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Modi govt learning home truths?

Modi govt learning home truths?
Highlights

It is rather interesting to watch the Centre, which has of late been seized of the issue of simultaneous polls to Parliament and Assemblies, change tack on a crucial political issue dear to its heart It seems in a sort of dilemma on whether to go in for early elections for Lok Sabha

It is rather interesting to watch the Centre, which has of late been seized of the issue of simultaneous polls to Parliament and Assemblies, change tack on a crucial political issue dear to its heart. It seems in a sort of dilemma on whether to go in for early elections for Lok Sabha or to go in for simultaneous polls of Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Developments and observations by its readers indicate certain ambivalence on its part.

Initially, it was strongly in favour of simultaneous elections – even now the stated position is same – but now that a good number of state governments and political parties not favourably disposed to its proposal, it is understood to be doing a rethink on the issue. Even as the issue is yet to be discussed and debated at length by all parties and civil societies across the country, smoke signals are emanating that the Centre is also exploring the possibility of holding Lok Sabha elections along with states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram.

Speculations were rife that elections in all these places would take place in October or November. With Telangana State also showing interest, the Centre was contemplating to include it in the list of states where simultaneous polls can be held. But as the winds in the northern states are blowing against the BJP, it now appears that the Centre has finally realised that the grand proposals are not necessarily welcome proposals.

The comments made by the Union Minister Nitin Gadkari at Polavaram project site on Wednesday lend credence to such opinion. He stressed that the civil works of the project be completed by February so that he can inspect it before elections take place, thereby dropping enough hints as to the change of mind in the Central government. Thus, the General Elections are unlikely before March.

Simultaneous election is defined as structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronised. On paper, the proposal looks a progressive thought but then there are certain basic questions which need to be pondered over.

What will happen if simultaneous polls to 29 State Assemblies and Lok Sabha are held and if in some states no political party gets absolute majority. In such a situation, a coalition government will have to be formed. If the alliance fails and the government falls after some time, what will happen? Will there be President’s rule for the remaining period or fresh elections would be held for that period? If fresh elections are held for the remaining period, how can the successor government implement its programmes as it would not have full tenure.

This predicament will hold true if a coalition government has to be formed at the Centre and the alliance may break out.

There are any number of precedents where coalition governments were formed and collapsed soon. There is no provision to impose President’s Rule at the Centre. In such a situation will there be fresh elections only for Lok Sabha or for all the 29 states or will there be a national government for the remaining period since there is no provision to impose President’s Rule at the Centre. Is our democracy matured enough to have a national government? If all states have to go to polls again, then it would mean that States would be penalised if the Parliament is unable to produce a majority government.

Hence, the argument that if elections are held simultaneously to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures, the ministers and MPs and MLAs will be free for at least 4 years to devote themselves fully to their official duties and constituencies does not hold good.

One of the arguments in favour of holding simultaneous polls is that an election costs crores of rupees, and holding elections many times a year to the state legislatures in addition to holding the Lok Sabha election once every 5 years costs thousands of crores to the public exchequer. If elections are held simultaneously, it is contended there will be significant savings of public money that can be utilised for development works.

It is also being argued that fighting elections costs huge amounts of money to the political parties as they leave no stone unturned to ensure victory for their candidates. If elections are held at once, then expenses of political parties will also be under control. Analysts aver that the cost of elections to be incurred by the Centre even if simultaneous polls are held would be around Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 8,000 crore. It may help the Centre in cost-cutting but as far as political parties are concerned, the expenditure is unlikely to come down.

There are several logistic problems as well. It is not possible to hold elections across the country on the same day. Polling has to be staggered as we do not have necessary infrastructure facility for same day polls. Security forces, election machinery need to be moved from place to place. This itself is a herculean task.

A quick analysis of the proposal of simultaneous elections gives an impression that it has all the tendencies of causing immense damage to the Indian democracy and would play havoc with the principle of majority rule and the spirit of federalism. The damage to the basic democratic fabric of the country would be more when compared to the money the government would be saving.

It is also being said that simultaneous elections will ensure that no opposition party would be able to move a no-confidence motion against the government unless it is in a position to form alternative government in the event of collapse of the ruling party. This would rob the opposition of its opportunity to highlight the omissions and commissions of the government on the floor of the house. It may even bring in dictatorial tendencies. This would be against the basic principles of the constitution.

We have seen that during the budget session of Lok Sabha when most of the opposition parties gave a notice for no-confidence motion against the government and stalled the proceedings of the Parliament, the government, even while fully knowing that it would not collapse if the motion was allowed, stonewalled the discussion. If the new proposals of law commission are accepted, then undoubtedly it would give rise to dictatorial tendencies among the ruling parties.

Democratic politics has a tendency to be chaotic, but there are limits to the corrective abilities of formal legal provisions. On paper, it looks like a nice idea to streamline the staggered electoral cycle where there is an average of more than five State elections every year but in practice it would turn out to be a big blow to the Parliamentary system and federalism. So, what is the benefit of holding all elections simultaneously?

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