How many elections are held in the biggest democracy of the world every five years? The numbers are high enough for it to be a concern for Indian politics and governance. Well, if you’re living in Chhattisgarh, you’ll be voting thrice in 2 years, in 2023 for electing an MLA(Member of Legislative Assembly), in 2024 for electing an MP(Member of Parliament), and in 2024 for electing a representative to the local bodies. It’s totally convenient for some of you to go out for voting many times in a year or in a period of 2-3 years, and it’d be equally inconvenient for some of you. And you’d be totally frustrated if you’re a government employee who gets a call for election duties! Well, the consequences of having numerous elections are far wider than just personal inconvenience. In this blog, we’d be discussing the consequences and the proposal of one nation one election.
One nation one election: Elections in India
Before discussing the concept, let’s understand the electoral process of India.
In India, direct elections are held for electing
- Members of Parliament (Lok Sabha, Lower house of Parliament)
- Members of Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha, State Legislative Assembly)
- Local Bodies (Municipalities and Panchayats)
Indirect elections are held for electing
- President of India
- Vice President of India
- Members of Rajya Sabha
How are members of Rajya Sabha, President and Vice President of India elected?
Members of Rajya Sabha– Members of Vidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assembly) elect their representatives to the Rajya Sabha by the system of proportional representation through the single transferrable vote. Members representing the Union Territories are chosen in such a manner as Parliament may, by law prescribe.
President- The President of India is elected by the electoral college which consists of the elected members of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and the Legislative Assemblies of States by the system of proportional representation through the single transferrable vote.
Vice President- The Vice President of India is elected by the electoral college consisting of members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha by the system of proportional representation through single transferrable vote.
Who conducts elections?
The Election Commission of India, established in 1950 by the Constitution of India, conducts elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, Vidhan Sabha, Vidhan Parishad (State Legislative Council, present only in 6 states- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh) and offices of the President and Vice President of India. The Election Commission of India is an independent body established to conduct and ensure free and fair elections.
The elections to local bodies (Panchayats and Municipalities) are conducted by the State Election Commission, established in 1993 by the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments. State Election Commission is an independent body that is entrusted with the job of conducting free and fair elections to the local bodies.
First Elections in India
The first elections to Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas were held from October 1951 to February 1952. Afterward, elections for Rajya Sabha and the President of India were held in 1952.
The elections of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas were held collectively from 1951 to 1952, and the tenure of both the assemblies is 5 years. So, the next elections to all the Vidhan Sabhas and Lok Sabha would’ve been held in 1957, and this should go on. In other words, India followed the policy of one nation one election from the very beginning. But why do the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas elections are not held collectively today? What caused this disarray?
What caused the disarray?
There are several reasons for this disarray in elections, the most significant is the President’s Rule and Article 172.
Between 1952 and 1967, President’s rule was implemented in certain states. There were only 14 states back then. And article 172 of our constitution states that If the state legislature is dissolved before completing its tenure of five years, then the newly elected assembly would also get a tenure of 5 years. In simplified terms, if President’s rule would’ve been imposed in a state in 1954, then its elections, instead of being held in 1957, would be held in 1959, destroying the symmetry of our election cycle. And the case is similar for Lok Sabha if it gets dissolved. Though there were several other reasons for the dissolution of State Legislatures like losing the trust vote etc, President’s rule was the most significant reason. And as we all know, President’s rule is not always implemented by the Centre with the best intentions.
The practice of implementing the President’s rule by the Centre in states which were ruled by the opposition parties was a general practice before the coalition era and before the Supreme Court made it difficult for the Centre to implement President’s rule arbitrarily.
Problems with the normal elections
Election mode on!
The ruling government and other national parties with a significant outreach are always on an election mode. The government, most of the time, makes certain policies keeping the state elections in mind. And during the time of elections, it makes promises that are, though not good for the whole country, are good to attract voters of that particular state. For example, if the government has to implement a policy that would be beneficial to the farmers, then it’d probably wait for Punjab or Haryana state elections. Or if it had to implement a policy that the immigrants won’t like, then the policy would wait till the elections of Assam gets over. And who’s at stake here? The people of India.
How much money to fight elections?
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, according to a report by the Centre for Media Studies, nearly $8 Billion (55,000 crores) was spent by the political parties. And nearly half of it was spent by the BJP. Simply put, if you want to start a political party and contest in the Lok Sabha elections, you should have at least 25,000 crores to make an impact! And don’t forget about the state elections you have to fight in the next 5 years. And state and local elections can’t be won cheaply. So (just an assumption, the real value may be less or more!) a national-level political party must have at least 40-50k Crores to fight the Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha, and local bodies elections and make an impact. And the political parties spend most of this money to sponsor the election rallies.
For example, Uttar Pradesh has 403 Vidhan Sabha seats and 80 Lok Sabha seats. So, BJP has to sponsor 403 candidates fighting for becoming MLA (mainly for election rallies) and 80 candidates fighting for becoming an MP. Leave alone the Panchayats and Municipalities seats!
Where do the political parties get this money?
Well, where would you, wanting to start a political party to fight the elections, get billions? Funding! And who’ll fund you? Big corporates and capitalists. What would you do to get these funds? Make policies that favor them! Even if these policies cause harm to the general population and our mother nature. But you don’t have any other option, do you?
That’s what the political parties do in order to get the funds they need to fight elections. And when they come into power, the policies they make favors the capitalists, even if these policies aren’t best for the general population and the environment. And this is the root of the most widespread phenomenon in India, corruption!
With the model code of conduct being implemented before elections, the ruling government cannot implement any new developmental policies in the particular state. And the model code of conduct leads to policy paralysis, delaying the announcement of new policies which would be highly beneficial to the people.
Governance in crisis!
The Election Commission doesn’t have a large enough staff to conduct elections. So, as we all know, government employees are called for election duties. However, this is a serious issue, with three different elections (Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha, and local bodies) taking place at different times, government employees have to leave their work and go for election duties. For example, a teacher at a public school has to leave his/her work and go to election duties, affecting the studies.
Polarization at its peak!
Well, you surely have seen those uncles during elections who are so into elections that they even fight their friends over the choice of candidates! Well, the uncles forget about the dispute and become friends again after the election gets over, don’t they? But the story hasn’t finished yet, there are 2 more elections left! Some people want this candidate, some people want the other.
Well, this makes sense, as to how would the political parties get the vote? By polarizing the public. Communalism, casteism, and regionalism are at their peak during the elections. Parties tend to ask for votes on the basis of caste, religion, region, and everything except development! By doing this, the candidates give inflammatory speeches misleading people and groups leading to disputes among the people, and sometimes even riots!
Well, at last, there’s a great deal of inconvenience voters face to go out numerous times for voting. Well, being an active citizen of the country, it won’t bother you much, but everyone is not like you! So, the inconvenience could be one of the major reasons for the low voter turnout.
We’ve discussed enough problems now, though there’d be many others! Now it’s time to discuss the possible effects of one nation one election.
One nation one election: What would change.
Election mode off!
Well, the ruling government and the political parties surely would be on election mode, but for only once in five years when elections for all three bodies would be conducted collectively through one nation one election. The ruling government would be on election mode only once and would have the next five years to implement their policies for various states, without any disturbances caused by the state elections. This would surely enhance the quality of governance and policy implementation.
Less funding, less corruption.
As discussed earlier, the political parties, in order to fight and have a real chance to win elections, must have a large amount of money. And most of that money is spent on sponsoring election rallies and promotion of the candidates. We took the example of Uttar Pradesh with 80 Lok Sabha and 403 Vidhan Sabha seats and BJP would have to sponsor the promotion of all their candidates separately. But let’s assume that the election for all those 80+403 seats is held collectively through one nation one election. Won’t the cost of sponsoring MLA and MP candidates would reduce? As the parties, to some extent won’t have to sponsor each and every candidate separately. The promotion and rallies of both MP and MLA candidates of a particular area could be done collectively.
Hence, the political parties would need less funding to fight the elections, and this would reduce corruption (to some extent).
No more paralysis
With the model code of conduct being implemented only once in five years, the problem of policy paralysis would ultimately be solved.
Relief from the crisis
Through one nation one election, the Election Commission would need the government employees for election duties only once. So, if you’re a government employee, peace for you at last! And if you’re studying at a government school, no more election holidays!
Polarization is inevitable, as to how would the political parties get votes. But instead of getting polarized thrice in five years, it would happen just once in five years. Instead of seeing those politically exploited uncles thrice, you’d only see them once! The cases of politically motivated violence and sometimes riots would reduce substantially. Hindus and Muslims, Generals and OBCs, BJP supporters and Congress supporters would surely fight, but just once in five years, and things would go back to normal for the rest of the period.
Well, with one nation one election, you’ll vote for all three representatives only once. And this would, to some extent, increase voter enthusiasm and ultimately voter turnout.
One nation one election: Will it jeopardize federalism?
Well, this is a major concern that has been raised by many opposition parties. Will one nation one election jeopardize federalism? If we look at it objectively, India isn’t really a federal country, it’s a quasi-federal country (a federal country with a strong central government). Which country is truly federal? The United States of America. And America follows the principle of one nation one election. So, if federalism is unaffected in America, one cannot expect that Indian federalism would be jeopardized by this.
But why are the concerns raised? Out of the belief that due to strong leadership at the central level, mainly the Prime Minister candidate and due to his/her cult personality, like the ‘Modi leher’, voters would vote for the candidates of that particular party in other two elections(Vidhan Sabha and Local Bodies) even if those candidates are not good for that area.
Again, if we look at it objectively, this isn’t a very strong argument. Just look at Delhi Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha seats. In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP won all 7 Lok Sabha seats. After this whitewash of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Lok Sabha elections, one could anticipate the results of the state elections. But you can’t! Out of 70 Vidhan Sabha seats, AAP won 62 and BJP won just 8! How the tables have turned. The same applies to other states like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, etc. In a nutshell, PEOPLE ARE AWARE! They know whom to vote in General elections and whom to vote in State elections.