Hon’ble Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s remark on holding “simultaneous Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections” has once again kick-started debates. Speaking at a conference on ‘Campaign Finance Reforms in India’, he categorically stated that frequent elections in India are a burden , both, on economy and on governance. Previously, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too had expressed his displeasure over governance delays caused due to ‘Model Code of Conduct’ enforced during poll time. He, on many occasions, urged countrymen to debate on merits of holding simultaneous Union and State assembly elections as an alternative to curb the frequency of this ‘necessary evil’. A comment by Finance Minister, during the time when second leg of Budget session is running , indicates that soon we might witness heated debates over this proposal inside Parliament.
A little insight on electoral history of India shows that organising simultaneous State and Center elections is no new concept. Indian elections, which started in 1951, successfully implemented this strategy for successive 3 terms , i.e. from 1951 to 1967. We used to have Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections at the same time. Problems arose when in 1968 and 1969 few state assemblies got dissolved prematurely. In 1970, 4th Lok Sabha itself got dissolved before completion of its five-year term and fresh elections were held in 1971.
The 5th Lok Sabha, under leadership of Late Indira Gandhi, using Art. 352 stretched its tenure till 1977. Since then, Union Elections and Assembly elections of different states developed rhythms of their own. This individual pace of elections embarked multiple problems for the country.
BURDEN ON ECONOMY
Keeping past figures aside and talking only about the current session, General Election 2014 was the most expensive election India ever witnessed. According to Election Commission, government treasury came under a burden of INR 3870 crores. It was more than thrice the amount of INR 1115 crores spent during 2009 Lok Sabha elections. If we add to it the amount spent by contesting candidates and different political parties , the total quantum of expenditure reaches unimaginable heights. A study by Center of Media Studies suggests that total expenditure in 2014 General Election was around INR 30,000 crores. This election made Indian elections 2nd most expensive elections after that of USA. Not something to be proud of when we have 22% of our population living “below poverty line”.
The saga did not end here. Since 2014, we had various seasons of assembly elections.
- September 2014 – October 2014 : Maharashtra & Haryana.
- October 2014 – December 2014 : Jharkhand and J&K .
- Jan 2015 – Feb 2015 : NCT of Delhi.
- September 2015 – November 2015 : Bihar.
- March 2016 – May 2016 : Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu & West Bengal.
- Jan 2017 – March 2017 : Uttar-Pradesh , Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand & Manipur.
Only Maharashtra elections had an exchequer of INR 500 crores. Delhi elections costed INR 200 crores while Bihar elections alone costed INR 300 crores. According to media reports, UP assembly election expenditure is expected to go up to INR 700 crores to 800 crores. On contrary if all these elections are organised simultaneously, then Election Commission approximated the total burden on government treasury to be only INR 4500 crores and that too only once in 5 years. This is a huge cut in cost in comparison to previous figures.
A mammoth complication that arise due to frequent elections is ” Governance Paralysis”. The ‘Model Code of Conduct’ is enforced by the Election Commission from the day elections are announced and is operational until it’s over. While MCC is enforced developmental schemes, welfare programs, capital projects etc. largely remain suspended. During Lok Sabha elections it is effective on entire country while during assembly elections it is effective on entire state.
We witness an average of 5-7 assembly elections every year. Each year we loose 2 to 3 months of valuable time of developmental governance to ‘Model Code of Conduct’.
【 IMAGE 】
Also, it hampers the ability of politicians to take tough administrative decisions. Suppose a party is ruling in one state. Elections are due in another state where the same party is contesting. Ministers in first state shall be reluctant to take to take tough calls beneficial for long run as it might influence the voting patterns in other state going into election. Such an arrangement leads to paralysis in policy making and implementation. Quality if debates reduce to Election centric, rather than being governance centric. Though this arrangement, without a doubt, puts a check on politicians from taking bad calls but for that we already have an existing system of elections in every 5 years. People can vote the government out if they don’t like it’s functioning. It’s high time that we look forward to a system that can emancipate the governance from this frequent election paralysis.
APPREHENSIONS Of Opposition Parties
Indian National Congress (INC), All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) , Communist Party of India , AIMIM, NCP etc have expressed their reservations. They have criticised the proposal of simultaneous elections for following demerits:
- Anti – Democraty.
- Influencing voters to vote on national lines rather than on state issues.
The merit of both arguments is, however, hollow. Till the time each citizen is getting the RIGHT TO VOTE for electing representatives at each tier of government, calling it anti-democratic is vague. Second argument assumes that Indian voters are immature. It assumes that Indian citizens can’t differentiate between their national and local interests. Well this assumption of considering voters to be immature in itself is anti-democratic. Even if voters decide to vote on national lines and choose same party both at Center and State, it will help in promotion of cooperative federalism and stable coalitions. It will put a check on regional parties bargaining national interests for their petty benefits.
Dr. S.Y. Quraishi , former Chief Election Commissioner of India, once said , ” Election has become the root cause for corruption in the country “. He pushed forward an urgent need for reformations in how elections are conducted in the country. Even back in 1999 the Law Commission of India, headed by Hon’ble Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, in its 170th report on ‘Reforms of Electoral Laws’ recommended simultaneous Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha election. The department related to Parliament Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law & Justice too in its 79th report (submitted to Parliament on December, 2015) advocated for the same. Since then, our Hon’ble Prime Minister has been quite vocal about this issue. He received support from Hon’ble President of India , Election Commission and from various think tanks across country. It’s high time we put aside the electoral debates and bring forward governance centric discussions into mainstream.