Is ‘One Nation, One Election/Poll’ a wise idea or fraud?

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Is ‘One Nation, One Election/Poll’ a wise idea or fraud? The debates are intense with some favoring change and others obdurately supporting status quo ante.

Majority believes democracy has developed many distortions in India: defaced, diluted, desecrated, and mutilated due to murky electoral politics.  Few believe that it is subverted and sabotaged by elected representatives responsible for consolidating it. Democracy is poised at cross roads. Systemic atrophy is real. Most apt, “Democracy” is in the ICU on “Ventilator” about to collapse.

How apt is the observation of Joseph Story in his “Commentaries on Constitution, 1833” in today’s democracy in India: “The structure has been erected by architects (200) of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its compartments are beautiful, as well as useful; ….. And its defenses are impregnable from without. It has been reared for immortality, if the work may justly aspire to such a title. It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its only keeper, THE PEOPLE. Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.”

As per Association of Democratic Reforms, out the 539 winning candidates, there are as many as 233 MPs or 43% have criminal charges – a 26% increase from 2014.  In reality, democracy has been hijacked by Kleptocracy: “of the few; by the few; and, for the few” instead “of the people; by the people; for the people”.

Plato, Socrates disciple, had pontificated over 2300 years ago (Republic, VIII, Sections 562b-563e) “democracy ruins itself by excess of democracy.” Undeniably, India suffers from the ‘plague’ of excess democracy due to 24 x 365 days elections.  Political goons are on rampage everywhere incited and instigated by their masters, masquerading as claiming to be championing of their cause.

Will Durant lamented in 1929: “democracy without education means hypocrisy without limitation; it means the degradation of statesmanship into politics; it means the expensive maintenance, in addition to the ruling class, of a large parasite class of politicians, whose function it is to serve the rulers and deceive the rule”.

As per ‘Duns Dilemma’, democracy is the name for what we cannot have – yet cannot cease to want it.  So also, freedom and order cannot co-exist. For freedom, which is the main tenet of democracy promotes anarchy, whereas order breeds tyranny. The difference between reactionary liberals and authoritarian conservatives is also slender.

Invoking Abraham Lincoln, one can highlight, on the basis of 5000 years of history, that India can never be destroyed from the outside; if we falter now unable to counter strategic threats engulfing India due to short term gains of political power by elected representatives, we will destroy ourselves

No wonder, former President, Pranab Mukherjee advocated simultaneous elections in his final address as President. In the motion of thanks to the outgoing President, Prime Minister Modi pointed out that during elections government employees especially teachers are assigned to monitor the election process thus disrupting their work for several weeks besides mobilization and employment of security forces.

Recently, Pranab Mukherjee has reiterated “With some election or the other throughout the year, normal activities of the government come to a standstill because of code of conduct. This is an idea the political leadership should think of. If political parties collectively think, we can change it….”

In November 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reiterated his concerns: “Elections cause several impediments including financial burden…Therefore, the viability of simultaneous polls should be explored. He had further said that leaders from various political parties support the concept in private, but dither from speaking out in public.” Senior politicians like L.K. Advani and even Nitish Kumar have spoken in favor of the proposal.

The issue has been discussed academically for several years and the ills identified and defined covering multidimensional spectrum.  In principle, the Election Commission, the Law Commission, the NITI Aayog and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances have supported such an idea. SY Qureishi, a former chief election commissioner, had stated: “Our country is perpetually in election mode that as the current government pointed out, staggers government machinery. This will help check flow of money during elections and control corruption, casteism and communalism that tend to be perpetuated each time…..”.

Ironically, the latest debates have failed to highlight one extraordinarily significant issue, that is, 24 x 365 days elections create, promote and consolidate irretrievable chasm or divide of the society on caste, communal and class lines which is contra “NATIONAL” unity so vital for national security.

In sum, those who favor “One Nation, One Election/Poll” idea justify the proposal for various reasons to include: 1) Huge Expenditure; 2) political leaders, particularly Ministers including the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers, get fully pre-occupied/committed to wage the battle of “Ballot Box” due to round the clock strategic planning or intrigue of the most despicable orders sans ethics, morals and values and campaigning; 3) diversion of Government machinery including “Teachers” from performing their duties for periods varying between 2-3 months to conduct elections; and 4) Stalling of development programs on notification of election schedule due to provisions of Model Code of Conduct.

Let me briefly highlight some of the views of critics opposed to such an idea – political parties and leaders particularly those in opposition, intellectuals, media houses etc. Broadly their reasons justifying retention of status quo includes: 1) consolidates and advances the spirit of the “Federal Structure of the Constitution”; 2) since Article 356 of the Constitution allows the Central government to impose President’s Rule, what will happen for the remaining tenure of a elected assembly; 3) limits or reduces or eliminates opportunities for regional parties; 4) government expenditure incurred  insignificant when compared with expenditure incurred by political parties and candidates; and resulting ultimately in 5) subversion of democracy for it places the ruling party at an advantage in State elections to deploy government machinery for State campaigns.

As per the strident critics, citing expenses incurred in elections is not such a big issue in a country as vast as ours. If people want effective and representative democracy, people, society and the nation must bear the financial burden howsoever poor the nation may be despite compelling financial needs for welfare, growth, development and security. So, they out rightly dismiss the bludgeoning monetary compulsions as the reason justifying “One nation, One Elections/Polls” idea.

Be that as it may, such advocates also point out that a State election should be fought by the people of the State. Why should Ministers of the Central government and the Prime Minister go to every State to campaign? As per them, Central and other State ministers must not go on electoral campaigns in other states since it violates the oath of office which requires him to do his work as a Minister.

More importantly, such critics have serious reservation about the federal structure and its future should the “One Nation, One Poll” is accepted and implemented. They are quick to cite the famous Kesavananda Bharati judgment in which a 13-judge Bench ruled that “the Parliament does have the power to amend the Constitution, but that power does not extend to the point where the basic structure can be changed.” After all, Part VI of the Constitution obligates States to have an independent constitutional entity and existence. Thus, amending the basic structure by opting for “One Nation, One Election/Poll” is unconstitutional and a violation of the federal structure.

And, the critics have raised questions like after simultaneous polls are held, what if a full five-year term is interrupted by political realignments in an assembly, or assemblies? In a vigorous and diverse democracy, there is no guarantee also that the Lok Sabha will run for its full term. The point is this: Democratic politics cannot be, it must not be, circumscribed by an artificial fixity of tenure of the legislature. Such an insistence on uniformity and tidiness would only undermine the people’s will by making politics more unresponsive and unrepresentative.

Next, the idea of ““One Nation, One Election/Poll” will be death knell to regional and over 1600 political parties representing the aspirations and interests of various caste, class and communal groups. Also, local issues get subsumed by national issues. Between 1950s and early 1960s, there was only lip service paid by political leaders and parties to local and regional issues. Nowadays, local and regional issues play a critical role to determine electoral outcomes. As per them, conjointly they reflect the importance of States and vibrancy of Indian democracy.

But, such critics fail to realize the electoral sagacity of voters. No more, they are illiterate and blindly vote based on local leaders diktat. They determine their choices differentiating between national and local issues. For example, the electoral outcomes in Odissa wherein voters preferred BJD led by Patnaik for the State assembly but opted for the BJP for the Parliament. Add to it, voters choices differed quite significantly in the State assembly and Parliament elections in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh etc., what with elections held barely after 4-5 months.

Yet another significant issue highlighted by the critics is lack of transparency of electoral funding through the new scheme of bonds.  One, 70-80% of the income of parties on an average through bonds is from unknown sources. And, it provides an opportunity to convert black money into white. Two, 95% of the bonds was received by the party in power. Three, there is no limit on the expenditure that a party can incur whereas there is limit on what a candidate can incur expenditure. Four, the funding to all Opposition parties, big or small, is very small.

Ipso facto, election costs are spiraling: growing sums of money spent by the candidates, political parties and government, and the routine flouting of all caps and limits on expenses. It is the root cause for proliferation of gargantuan corruption – the most sinister internal-national security threat.

Also, massive expenses borne to conduct elections 24 x 365 days what with Central Para Security and State Police Forces employed to ensure peaceful conduct of polls. Most importantly, security forces diversion from their key roles of counter terrorism, insurgency and security challenges and crises that automatically provide respite to the enemies of the state to regroup and recoup.

In sum, India’s round the clock electoral processes are outrageous and travelling on the course of self destructive path. Credibility of elections is a bogey.  Today, their conduct is mired in controversies – the latest is the EVM controversy. Lest current democracy plunges nation into strife, one must redesign appropriate processes suitable to the chemistry of today and tomorrow’s society.

In retrospect, the current state of affairs in India truly reflects Locke’s, political science emeritus, lamentation almost 250 years ago, who stated in his book Second Treatise: “Things of this world are in constant flux …………… But things not always changing equally, and private interest often keeping up customs and privileges, whenever the legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people. How relevant and appropriate are Locke’s reflections to Indian democracy today!

Surely, India’s collective political and constitutional experts can find solutions to the vexed question: “How to proceed when a government falls in between its five-year term.”  For the new process to be practical and work, a change in legislation will be required.

A law commission report in 1999 had recommended a solution that could be used henceforth. It took a cue from German Constitution. In German parliament, when a no-confidence motion is moved against a chancellor, a confidence motion has to be moved as well. So if both motions pass, then the new chancellor is appointed by the German President.

There is no mention of a no-confidence motion in the Constitution. It finds mention in Rule 198 of the Rules and Conduct of Business of the Lok Sabha that states 50 or more members of the Lok Sabha can move a no-confidence motion. The rule says, if the motion passes, government has to resign and if neither party is able to form the government, premature polls are conducted.

If the German practice is adopted, it could possibly mean that the elections will be held in a period 5-year manner without violating the national mandate of government formed by the consent of elected lawmakers and people’s representatives. It could keep the democratic system from falling prey to political ambitions of leaders willing to sacrifice larger interests of the people.

Montesquieu in The Spirit of Laws (1748) reflected on the type of political order best suited to nations that “They should be in relation to the climate of each country, to the quality of its soil, to its situation and extent, to the principal occupation of the natives, whether husbandmen, huntsmen, or shepherds: they should have relation to the degree of liberty which the constitution will bear; to the religion of the inhabitants, to their inclinations, riches, numbers, commerce, manners, and customs. In fine, they have relations to each other, as also to their origin, to the intent of the legislator, and to the order of things on which they are established.” In sum, the chemistry of societies determines the type of political order most appropriate.

On reflection, democracy is ill-suited to the chemistry of India’s pluralist society. Political sages had emphasized long ago that the ‘Chemistry” of societies and nations in perpetual transformation is the determinant of political order/concept best suited to realize their full potential. The founding fathers – 200 of them – are, therefore, squarely responsible for prescribing parliamentary form of democracy most ill suited to the extraordinarily complex diversity of society.

And, they failed to consider Montesquieu prescription: “republics were best suited to the small countries, limited monarchies to the middle sized and more prosperous, and enlightened despotism’s to the large nations.”

In reality, the most heinous fraud is being committed on modern India by majority of covetous elected representatives on “We the People”. Its root cause is people’s blind faith without understanding its nuances.

How India would emerge as a nation – unified or dismembered – in posterity depends on how boldly political leadership makes a clean break with parliamentary democracy and the first past the post “elections system” responsible for the present chaotic and anarchic state.

It is high-time for the unceremonious dismissal of the “First Republic”.  Political leaders and those claiming to be intellectuals must formulate and prescribe the format of the “Second Republic” to save democracy in India starting from the fundamentals.

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