As India inches closer to the 2019 general election, the implementation of the ‘One Nation, One Election’ policy may no longer be a distant reality.
Since being elected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly called for this policy, wherein simultaneous polls would be held for the Lok Sabha and all the state assemblies, to be implemented. Other individuals who have expressed support for this move include former President Pranab Mukherjee, current President Ram Nath Kovind, and former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi.
Why One Nation, One Election?
Simultaneous polls for the central and the state legislatures are viewed by supporters of the policy as a way to cut down on electoral expenditure. On the part of the Election Commission, the resources that need to be deployed for different elections would see a massive reduction, as the same polling setup could easily be used for the two separate elections.
For political parties, the policy would create an incentive to spend lesser money on election campaigns by reducing them to a one-time expenditure. It would also get politicians and parties out of a constant “election mode”, something that does not happen in status quo because different electoral cycles across states and the centre translate to frequent assembly and Lok Sabha elections across the country. This, in turn, would create five-year windows for an uninterrupted focus on developmental activities.
What Do Non-Supporters Have To Say?
Those who do not favour ‘One Nation, One Election’ see it acting to the detriment of state-based regional parties if implemented. They express a fear that if central and state elections take place at the same time, bigger parties that are forerunners in the former and have more resources as well as visibility will get an opportunity to shift voters’ focus solely towards them.
At the same time, there is an apprehension that a five-year gap between each election in the country could create a sense of complacency on the part of governments in power. Right now, in order to stay or come into power across different assemblies, political parties have an incentive to keep delivering on their promises and working towards development. This could change entirely with the knowledge that once elected, they do not have to worry about re-election for the next five years.
What Is The Legal Status Of The Policy?
On 16 May 2018, a meeting between the Law Commission of India and the Election Commission sought to examine the legal validity of the ‘One Nation, One Election’ policy if it were to be implemented.
One of the biggest questions raised was whether the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, which is not open to amendments and is protected from them by the Supreme Court, would be violated by the implementation of the policy. There is no way simultaneous elections can be held without alterations to the current terms of legislative elections.
If all elections were to be synchronised and held in 2019, from the point of implementation, several states would require that their assemblies be dissolved before the five-year terms end. On the other hand, state assemblies whose five-year terms expire before the simultaneous election would likely have to be put under President’s rule, posing a potential threat to democratic conditions within these states.
In addition to this, implementing this policy would possibly entail a host of Constitutional amendments, including:
- Article 83 (Duration of Houses of Parliament)
- Article 85 (Sessions of Parliament prorogation and dissolution)
- Article 172 (Duration of state legislature)
- Article 174 (Sessions of the state legislature prorogation and dissolution),
- Article 356 (Provisions in the case of failure of Constitutional machinery in states)
- Tenth Schedule (Disqualification on the grounds of defection)
Enacting the various Constitutional amendments required for ‘One Nation, One Election’ would require a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, as well as ratification from at least half of the 31 state legislatures. The barriers that might prevent the policy from coming into place, therefore, are not merely implementational, and involve a crucial political factor.
While the future of the policy remains to be seen, it will need to be decided upon soon if implementation must happen in time for 2019.