- During the fourth governing council meeting of the NITI Aayog, Prime Minister Narendra Modi again called for widespread consultation on simultaneous elections in the country.
Highlights of the fourth governing council of meeting
- The Prime Minister called for widespread debate and consultations on simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas, keeping in view aspects such as the resulting financial savings and better utilisation of resources.
- States like Andhra Pradesh have demanded that 1971 census be used as reference for 15th Finance Commission as to not penalise States which have worked towards controlling population.
- PM asked States to give fresh ideas to the Commission for incentivising outcome-based allocations and expenditure correction.
- PM also emphasised that the Finance Commission devolution formula has to take cognizance of the relative backwardness and low per capita incomes of some States.
Background for simultaneous elections
- Frequent elections hamper long-term policy making because every decision is seen as bait for votes.
- Hence, to end this vicious cycle of elections, PM Modi had earlier recommended holding of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections all over the country.
- Now, PM has again called for widespread consultation.
History of simultaneous elections in India
- After the Constitution came into being in 1950, elections to the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies were held simultaneously in 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967 and all the newly elected legislative bodies were constituted between March and April in each of these years.
- In the first three elections, it was virtually one-party rule with the Congress Party holding sway over the voters almost everywhere.
- However in 1967, the electorate dislodged the Congress in a few states and voted in unstable coalitions.
- A couple of these governments collapsed ahead of time in the late 1960s, thus marginally disrupting the arrangement of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and all the state assemblies.
- However, the real damage was done in 1970, when early dissolution of the Fourth Lok Sabha took place. Since then, the arrangement of simultaneous elections has come to an end and over a period of time, the country has got into a vicious cycle of elections which has begun to hurt governance in a big way.
Objective of simultaneous elections
These are avoidance of:
- Massive expenditure
- The policy paralysis and governance deficit
- Frequent disruption to normal life, such as disruptions to traffic pollution, essential services
- Demands on security forces for conduct of elections over prolonged period
Challenges in implementation of simultaneous elections
- Implementing simultaneous polls would require a substantial shift from the status quo and would involve amendments to the Constitution and election-related laws.
- Some stakeholders fear that, there is the possibility of dismissal of state governments and premature dissolution of assemblies, which might interrupt the election cycle.
- The biggest challenge is achieving political consensus, which seems to be chimerical.
- Regional parties will be more opposed to the idea than national parties because there is always a tendency for voters to vote the same party in power in the state and at the Centre in case the Lok Sabha polls and the state elections are held together.
- The proposal for simultaneous elections seeks to address some weaknesses in our system, which should be addressed urgently.
- Hence, an alternate agenda for electoral reforms to strengthen democracy, federalism and unity of the country, is suggested, as the way forward instead of introducing simultaneous elections.Alternative steps for reforming elections can be:
- First, the efficacy and functioning of the Model Code of Conduct including its effectiveness and desirability should be reviewed and the design modified as considered appropriate by the Election Commission.
- Second, the experience with anti-defection law in terms of the functioning of the Parliamentary and federal systems has to be reviewed, and amendments made as appropriate.
- Third, satisfactory governance arrangements within the political parties have to be made a condition for continued recognition of the political parties by the Election Commission.
- Fourth, all reforms in electoral system should be considered within our Parliamentary system and the unique features of our federalism through which the country’s unity has been strengthened over seven decades.
- Finally, the desirability of simultaneous elections has to be considered if that is considered necessary after undertaking the above tasks.