One Nation-One Poll Debate – Shouldn’t Law Commission ‘firm’ on security count?

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

The National Law Commission has sought views of political parties on holding and conducting “One Nation-One Poll“.

At the outset, let me reproduce extracts of my article in May 2018: “To make strategic sense out of the ongoing acrimonious high decibel verbal duels, sans propriety, indulged by political leaders is quite simple and easy. Even layman would highlight that they will further exacerbate the existing communal and caste divides irretrievably.

And, with society divided irretrievably on narrow parochial and sectarian lines, there is no need for external enemies to dismember modern India. Indian political loggerheads – internal enemies – in ruthless pursuit of power are good enough to do it. Let none suffer from illusions.”

Thus, maintaining status quo over conduct of elections favor those out of power.

Let me briefly review the postures of various political parties. The BJP and the Congress Party have not appeared before the National Law Commission on day one of hearing.

Of course, it is well known that Modi initiated the debate during the Niti Aayog meeting held last year. Quite obviously, Modi and the BJP strongly favors the conduct of simultaneous elections.

However, the absence of the Congress Party before the Law Commission exposes its dilemma. Perhaps, its wise councils are divided on ideological grounds on the diametrically opposite sides. Their political pundits, perhaps, realize that national security interests cannot be promoted and consolidated by the current practice of conducting 24 x 365 days elections. On the other hand, the current practice of conduct of elections allows them to pursue “policy of divide and rule” considered vital by its strategists to reclaim power.

Be that as it may, political battle lines, on anticipated lines, are drawn in opposite camps over holding of simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.

NDA allies like JD (U) and Akali Dal have strongly supported holding of simultaneous elections.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), BJPs NDA alliance partner, which had supported the idea of simultaneous polls in the past, however, qualified its support with a caveat that the move should be implemented from the 2024 LS polls.

Samajwadi Party, Odisa’s Biju Janata Dal, Assam’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and Telangana’s Rashtra Samiti (TRS) favor holding of simultaneous elections.

Strongly opposing simultaneous elections are nine opposition political parties to include: the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), JD (Secular), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), AAP, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist, MIM and other allies since the proposal is against the “basic tenets of the Constitution.”

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), erstwhile NDA alliance partner, stance is like the proverbial “Cat on the Wall” – “while the One Nation-One Poll may be a good idea, but it was “incompatible with the Constitution and impracticable.” Earlier, it had opposed the proposal of simultaneous polls since it believes that it is a move to weaken regional political parties and its leaders thereby enhance the dominance of national political parties at the cost democracy and federal structure.

Now, in a volte face, the TDP has submitted no objection to simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies provided Parliament is not dissolved without completing the mandatory five years.

Review of merits and demerits of the proposal aims to provide a balanced perspective. Merits of holding simultaneous elections are simple.

One, the current 24 x 365 conduct of elections is the most heinous threat to national security and its interests what with acrimonious and slanderous “Warnatakas (political war games) on grand display. Two, virtually impossible it is to forge national integration and unity based on social harmony and peace. Three, debate, conciliation and consensus – basic tenets of democracy – would be perpetually disrupted.

Four, ruling parties and their leaders will be perpetually involved in electioneering at the cost of providing “Good Governance”. The TRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao in a letter to the Commission he said: “We know that four to six months of time is spent in conducting elections each time to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislatures. The entire State and District level administrative and security machinery is very busy with the conduct of elections twice in a period five years as per the current practice. Likewise, imposition of model code of conduct for such a long time is hampering developmental and welfare activities undertaken by the State government.”

Finally, what about the phenomenal costs to both the exchequer/treasury and also to the political parties and candidates? After all, the root cause of gargantuan envelopment of corruption is traced to holding elections on 24×365 modes.

Demerits of holding simultaneous elections are also simple.  One, those political parties and leaders rejected at the polls would become irrelevant or dumped into the dustbin of politics. No political platforms would be available to them for remaining in limelight as “Kings” or “Kingmakers” or even “leaders.

Two, it is virtually impossible to adopt constitutional amendments, particularly the vexed issue of the Tenth Schedule, containing the anti-defection law, which can’t be made redundant to give assemblies or Parliament a fixed full-term.

Three, media houses will lose their relevance as champions of democracy- loss of “Fourth Pillar Status”.

Four, many spokespersons and pseudo intellectuals will also stand to lose their photo opportunities so vital to remain in public domain.

Five, as per Justice Chauhan, holding simultaneous polls would cost a lot of money to the public exchequer and would be a huge exercise involving an overhaul of Election Commission and the requirement of “three to four times” increase of EVMs.

Admit and accept all alike that the risks and costs of conducting 24 x 365 days elections far outweigh expenditures that may be incurred in conducting simultaneous elections – grave social, economic and political security costs.

Furthermore, how can “Political Stability” and “Stable Governments”, which are an imperative for providing “Effective Governance”, be ever possible in such an absurd scenario?

Finally, since 1990, seven commissions have submitted comprehensive proposals suggesting electoral reforms. Yet, reforms implemented till date are restricted to introduction of EVMs, voter ID cards and holding elections in phases to ensure fool-proof security. Reforms, therefore, are mostly peripheral and do not address fundamental issues.

Be that as it may, as per constitutional experts, ‘Vote of No Confidence’ with a “Constructive Vote of no Confidence as practiced in Germany where no-confidence motions must be accompanied by proposals for an alternative government” be enacted by “amending the rules of procedure and conduct of business of Lok Sabha and a new rule in the form of rule 198 be added” to overcome the complexity of technicalities.

If media houses – as opinion makers – are genuinely interested in advancing and consolidating national security interests, it is high time for them to focus on how to “overcome” the ills tormenting Indian democracy.

In sum, if India as a nation is to survive with democracy defaced, distorted and mutilated, there is no alternative but the Law Commission to strongly recommend holding of simultaneous election in 2019.

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