Why ‘one nation, one election’ would strike a blow against federalism | Data

The idea of simultaneous elections is untenable if its impact on existing Assemblies and the three-tier system is considered.

September 18, 2023 11:59 am | Updated September 19, 2023 10:19 am IST

As many as 17 States would see their Assembly terms being truncated by close to a year and a half

As many as 17 States would see their Assembly terms being truncated by close to a year and a half

The Union government has constituted a committee headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind to explore the possibility of conducting simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha, the Legislative Assemblies, municipalities, and panchayats. The idea of simultaneous elections has been discussed in the last five years or so, and is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto.

The next Lok Sabha election is due to be held before June 16, 2024. If the simultaneous elections idea bears fruit and is ratified and implemented, this would curtail the terms of all Legislative Assemblies barring those of four States — Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim. The election cycles for these four States have coalesced with elections to the Lok Sabha over time. If simultaneous elections are held in 2029, it would require a similar exercise of curtailment or extension of Assembly terms.

Table 1 shows when the term for the Assemblies of each State ends, and the number of months that would be curtailed if simultaneous elections are held in these States in June 2024.

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As the table shows, 17 States would see their Assembly terms being truncated by close to a year and a half, with the terms of the Assemblies of Karnataka, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat being truncated by close to three and a half years or more.

The government has touted the need for simultaneous elections as a cost-saving exercise. A report by the Law Commission in 2018 stated that the expenses for Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in any State are more or less the same. It argued that conducting elections together would reduce the costs by half. However, reports such as this treat election expenditure as “wasteful”, disregarding the multiplier effect and the economic impact of conducting elections on sectors such as transport, printing, media, and infrastructure.

Many such reports also do not consider the import of simultaneous elections on the specificity of the legislative and governance tiers in India. Cumulatively, India elects 543 Lok Sabha representatives, more than 4,100 Assembly legislators, representatives to 89,194 urban wards, and nearly 31.89 lakh elected panchayat representatives spread across three tiers of the Panchayat system — village panchayats, panchayat unions, and district panchayats. Each of these tiers has its own roles and responsibilities. The sheer number of representatives across the three tiers points to the importance of each tier and the need for contestation to cater to the specific needs of the voters.

Table 2 shows the number of Lok Sabha seats, Assembly representatives, urban local wards, and elected panchayat representatives for each State.

For example, if a voter is bothered about garbage management in her locality, she would use her power to elect a candidate who is best suited to solve the issue in the local ward. On the other hand, MPs and MLAs are representatives of larger constituencies and are elected to enact laws on matters relating to the Union government and the State, respectively.

Besides curtailing the terms of Assemblies much before their tenure, holding simultaneous elections could also mean that the various issues concerning these three tiers could be subsumed under just one mandate for the voter. This would militate against federalism and the very structure of three-tier governance. The committee must take a substantive look at the federal aspects of Indian democracy before envisaging simultaneous elections.

Source: Election Commission of India and Ministry of Panchayati Raj

Also read : The larger project of subverting the idea of India

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