Recently a voice has started gathering in favour of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies in India. The Prime Minister is in favour of it as well. And now the election commission has announced that it can hold simultaneous elections by September 2018. So should we celebrate holding of simultaneous elections in India? To answer this question we will need to know the advantages and disadvantages of holding simultaneous elections in India. This article does just that.
How are Elections Currently Held in India?
The control, supervision and overall responsibility to conduct free and fair elections to the Lok Sabha and the state Legislative Assemblies lies with the Election Commission of India. The tenure of the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures is 5 years unless dissolved earlier. Presently elections are held as per the duration of the Lok Sabha which may differ from the tenure of the state legislatures. In the case of states where elections are due within a gap of 2-3 months the elections to the legislatures of these states are held together. However elections to the Lok Sabha as well as all the state legislatures are never held at once since their duration are different.
What will be the Advantages of Holding Simultaneous Elections?
Holding elections together to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures will bring the following benefits:
- Reducing government expenditure: Holding an election costs crores of rupees to the government or the public exchequer. 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 there will be significant savings of public money that can be utilised for development works.
- Reducing party election expenses: Fighting elections costs huge amounts of money to the political parties as well who leave no stone unturned to ensure victory for their candidates. Political parties have to engage in continuous resource generation since every year there are elections in at least 2 or 3 states. If elections are held at once, then expenses of political parties will also be under control. This will reduce the role of black money in election funding since political parties will not be tempted to seek illegal sources of funding for elections.
- More time for development work: Right now ministers and their parties are in constant election mode since election to some or the other state legislature is just a few months away. This results in less time to devote to their official duties. 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 to their official duties and constituencies.
- Better utilisation of security forces: For holding elections hundreds of central police forces in addition to state police have to be deployed. Not only this costs huge amount of money but the security forces also are diverted from their core mandate of ensuring internal security in the country. If elections are held simultaneously to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures it will free up the security forces to devote to their core duties for the rest of the period.
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Hindrances or Disadvantages of Holding Simultaneous Elections in India
However, simultaneous elections is a concept that has many problems as well. As highlighted above, the term of Lok Sabha and state legislature is 5 years unless dissolved earlier. How can the Lok Sabha or the state legislatures be dissolved before completing their full term of 5 years? If the party in power loses the majority in the Lok Sabha or the state legislature then the President or the Governor can dissolve the Lok Sabha or the state legislature respectively. The Governor can also recommend imposition of Presidents Rule under Article 356 of the Constitution by dissolving the state legislature before completion of its term of 5 years.
Rule by the majority is the cardinal principle of Indian democracy. The concept of simultaneous elections goes against this principle since if elections are held simultaneously then the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies cannot be dissolved before completing their full period of 5 years even if the ruling party is reduced to a minority in the Lok Sabha or the state legislature. Hence the concept of simultaneous elections goes against the federal principles whereby each state has devised its own format and timetable of political competition.
Also, holding simultaneous elections will disown today’s reality of fragmented polity at the state level where coalitions are the order of the day. And where there are coalitions there is bound to be political re-alignments which will consequently cause changes in the assembly even leading to its early dissolution. So instead of accepting this aspect of Indian democracy, simultaneous elections tries to bring in a Presidential type of governance where the state assemblies no longer can decide their own path and have to be in existence for 5 years with a minority party in power.
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Update: Election Commission Says Difficult to hold Simultaneous Elections for 17th Lok Sabha
The Chief Election Commissioner O.P Rawat has virtually ruled out holding simultaneous elections to the 17th Lok Sabha in 2019 since already four states are going to the polls in December 2018. If elections to state assemblies are to be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha it would require a Constitutional Amendment in order to extend the term of these state legislative assemblies which are completing their duration of 5 years in December.
Moreover, holding simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies would require the procurement of 24 lakh Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and an equal number of voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) units. This is double the number required to hold only Parliamentary polls.
Obviously, holding simultaneous polls to the Parliamentary and state legislative assemblies requires almost twice the investment in EVMs and VVPATs then what would be required to hold polls to the Parliament alone. So the first objective of holding simultaneous elections – to curtail election-related expenditure of the government is not met.
So Should Simultaneous Elections be Welcomed?
Notwithstanding the benefits of simultaneous elections highlighted above, the cost to the Indian democracy in terms of playing havoc with the cardinal principle of rule by the majority will be far more than any savings to be realised to the public exchequer. This could also bring in dictatorial tendencies in the government of the day by reducing their accountability to the Lok Sabha or the state assembly since they cannot be removed from office even after losing the confidence of the House. Rather other alternatives should be explored to reduce election-related expenses like state funding of elections, decriminalisation of politics, bringing in transparency in political funding by linking Aadhar card to the Election Identity card which has still not been done etc.
What are your views on holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state legislatures?