The sacrosanct Constitution of India has laid down

The preamble which is the key to the sacrosanct
Constitution of India has laid down that the main objective of the state is to
establish a democratic, republic,
sovereign, socialist and secular state. India
also has proudly stood as the largest democracy in the world. But sadly,
instead of ‘democracy of elections in every five years’ it has converted into a
‘democracy of frequent elections’ or elections almost every year. Within a 5
year tenure of the Lok Sabha, the nation witnesses, on an average, elections to
about 5-7 State Assemblies every year. Five states, had gone to polls in 2017,
13 states are poll bound in 2018 and nine states in 2019. As evident, each year
witnesses one election or the other. And it does not end here. There are
elections for the third tier of the Government machinery i.e. Panchayati Raj
elections/ Municipal bodies, etc. No doubt, these elections have an aggravating
impact on the Government machinery not only in the poll bound states but also
on the governance at large (this will be discussed in detail later). Taking
note of these peculiar conditions and circumstances, many leaders and also
those in charge of the administration have voiced their concerns and are
speaking of an alternative system of conducting elections.

Back in
1983, the Election Commission had raised this issue, when it had said that “a
stage has come for evolving a system…under which elections to the House of
People and legislative assemblies are held simultaneously.” The Law Commission,
headed by Justice BP Jeevan Reddy, in its 170th report in May 1999, had called
for an end to “this cycle of elections every year and out of season” and had recommended
that “we must go back to the situation where the election to the Lok Sabha and
all the legislative assemblies are held at once”. LK Advani had advocated
simultaneous elections a decade and a half ago when he was the Deputy PM. Advani had said that “five years in the
government have made us intensely conscious of the fact that the ruling party
remaining in a continuous election mood was a serious handicap for good
governance.”1 The
current PM, Narendra Modi, has repeatedly advocated returning to the
simultaneous national and state elections that prevailed in India till 1967. He
has tasked the law ministry under his senior colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad to
work out the strategies on implementing ‘One Nation, One Election’ project in
2019.

 “One
Nation, One Election” is a term which is used for “Simultaneous Elections”
across the country. The idea is to structure the Indian election cycle in a
manner that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronized
together. This means that a voter would normally cast his/her vote for electing
members of Lok Sabha and State Assembly on a single day and at the same time.
To elucidate, simultaneous elections do not mean that voting across the country
for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies should happen on a single day. This can be
conducted in a phase- wise manner as per the existing practice, provided,
voters in a particular constituency vote for both the State Assembly and Lok
Sabha the same day.

The concept of simultaneous elections is not
new in the country. The first general elections to the Lok Sabha and all the State
Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously in 1951- 52. This practice was continued
over three subsequent general elections held in the years- 1957, 1962 and 1967.
The premature dissolution of the Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 was
the first disruption of this practice. The Fourth Lok Sabha dissolved
prematurely in 1970 and fresh elections were held in 1971. The first, second
and third Lok Sabha had full five year terms. The term of fifth Lok Sabha had
extended till 1977 under Article 352. After this only the eighth, tenth, fourteenth
and fifteenth Lok Sabha were able to complete their full five year terms. The sixth,
seventh, ninth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth Lok Sabha had dissolved
prematurely. Similar issues were faced by various state assemblies over a
period of time. As a result of all such premature dissolutions and extensions, after
1967, the cycle of simultaneous elections had disrupted firmly and the
delinking between Lok Sabha and State Assemblies elections has widened ever since.

In the current scenario of deteriorating
standards of elective politics, frequent elections stand as the biggest factor
for the plethora of ills that are associated with our democracy. Incessant demands of elections are exorbitantly
expensive, derail governance and cause policy paralysis which is the underlying
premise for the clamour for simultaneous elections. One thing which has
been knocking is that India is on
a “permanent campaign’ mode (a phrase coined by Sidney Blumenthal). India has
had either a state or a national election every year for the last 30 years.2 The adverse effects of
frequent elections are too big a luxury for our country to afford.3 A three-fold argument can
be given against the existing electoral cycle.

Cost Efficiency

Firstly, it is not cost efficient. Frequent elections, as we witness
them from months to months, cost colossal sum of money. In 2014, Lok Sabha
elections the total expenditure that had incurred was equivalent to RS 3,426
Crores to the national exchequer, a substantial jump of 131 per
cent over the expenses that had incurred in 2009. Imagine that this amount is
added to the annual budget. It is to be noted that the health budget of the
National Capital has constituted RS 5,736 Crores, which amounts to 60% increase
in the health budget or say the same could be added to any state’s education
allocation of the year. It can be fairly argued that if Simultaneous Elections had
taken place then also such expenditure would have incurred. But there is a
catch! The “double expenditure” problem. The 16th Lok Sabha elections were held along with elections
for 4 State Assemblies i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and
Odisha. Not only this, these battles had followed by some other State battles:
– September 2014 – October 2014: Maharashtra and Haryana;
October 2014 – December 2014: Jharkhand and J&K; Jan 2015 – Feb 2015: NCT
of Delhi; September 2015 – November 2015: Bihar; March 2016 – May 2016: Assam,
Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. 4 This of course, not being the
end, the list has been continuing. The latest being the State Assembly
elections held in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat during November- December 2017. So,
the problem of ‘Double expenditure’ has arisen here i.e. as a state goes for
election twice at different times, there is a double expenditure which has to
be incurred by the political parties, government machinery etc.

It is being argued that expenditure can still be reduced by
bringing a strict limit on election expenses for all parties. Transparency in
funding can help in making parties accountable and thereby, reducing the
expenditure. It is imperative
to mention, in 2014, the government cleared a proposal of the Election
Commission to raise the expenditure limits for Lok Sabha elections by amending
Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. The ceiling on poll expenditure
had raised from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 70 lakh for each Lok Sabha constituency in
bigger states and from Rs 22 lakh to Rs 54 lakh in smaller states.5
Much more amusing is that the Union Government had brought in numerous amendments which no doubt has an ulterior motive and
it had opened floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties
and anonymous financing by Indian and foreign companies, which can have serious
repercussions on the Indian democracy. These amendments are:- Section 31, the
Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 through Part  III, Section 135 of the
Finance Act, 2017, Section 29C, the Representation of the People Act, 1951
through Part – IV,  Section 137 of the
Finance Act, 2017, Section 13A, the Income Tax Act. Also, in Ashwini Kumar
Upadhyay v. Union of India6
and many other related matters the Central Government has not moved its
cemented stand that ‘Political Parties cannot be brought within the ambit of IT
act. So there is no point of transparency at all.

Policy
Paralysis

The second argument is
that the present trend of conducting elections has caused policy paralysis. Policy
paralysis results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during
election time.7 What is the Model Code of Conduct?
The Model Code of Conduct for guidance of political parties and candidates is a
set of norms which has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who
have consented to abide by the principles embodied in the said code and also
binds them to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit. Through such
regulations it is also ensured that official machinery for the electoral
purposes is not misused. Further, it is also ensured that electoral offences,
malpractices and corrupt practices such as impersonation, bribing and
inducement of voters, threat and intimidation to the voters are prevented by
all means. The power to enforce the Model Code of Conduct has evolved from
Article 324 of the Constitution of India. It is applicable from the date of
announcement of election schedule by the Election Commission and is operational
till the process of elections are completed.

In a layman’s
language, this code of conduct has implied a set of restrictions on the
political parties fighting the elections including the party in power. So, when
the frequent elections take place it is argued that this has derailed governance and has caused policy paralysis. To
explain this premise, it is pertinent to look for answers to some vital questions.
Whether Govt. can make transfers and postings of officials who are
related to election work? No! There shall be a total ban on the transfer and
posting of all officers/officials directly or indirectly connected with the
conduct of the election. If any transfer or posting of an officer is considered
necessary, prior approval of the Commission shall be obtained. Whether a
Minister of Union or State can summon any election related officer of the
constituency or the State for any official discussion during the period of
elections? No Minister, whether of Union or State, can summon any election
related officer of the constituency or the State for any official discussions
anywhere. Whether a Minister or any other authority can sanction grants/
payments out of discretionary funds? No Ministers and other authorities shall
not sanction grants/payments out of discretionary funds from the time elections
are announced. Whether fresh release of funds under MPs/MLAs/MLCs Local Area
Development Fund of any scheme can be made? No Fresh release of funds under
MPs/MLAs/MLCs Local Area Development Fund of any scheme shall not be made in
any area where election is in progress, till the completion of the election
process

Now, there are
various rural development programmes/ schemes of Central government like Indira
Awas Yojana, Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana, Swaranjayanti Gram Swarozgar
Yojana, National Food for Work programme, National Rural Employment Guarantee
Act. There are many guidelines which follow the implementation of such
scheme/programme. It is to be observed that even most of the beneficiary
schemes aimed at the downtrodden sections of society cannot be enforced. In
addition to this, no Ministry or authority is entitled to announce any financial
grants or lay foundation stones of any project or schemes. Even the basic provisions
of drinking water facilities or construction of roads cannot be made except by
a senior government officer. Furthermore, no ad hoc appointments can be made in
the Government and no fresh release of funds on welfare schemes and works can
be made by those sitting in power.

An accumulated
effect and quintessential aspect of some of these mentioned restrictions and
other numerous restrictions is that the elected government along with the other
supporting authorities has faced a ‘partial paralysis attack’ onto their powers
and command. Needless to mention at this juncture of time when states are
fighting for greater autonomy, most interesting being The GNCTD v. Union Of India8, wherein
the impugned judgment of Delhi High Court is under challenge which provided its
imprimatur on the proposition that “the Lt. Governor of Delhi is the
administrative head of National Capital Territory of Delhi”.

Competitiveness and
Productivity

The final argument against the present cycle of
elections is the lack of competitiveness and productivity. The Election
Commission of India has taken help of the polling officers as well as the armed
forces to ensure smooth conducting of the polls. While conducting elections to
the 16th Lok Sabha, the ECI had taken the help of approximately 10 million
personnel as polling officials for running and supervising the election process
across 9,30,000 Polling Stations of the country.9
To provide the security arrangements, the Election Commission has involved the
Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). But due to a huge demand of the security
personal and lack of the required numbers, to complement the security
arrangements, other police forces such as the State Armed Police, the Home
Guards, the District Police etc. are also deployed. The deployment of security
forces (particularly the CAPF) is ordinarily all through the elections and they
remain travelling from one place to another. Further, it is important to note
that the security forces have to gear for their role much before polling and
this ends only after the votes are counted and results are declared. This
covers almost the entire duration of the elections. A situation like this is
uncalled-for as it takes away a significant portion of the armed personal for
an extended period of time. Now, considering the number of times the state
assemblies go to polls and the fact that our country faces constant threats
from terrorism and other external as well as internal enemies, this lock-in of
CAPF and state police forces has taken away the basic responsibility from them for
which they were deployed.

Although the deployment in case of simultaneous
elections will be a huge task in terms of numbers and logistics, the need for
deploying them time and again would be avoided. The same is the case for other
election personnel as well. Over a crore government employees, including a
large number of teachers, are involved in the electoral process.10
The duplication of work will also be avoided in terms of transporting polling
material, EVMs and setting up polling booths.

The recurrent elections tend to disrupt the
normal public life and adversely affect the functioning of essential services. There
are frequent disruption of road traffic by political rallies and noise
pollution.  The Parliamentary Standing
committee on Personnel, Public grievances, Law and justice had noted that the frequent
elections lead to disruption of normal public life and impact the functioning
of essential services. The political rallies conducted during the election time
not only disrupt the road traffic but also cause noise pollution The Committee had
made the suggestion that holding of simultaneous elections can help contain
this disruption to a certain pre-determined period of time.

Every
important decision of the government such as budget is also influenced by the consideration
as to how the voter will react i.e. political expediency overtakes genuine
public welfare and national interest. The short term gains have triumphed over
a long term perspective vision of growth. In a recent article11,
the Hon’ble Minister of Urban Development Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu had noted that
the cycle of continuous elections has not only affected the developmental
process and good governance, but has also forced the political class to
typically think in terms of immediate electoral gains rather than focus on
long-term programmes and policies for the overall progress of the nation and
its people.  Dr. S.Y. Quareshi (former
Chief Election Commissioner) had made an important observation that “elections are polarizing events which have
accentuated casteism, communalism, corruption and crony capitalism. If the
country is perpetually on election mode, there is no respite from these evils.
Holding simultaneous elections would certainly help in this context”. After
all, who wants the vote banks to be nurtured and polarized on caste lines and
further accentuate these narrow vote oriented outlooks.

Furthermore,
simultaneous elections will help in saving time. In India, half of the year is
spent by politicians engaged in forming strategies for the impending election
in one or the other state and debating the actions of the competing parties.
The time that is taken up by the blame game can definitely be used for
something productive. On the part of common people too, it would be time saving to
cast both the votes together.

Some people have contended
that such a modus of conducting elections would affect the federal polity and
democracy of the country. Such reservations are completely unsubstantiated as
the synchronized elections will help in a better coordination between
governments at the Centre and in various States and not make the country a
unitary state. The country will achieve progress when the Centre and State act
as equal partners notwithstanding the fact that who is governing at the Central
and the regional levels. We can look into federal and provincial legislatures
in other countries. In South Africa, elections to national as
well as provincial legislatures are held simultaneously for five years and
municipal election are held two years later. In Sweden election to national
legislature (Riksdag) and provincial legislature/county council (Landsting) and
local bodies/municipal Assemblies (Kommunfullmaktige) are held on a fixed date
i.e. second Sunday in September for four years (last was held on 14th
September, 2014 and the forthcoming one is slated on 9th September, 2018).12

Critics have also
expressed the fear that when it comes to simultaneous elections, the voters
will choose same party for both the Centre and the State government. Such an
idea is unfounded as India’s democracy and political diversity will not allow
that to happen. India’s voters can make a decision for themselves and what is
in their best, regardless of the methods adopted by national and regional
parties to persuade them. There is no reason why the representatives of the
people should be given a chance to impose premature and expensive elections on
the country.

Neither
the simultaneous election to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies nor
mid-term poll is contemplated in the Constitution. But till 1967, simultaneous
elections for Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies had continued.
Mid-term polls are the last resort as a political necessity under Article 356
of Constitution. The normal duration of elected bodies is five years. Article
83(2) of the Constitution of India has spoken about the duration of the Lok
Sabha and has stated “unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years…”
Article 172(1) has used the same expression and the provision has read that “every Legislative Assembly of every State,
unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed
for its first meeting…” There are other methods too by which early
dissolution can be brought, hence breaching the cycle of simultaneous
elections.  The PM or CM can advise the
president or the governor, whatever is appropriate according to the case, to
dissolve the Lok Sabha or state assembly prematurely. If such a case arises,
the president or the governor should give the decision in such a manner that it
does not deny an equal opportunity to the opposition. No one should be allowed
to force sudden elections to achieve electoral advantage. Another scenario in
which mid-term polls are conducted is when no-confidence motion is passed
against a government or the government’s no confidence motion is defeated. In
either of these cases, the president or the governor invites the leader of
opposition to form the government. If a government is not formed, the house is
dissolved, and as stated earlier, mid-term elections are the last resort.

Power under Article 356 should not be misused. In
the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court, S.R. Bommai v. Union of India13,
the court had discussed the provisions of Article 356 in detail. The court had held
that the majority enjoyed by the Council of Ministers shall be tested on the
floor of the house. To avoid premature dissolution an
amendment to Rule 198 of the Rules and Conduct of Lok Sabha should be done on
the lines of the German constitution, as was recommended in the 170th
report of the Law Commission of India. Rule 198 states that 50 or members can
move a no-confidence motion. If the no-confidence motion succeeds, the elected
government has to resign and the next step is premature elections. The German Constitution 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. Such an amendment in Rule 198
would also be consistent with the idea of collective responsibility of the
government to the House as mentioned in Article 75(3) of the Constitution.

Despite all the difficulties and other
intermittent setbacks that might be faced, the huge participation of the voters
in the elections is a reflection of the belief of the Indian people in the
tradition of democracy in the country. This trust should not be lost in the
bizarre democracy of elections after elections. One thing is clear from the
above discussion, all the issues we are facing now whether in terms of cost of
conducting elections or administrative burden or the other ill-effects that
come with frequent elections, cannot be borne by a developing country like
India. These problems can be resolved if we return to the good old ways of
conducting synchronized elections. Political parties, which have to work for
the larger interest of the nation, should put an effort towards building a
consensus on the idea of “One Nation, One Election”. After all, democracy is
not about frequent elections.

1 ‘Govt. for synchronizing polls: Advani’
(Times of India, 2017) accessed
on 15 November 2017.

2 (eci.nic.in)
accessed November 15, 2017.

3 Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, ‘Frequent
Elections Impacting Governance’ (Outlook
India, 8 July 2003)
accessed 15 November 2017.

4 (eci.nic.in)
accessed November 15, 2017.

5 “Ceiling of Poll Expenditure”
(emp-news-intro) accessed November 15,
2017.

6  Writ
Petition ( Civil ) of 2017

7 Rao P, “Feasibility of holding
simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies”
accessed November 15, 2015.

8 Civil Appeal No.-2357/2017

9 accessed
November 15, 2015.

10 Niti Ayog Favours Simultaneous Assembly
Polls From 2024″ accessed November
15, 2015.

11 “Views of Hon’ble Minister of Urban
Development” (The Hindu) accessed November 15,
2017.

12 “Feasibility of holding simultaneous
elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies”
(Parliament of India) rep.

13 SR Bommai v Union of India 1994 SC
1918 (AIR).