• Abhay Dhillon

Legal Craft: Simultaneous Elections in India

"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?’’

Are simultaneous elections good for us? The question is still answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘it’s complicated’. Since the time I last wrote on this topic, numerous statements have given rise to several assumptions, but have failed to reach a conclusion.

The Constitution of India prescribes five-year terms for the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies. Any change in this cycle will necessitate the amendment of several articles related to this in the Constitution. If any government wishes to adopt a new form of simultaneous polls, the existing terms of some houses will need to be extended or shortened as a one-time measure.

The Modi government has two workarounds to avoid amending the Constitution and yet fulfill its ambition of “One Nation, One Poll” for the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha(s). The first one would be imposing President’s rule in states where assembly polls are due just ahead of the general elections so as to hold the voting for both together. And states in which elections are going to be held soon after the Lok Sabha polls will have to be persuaded to dissolve their assemblies early so as to join the process. The second option is that the general elections will be advanced to November-December this year so that they are held along with the assembly polls in four states. The governments of Maharashtra and Haryana, where elections are due later next year, could also be convinced to dissolve their assemblies six months prior to their tenure. If somehow the current government is able to do this, it would increase the tally of the states having simultaneous elections with the Lok Sabha to 11 — Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh and Odisha are the other states where assembly elections are due alongside those to the Lok Sabha. And if due to different circumstances the general elections are advanced, then Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Haryana, and Maharashtra will have to be persuaded to dissolve their assemblies by 6 to 11 months so as to participate in the larger election process.

Seeing that this is the world’s biggest election exercise, the Election Commission of India (ECI) would have the job of conducting elections for a population bigger that of the Americas combined. Even with the introduction of VVPATs (Voter-verified paper audit trail) and EVMs, it’s a massive job with micromanagement needed at every level. In addition, the ECI would need almost 2,000 general and expenditure observers for a national election, and a proportionately small number for state elections. These are many senior officers on duty for almost a month at a time to safeguard the Model Code of Conduct and ensure a level playing field. One of the most important questions that arise with the concept of simultaneous elections is that in case a government falls midway through its term, can a ‘no-confidence’ motion be followed by a ‘confidence’ motion in order to install a new government for the remainder of its term? At present, there are no provisions for a ‘confidence’ motion. The Law Commission of India in its report of 1999 has dealt with the problem of premature and frequent elections. It had recommended an amendment of this rule on the lines of the German Constitution, which provides that the leader of the party who wants to replace the Chancellor has to move the no-confidence motion along with the confidence motion. If the motions succeed, the President appoints him as the Chancellor—in our case the head of the government.

All in all, there may be innumerable benefits to the state through simultaneous elections, saving us crores of rupees and several inconveniences. That notwithstanding, Assembly elections are fought on local issues and in the true spirit of federalism, parties and leaders are judged in the context of their work done in the state. Clubbing them with the general election would lead to a situation where the national narrative submerges the regional story. This could mean a regression for the federal character of the polity, which is best avoided.

Comments are welcome at polemicsnpedantics@gmail.com.

About The Author

​​Abhay Singh Dhillon is one of the youngest politicians in India and the District General Secretary of the Youth Akali Dal. A highly decorated student of Welham’s School for Boys, Dehradun, Abhay is a multi faceted personality. He possesses extraordinary oratory capabilities and has also addressed a large number of rallies in Punjab. Abhay was recently recognised by the IAYP (International Award for Young People), a thriving youth program which discerns the various hurdles, snags faced by youngsters and professionals.

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