Déjà vu: Is the One Nation, One Election plan feasible?

With the government setting up a committee to look into the possibility of conducting simultaneous polls, the notion of ‘one nation, one election’ is back in focus. Mint takes a closer look at the issue, the challenges it throws up, its merits and demerits.

Why is ‘one election’ back in the news?

Ever since Narendra Modi led the BJP to victory in 2014, the government has been talking about the need for simultaneous election to the Lok Sabha and all the state assemblies. A strong pushback from the opposition kept the issue in abeyance. On 1 September, the government set up an eight-member committee under former president Ram Nath Kovind to look into the issue. Its move a day earlier to call for a special five-day session of Parliament on 18-22 September rankled the opposition parties and fuelled speculation that the government may table a bill for simultaneous elections.

What are its advantages?

Proponents say simultaneous elections will lead to substantial savings. The cost of assembly elections for all states is thought to be 4,100-5,500 crore totally. This can be saved and used for the country’s development. That apart, because of India’s unsynchronized elections, the election cycle is almost continuous. As a result, the model code of conduct, too, lasts for a long time, and this affects administration and development work as parties can’t announce new schemes. It also puts pressure on the security forces, which have to be deployed to ensure that elections are free and fair.

Is ‘one nation, one election’ a new concept?

No. India had simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies from 1951 to 1967. Premature dissolution of some assemblies in the late 1960s and the Lok Sabha in 1970 ended that. Now, for instance, five states are due for elections later this year while general elections are due in May 2024. Globally, South Africa, Sweden and Belgium have simultaneous elections.

What is the mandate of the new committee?

It will look at the feasibility—constitutionally and logistically—of holding simultaneous polls. It will also suggest amendments to the Constitution apart from suggesting a framework for synchronizing elections. It will consider whether the move to hold simultaneous elections needs the approval of all states. The committee will also look into and recommend solutions to scenarios where elections throw up a hung Parliament or assembly, adoption of no-confidence motions and issues arising out of defection.

How have the political parties reacted?

Opposition parties have called the move undemocratic (as it involves dissolving elected assemblies) and against the principle of federalism (‘one nation, one election’ goes against the federal structure). They charge the move is to shift from a parliamentary to a presidential form of government. Some argue that local issues will lose out to national priorities. Experts also dismiss the economic argument: the cost of holding many elections is a tiny part of state budgets and ‘one election’ would need massive investments in voting machines.

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