“One Nation, One Election isn’t just an issue of deliberation, but also the need of the country. Only one voter list should be used for Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and other elections. Why are we wasting time and money on these lists?” said PM Narendra Modi highlighting the importance of ‘One Nation, One Election’ on occasion of Constitution Day.
The main aim of ‘One Nation, One Election’ is to reduce wastage of time, expenditure and manpower occurring due to frequent elections taking place in different states of the Nation. From the past 32 years, it has been recorded that not a single year passed without an election. For instance, West Bengal has elections this year while Gujarat is going for elections in 2022. This causes hindrance to nation’s development. And thus “One Nation, One Election” is needed for an hour. Simultaneous election is not a new idea for India.
The idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ was into effect during general elections of 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967 and the cycle broke for the first time in Kerala in 1959. The democratically elected government formed by the ‘communist party of India’ in 1957 was dismissed through article 356 by the central government. After a short period of Presidential rule, fresh elections were held in February 1960.
The cycle again broke in 1967 when INC suffered major setbacks in eight states which included Gujarat, Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar, Delhi, Kerala, Madras and Rajasthan. INC was expelled from nine states when it lost government in Uttar Pradesh just one month after elections. Hence premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies occurred in 1968 and 1969 causing disruption of the cycle. In1970, Fourth Lok Sabha was dissolved prematurely, and fresh elections were held in 1971. As a result, the First, Second and Third Lok Sabha enjoyed five-year terms. The Fifth term of Lok Sabha was extended till 1977 under Article 352. After that, the Eighth, Tenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Lok Sabha completed five-year terms. Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth Lok Sabha terms dissolved prematurely. Various State Assemblies faced similar issues over a period. As a result of such premature dissolutions and extension, the cycle of simultaneous elections has been firmly called off.
Many efforts were made to revert simultaneous polls. It was first taken into consideration by the Election Commission in 1983, followed by Law Commission’s report headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, in 1999 which stated, “We must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”. In 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee discussed the matter with Congress president Sonia Gandhi who was responsive to begin with, but the idea was not implemented at the end. Later in 2010, L K Advani discussed the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
If the country goes for “One Nation One Election” it will save a huge amount of money. There are 4120 MLAs in the 31 states and UTs. The use limit for assembly election is Rs. 28 lacks. Hence, absolute expense would be somewhere around Rs. 11 billion. Normally around 5 states go for elections each year. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, headed by E M Sudarsana Natchiappan in 2015 reported that simultaneous elections would help to reduce:
- The massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections,
- The influence on the delivery of essential services,
- The burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time,
- The policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time,
- Engagement of security forces for significantly prolonged period and
- Disruption in public life due to continuous elections.
During his address to the joint session of Parliament in 2017, the President Pranab Mukherjee said that “frequent elections put on hold development programmes, disrupt normal public life, and impact essential services and burden human resources with prolonged periods of election duty.” During same year in a discussion paper named “Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The What, Why and How”, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai of NITI Aayog stated that the general elections of 2009 had expenditure of about Rs 1,115 crore, and the 2014 elections about Rs 3,870 crore. The total expenses spent were several times more. In a report presented in August 2018, the Law Commission headed by Justice B S Chauhan stated that “Appropriate amendments to the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act 1951, and the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and state Assemblies would be required.” Even President Ram Nath Kovind in his address to the Joint Session of Parliament in June 2020 stated that “One Nation, Simultaneous Election is the need of the hour, which would facilitate accelerated development, thereby benefiting our countrymen.”
Some of the challenges are:
- Some political parties believe that local issues will fade away.
- It is also claimed by some experts that local parties will have a hard time.
- At present almost all the regional parties are demanding to conduct elections through ballet papers which leads to delayed results.
- According to the Law Commission, if the country goes for simultaneous election then the election commission needs to spend Rs 4,500 crore on new EVMs.
- Some Constitutional Amendments are needed for simultaneous elections.
For smooth implementation of simultaneous elections, some of the suggestions for NITI AYOG are:
- In some states, elections may be postponed for a while or may be held earlier so that later elections can be held simultaneously.
- States should be divided into two parts so that elections can be held twice in five years.
Opposition will try its level best to oppose the ideas put forward by the current government. On the other hand, in past years, we have seen the Prime Minister’s firm resolution towards the reforms. It clearly indicates that the ruling government will try to thrust this idea as much as possible. The “One Nation, One Election” is definitely a challenging idea but no one can deny that the nation’s economy suffers dents due to multiple elections. Multiple elections in a year leads to huge burdens on expenditure and even large amounts of manpower stay away from their core work.
“One Nation, One Election” is no overnight process, but with appropriate planning and required constitutional amendments it is accomplishable and beneficial.