The Election Commission (EC) said on Wednesday (October 4) that it will be logistically capable of holding Lok Sabha and assembly elections simultaneously by September 2018. While the BJP – taking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lead – has been pushing for simultaneous elections for a while now, other political parties and political commentators have been less convinced.
The Indian Express reports that election commissioner O.P. Rawat, in Bhopal for the launch of ERONet software to check inaccuracy and duplication, said that the EC had been asked by the government whether simultaneous elections could be held. Rawat added that the commission had told the Centre about the additional resources that would be required to conduct elections at the same time. He confirmed the EC has received Rs 3,400 crore for EVMs and Rs 12,000 crore for VVPATs. The delivery of machines has begun and will be done by September 2018, he continued.
“We will be logistically ready to hold simultaneous polls by September 2018 but it is up to the government to take a decision and make necessary legal amendments for it,’’ the newspaper quoted Rawat as saying.
Assembly elections in seven states will be due by 2018 – Gujarat (terms ends January 22); Himachal Pradesh (January 7); Karnataka (May 28); Meghalaya (March 6); Mizoram (December 15); Nagaland (March 13); and, Tripura (March 14). All states except Mizoram will be done with their elections by September. In addition, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are also expected to go the polls by December 2018.
In April 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in the Lok Sabha, “These days there is talk of frequent elections. People say hold simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. Chief Ministers are here. They have to go to the people every five years. Sometime even three-four times as there are frequent elections. All parties are telling me how elections to Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha can be held simultaneously because things get stalled and a lot of time is spent on elections. Decisions remain pending for 40-50 days due to Model Code. Opposition leaders had also met me and asked to find a way out.”
In April 2017, the NITI Aayog also backed the idea of simultaneous elections, saying it is in the national interest, “to ensure minimum campaign-mode disruption to governance”.
Scholars and experts are, however, not so convinced.
Writing in The Wire, political scientist Sudha Pai argued that holding general and assembly elections at the same time might not work – both because of the logistics and because of what it may entail for India’s federal structure:
Consequently, today the states have come to occupy a crucial position in our federal system. The rise of strong regional forces and new social identities have ensured that there is a common arena of state politics that is conscious of its own autonomy, that is somewhat divergent from national politics. It is for this reason that every state assembly election seems like a national election, throwing up new challenges to national parties. The contest almost everywhere is between a national party and regional parties, while parties based in regions are also competing for power at the Centre.
Thus, apart from not being particularly feasible, the simultaneous holding of parliamentary and state assembly elections is not suitable in our increasingly regionalised, federal democracy. As competition is the essence of democracy, it would not be desirable to have an “opposition mukt Bharat”.
Former Lok Sabha general secretary P.D.T. Achary also wrote in The Wire about why simultaneous elections may not be healthy for India’s democracy:
Elections are the means by which the people renew their faith in democracy. Since 1952, we have a 65-year history of democratic elections. These elections, though imperfect in many respects, have served one noble purpose – they have ensured accountability to the people. The people have rejected those who did not care for them. Accountability is the essence of democracy. The fear of being thrown out by the people compel politicians to address problems. Frequent elections have kept the government on its toes. In our experience, once elected, representatives slowly move away from the people. If there are no more elections for five years, the people will surely be forgotten for that duration. Frequent elections will keep the bond between the people and their representatives strong. Otherwise democracy will slowly dry up.