[Answered] “Parliamentary elections in India have increasingly been influenced by State-level political variables beyond the performance of the ruling parties and the Opposition at the Centre”. In light of this critically discuss the feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies in India.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Analyse positives and negatives of simultaneous elections in India.
Conclusion. Way forward.

The Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India. However, frequent elections (for state and Centre), hamper long-term policymaking. Simultaneous elections are seen as solution to this with multiple benefits.

Why do we need simultaneous election?

  1. Frequent elections- There are frequent elections in one or more states and if the elections to the local bodies are included there is no year without some elections taking place. Frequent elections divert precious time, energy and resources of the nation.
  2. Governance and consistency: Elections in states lead to the imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) puts on hold the entire development programme and activities. If all elections are held in one particular year, it will give a clear four years to the political parties to focus on good governance. Simultaneous elections allow them to use precious time for social work and to take people-oriented programmes to the grassroots. It will help to overcome the “policy paralysis and governance deficit” associated with imposition of the Model Code of Conduct at election time which leads to putting on hold all developmental activities on that area and also affects the bureaucracy’s functioning.
  3. Slowdown development- With multiple elections in the country, the Model Code of Conduct is in force for much of the time, which prevents the government from initiating new projects and ultimately slows down development work. It affects stability and economic development as announcements are more for the vote bank than the development of nation.
  4. Economical- Expenditure can be reduced by conducting simultaneous elections. Simultaneous elections allow lesser amount to be spent on resources. It would reduce the massive expenditure that has been pegged at around Rs.4,500 crore. Thus it will save country’s resources.
  5. Continuity in economy- Continuous election has an impact on the functioning of essential services. Simultaneous elections will limit the disruption to normal public life associated with elections. The rallies and issues like traffic problems as well as loss of productivity can be reduced.
  6. Reduced manpower- Also simultaneous election would reduce the type of manpower and resource deployment necessary for the conduct of elections. It is felt that crucial manpower is often deployed on election duties for a prolonged period of time. If simultaneous elections are held, then this manpower would be made available for other important tasks. For instance for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which was held along with 4 state assemblies saw the deployment of 1077 in situ companies and 1349 mobile companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF).
  7. Peace in society- During frequent elections there is increase in communalism, casteism, corruption and crony capitalism. Simultaneous elections will reduce such incidents and will ensure prevailed peace in society maintaining social fabric.

What are the issues in implementing simultaneous polls?

  1. Confused voter- Not all voters are highly educated to know who to vote for. They may get confused and may not know whether they are voting for candidates contesting assembly or parliament elections. There is a 77% chance that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both the state and centre, when elections are held simultaneously. Evidence from Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Germany, the US and Europe supports the idea that elections that are held simultaneously produce greater alignment between national and regional election outcomes.
  2. Lack of manpower- There is a dearth of enough security and administrative officials to conduct simultaneous free and fair elections throughout the country in one go. Also it will require more manpower on a single day to ensure free and fair elections.
  3. Against multi party democracy- India is a multi-party democracy where elections are held for State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha separately; the voters are better placed to express their voting choices keeping in mind the two different governments which they would be electing by exercising their franchise. This distinction gets blurred somewhat when voters are made to vote for electing two types of government at the same time, at the same polling booth, and on the same day. There is a tendency among the voters to vote for the same party both for electing the State government as well as the Central government. This is a rule rather than an exception, not based on assumption but on evidence.
  4. Anti-federal- 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 could lead to a situation where the national narrative submerges the regional story. This could mean a regress for the federal character of the polity, which is best avoided.
  5. Consensus among political parties- The biggest challenge to simultaneous polls lies in getting the party political consensus needed to bring an amendment in the law. Achieving an all party consensus is not easy.

What is the way forward?

  1. Standing committee recommended a cycle of elections, according to which elections to some legislative assemblies whose term end within six months to one year before or after the election date could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha .For the rest of the states, elections could be held along with the general elections to Lok Sabha.
  2. Cost can be brought under control by ensuring that the legal cap on expenditure of candidates is followed by all parties.
  3. Accomplishing one year one election will be easier as it doesn’t require as many legal amendments as simultaneous polls for which the Centre will have to make five amendments to the Constitution.
  4. 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 Rule 198 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. If such an amendment to Rule 198 is made, the Lok Sabha would avoid premature dissolution without diluting the cardinal principle of democracy that is a government with the consent of the peoples’ representatives with periodical elections.
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