(M S Shanker)
As usual, media has gone into hyper mode over the recent statement made by the Election Commission (EC) over feasibility of conducting the Lok Sabha and State Assembly polls simultaneously with a caveat that all the political parties have to agree with the proposal before such an exercise can be carried out is a non-starter; but aroused high decibel media sensation.
Let me throw some light on what happened t since 1990. Seven commissions have submitted comprehensive proposals suggesting nearly 20 electoral reforms. And, Electoral reforms implemented till date are mostly peripheral – introduction of EVMs, voter ID cards and holding elections in phases to ensure fool-proof security etc. They do not address fundamental issues resulting in systems atrophy. Thus far, lack of political will is evident.
The issue of holding simultaneous elections was first voiced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2016: “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.”
In his last Republic Day address, President Pranab Mukherjee had advocated simultaneous elections. Furthermore, Prime Minister Modi during his address in the Parliament while giving a ‘motion of Thanks’ to the outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee pointed out that during elections government employees especially teachers are assigned to monitor the election process thus disrupting their work for several weeks. Modi also highlighted the need for mobilization and employment of security forces both in and around the polling booth to ensure free and fair polls.
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….”
Of course, the issue has stirred an intense debate what with political leaders, analysts, columnists, constitutional experts, media anchors, civil society activists and many others expressing their views what with some opposing the move of simultaneous polls whilst other favoring them.
The EC has given the justification which is the generally held view, that is, “simultaneous elections will give enough time for incumbent government to formulate policies and implement programmers continuously for a longer time without interruptions caused by imposition of model code of conduct.”
SY Qureishi, a former chief election commissioner, has 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…..”
Senior politicians like L.K. Advani and even Nitish Kumar have spoken in favor of the proposal. But several opposition parties have opposed the move. Some even have termed it as anti-democratic move.
The issue has been discussed academically for several years and the ills identified and defined covering multidimensional spectrum. The NITI Aayog and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice concur with the proposal.
The NITI Aayog has pointed out that with elections happening somewhere in India nearly all the time there is disruption to governance due to imposition of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct.
Add to it, escalating costs — the 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 other internal security challenges and crises that automatically provide respite to the enemies of the state to regroup and recoup.
Ironically, the 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.
Majority agree to disagree, when follow up action is to be attempted. Elected representatives, particularly opposition parties have scant regard for debate, dialogue, negotiation, reconciliation and consensus – key elements of democratic processes. Political hobnobbing and hoodwinking is on grand display by leaders. Their duplicity, more aptly multiplicity, is phenomenal. They say one thing; and do exactly the opposite. How long can they continue to hoodwink people?
And, the critics of the proposal 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, either, 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.”
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao stated that the Central government’s “one nation one election” plan doesn’t seem possible because a majority of political parties may not agree. “It doesn’t look possible because so many (parties) may not agree. It’s a multipolar country, not a unipolar country,” he told reporters when asked about the proposal for simultaneous elections to the Parliament and state assemblies.
Surely, India’s collective intelligence and expertise of 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. Consensus among political parties is absolutely inescapable.
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.
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.
Taking the system in India, if it 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.
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 so constant a 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 current convulsions rocking Indian democracy.
Quite commonly heard refrain among analysts is that “democracy has developed many distortions in India”. Democracy defaced, diluted, desecrated, perverted and mutilated beyond recognition is real due to murky electoral politics. Few experts believe that it is subverted and sabotaged by elected representatives responsible for consolidating it. No wonder, democracy is perilously poised at cross roads – in disarray and in total disrepute. Systemic atrophy is real.
Let me recount a quote: “A good form of government may hold rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue with few bad men among them.”
Invoking Abraham Lincoln, one can also highlight, on the basis of record 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.
To be more precise, India’s round the clock electoral processes are outrageous and travelling on the course of self destructive path. Stating the obvious, India’s pluralist society dictates the course of electoral politics of democracy; or, its curse. Credibility of elections is a bogey. Today, their conduct is mired in controversies. Lest current democracy plunges nation into strife, one must redesign appropriate processes suitable to the chemistry of today and tomorrow’s society.
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. Political goons are on rampage everywhere incited and instigated by their masters, masquerading as claiming to be championing their cause.
How India may emerge as a nation – unified or dismembered – depends on how effectively leadership steers its course by overcoming strategic challenges arising out of vicious social churning consequent to murky round the clock electoral processes.
Going by the past trends, the intense debate is yet another fraud committed on “We the People of India” by political class as a whole.