the post-independence phase – to bring all the elections, state and centre in sync would be a herculean task to be achieved. 

-By Manasi Joglekar

Categories: Articles, Politics

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