OPINION

Should India have simultaneous elections?

Free and fair elections are integral to democracy. Continuity, consistency and governance are also integral to democracy. And democracy, to my mind, also implies good governance. To achieve this, elections are held. But if the means (elections) become the goal, this will not serve democracy well. Holding simultaneous elections will ensure consistency, continuity and governance, and elections then will only be the means to achieve this and not an end in themselves.

Implementing simultaneous polls would require a substantial shift from the status quo and would involve amendments to the Constitution and election-related laws. However, does that mean we stop this much-needed reform? Certainly not.

Strengthening democracy

Earlier, tax collections were separate for the Centre and the States. We introduced the Goods and Services Tax Council through a constitutional amendment and changed the pattern of taxation between the Centre and the States. If the purpose of amendments is to strengthen democracy and governance, they should be brought in. The Constitution has been amended in the past to achieve this goal.

Let us look at the stumbling blocks in the current system of holding elections. In terms of governance and implementation of development programmes, enforcing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is detrimental. If we are preoccupied with local body elections and Assembly elections throughout the year, where is the time for developmental work? A system must therefore be evolved to give a period of five years to the incumbent government to focus on governance. Five years mean five years of stable governance. If we are occupied with Vidhan Sabha elections, Zilla Parishad elections, Panchayat elections, and municipal elections throughout the year, where is the time for developmental work, with the MCC kicking in every time these elections are held?

Curbing corruption

Simultaneous elections can also be a means to curb corruption and build a more conducive socio-economic ecosystem. While the Election Commission’s efforts to curb illicit finances are laudable, elections continue to be a conduit for black money and corruption. Frequent electoral cycles disrupt normal public life by impacting the delivery of essential services. They also provide opportunities to unscrupulous elements to create tears in the social fabric of society.

Then there is the administrative machinery to be taken into account and the expenses incurred. Frequent elections pose a huge burden on resources — both manpower and financial. Security personnel and government officials are effectively put on election duty for many months in a year. A case in point is the recurring engagement of teachers for election duty, as a result of which students suffer. The cost of elections runs into thousands of crores and has been rising steadily. The opportunity cost of these lost resources is too high to ignore as India is a resource-constrained developing economy. Simultaneous elections can bring the much-needed operational efficiency in this exercise.

Holding simultaneous elections is not merely about elections; it is about stable governance. Such a sensitive and far-reaching reform requires unanimous support from all political parties. Parliamentary Committee reports have proposed implementable roadmaps for simultaneous elections.

As told to Anuradha Raman

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