The Hindu Explains: One nation, one election

A poll official marking indelible ink at the polling station at Thirumangalam in Kangayam Assembly segment. File photo.   | Photo Credit: M. Govarthan

Have you been hearing the words ‘simultaneous elections’ often these days? That’s because there is a proposal to conduct the elections to the Lok Sabha and a State assemblies at the same time.

An all-party meet on Wednesday will explore the possibility of simultaneous elections, but the push for “One nation, one election” came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016. Ever since, there have been widespread discussions on holding simultaneous polls, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party making a strong pitch for it.

Taking it a step further, the Law Commission submitted a draft report to the government on August 30, 2018, endorsing the proposal. It even recommended changes to the Constitution and the electoral law so as to enable holding simultaneous polls.

What does it all mean? Let’s find out.

What are simultaneous polls?

Currently, elections to the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held separately — that is whenever the incumbent government’s five-year term ends or whenever it is dissolved due to various reasons. This applies to both the state legislatures and the Lok Sabha. The terms of Legislative Assemblies and the Lok Sabha may not synchronise with one another. For instance, Rajasthan faced elections in late 2018, whereas Tamil Nadu will go to elections only in 2021.

But the idea of “One Nation, One Election” envisages a system where elections to all states and the Lok Sabha will have to be held simultaneously. This will involve the restructuring of the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to the states and the centre synchronise. This would mean that the voters will cast their vote for electing members of the LS and the state assemblies on a single day, at the same time (or in a phased manner as the case may be).

What is the background?

Simultaneous elections are not new to India. They were the norm until 1967. But following dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and that of the Lok Sabha in December 1970, elections to State Assemblies and Parliament have been held separately.

The idea of reverting to simultaneous polls was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999. The recent push came ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the BJP manifesto. After Mr. Modi floated the idea once again in 2016, the Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017. In the working paper that the Law Commission brought out in April 2018, it said that at least “five Constitutional recommendations” would be required to get this off the ground. The final decision on holding simultaneous elections is yet to be taken.

How will it work?

There were two proposals to conduct simultaneous elections along with 17th Lok Sabha elections. However, both didn't materialise.

One proposal was to make the shift to simultaneous polls in a phased manner, where general elections, 12 State Assemblies (which by themselves face elections in late 2018 or 2019) and a Union Territory may be synchronised in 2019, as the rest of the states are in the middle of their five-year term.

These 12 states were Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan. NCT of Delhi (Union Territory with Legislature) also faces polls in 2019. For such a synchronisation to happen, besides political consensus and extension of term up to six months in some states, amendments to the Constitution have to be made. Elections to the remaining State Legislative Assemblies and Union Territory with Legislature (Puducherry) will be synchronised by the end of 2021. Thereafter, elections to the Lok Sabha, all the State Legislative Assemblies and Union Territories (with legislatures) will be held simultaneously from 2024.

The second option involved synchronisation in two batches. First, elections to the 12 State Legislative Assemblies and one Union Territory would be synchronised with elections to the Lok Sabha in 2019. Next, elections to the remaining State Legislative Assemblies will be synchronised with that of one Union Territory by the end of 2021. This makes elections across the country synchronised in such a manner that they will be held twice every five years.

Why do some support?

Simultaneous polls will reduce enormous costs involved in separate elections.

The system will help ruling parties focus on governance instead of being constantly in election mode.

Simultaneous polls will boost voter turnout, according to the Law Commission.

What are the arguments against it?

National and state issues are different, and holding simultaneous elections is likely to affect the judgment of voters.

Since elections will be held once in five years, it will reduce the government's accountability to the people. Repeated elections keep legislators on their toes and increases accountability.

When an election in a State is postponed until the synchronised phase, President’s rule will have to be imposed in the interim period in that state. This will be a blow to democracy and federalism.

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This article originally appeared in The Hindu In School on September 17, 2018. It has been re-edited to include the latest development.

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 9:44:37 PM |

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