The recent statement by President Ram Nath Kovind endorsing simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies just lengthened the list of supporters for the idea, after nods from Niti Aayog and O P Rawat, the newly appointed Chief Election Commissioner of India.
While it certainly has bolstered the central governments proposal to hold simultaneous elections, many political parties in the country have questioned the feasibility of the idea. Although speaking historically, elections in independent India were held simultaneously for the Centre and states in 1952 and up to 1967. The cycle was disrupted with the premature dissolution of some state assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and of the Lok Sabha in 1971.
The first 15 fragile years of a newly independent democratic India not only survived simultaneous polls but that period also carved the path for stable upcoming elections. India today is much stronger and has upheld the ideals of the Constitution. Therefore, for a mature Republic of India, holding simultaneous polls can hardly prove to be abrasive to its democratic fabric.
There is a global precedence in contemporary times for simultaneous elections in democratic countries like South Africa and Sweden where it is successfully practised. However, having regular elections in a country of sub-continental dimensions and immense cultural diversities like India is challenging. The idea to conduct simultaneous polls has been raised in the past when the Law Commission of India, headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy in its 170th report on Reform of Electoral Laws in 1999 made recommendations in favour, for the sake of stability in governance.
The latest was the 79th Report presented by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in both houses of Parliament in 2015, titled Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies.
Some of the arguments that run in favour of holding simultaneous polls point to its economic and practical usefulness. It will create economies of scale, remove a huge burden from the exchequer, reduce poll expenditure of the government as well as of political parties, condense the administrative burden for conducting separate elections every year and lead to consequent rationalisation of manpower deployment.
Moreover, the shorter and fixed period of time for imposition of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) will ease the chaos created during election times, ensure increase in the poll percentage, will foster the development programmes of the governments that are put on hold during elections, aid in resolving policy paralysis and governance deficit, thereby enhancing government efficiency.
It will also foster good governance, essentially because the government will not be driven by populist measures to lure voters to win elections and thus provide governments the opportunity to go for long-term structural reforms instead of playing politically safe.
There are certain technical and workability concerns associated with the implementation of the simultaneous election format, including notable amendments to the Constitution like Articles 356, 83(2), 172(1).
The most alarming ones are, weak legislative control over the executive and the marginalisation of regional parties or issues because of the influence on voter behaviour as they tend to vote for the same party at state and Centre that leads to the submergence of regional stories under a national narrative. This deteriorates the representative and federal character of democracy, as undermining repercussions will be witnessed in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) if the same party comes to power at both levels.
Frequent elections also constantly ensure accountability of the governments or political parties as every time they strive to perform better, improve on their agendas, communicate their intentions to voters, work on the loopholes etc., which make the voters the real rulers and remind the politicians of their public service role.
Technicalities such as fixing a schedule for simultaneous elections, adjusting the residual time period of the current state assemblies that are not co-terminus with the Lok Sabha by either cutting them short or extending them, guaranteeing the process in long-term as instability at some point is likely to occur in a few states breaking the cycle, etc., need to be addressed first. An arrangement has to be worked out to ensure the consistent functioning of this format without having to compromise on the basic structure of the Constitution.
For it to materialise, a tremendous amount of political trust among parties and a strong political will by the central government is required. Simultaneous elections is a welcome step in the backdrop of Indias sturdy democratic heritage and can become a tangible postulation if national consensus is built on the issue.
(The writer is a Research Intern with the Speakers Research Initiative, Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi)