Constitutional democracy is based on foundational pillars of elections, laws, judiciary, free media, executive and civil liberties. Unless these are reformed to be vibrant, every other executive decision whether economic or non-economic, would be merely shooting in dark wilds hitting the target only by luck and not by design or intent. At the root of Constitutional governance lies free and fair elections to elect an executive that reflects and symbolises aspirations of countrys masses. Aspirations of a nation are hierarchical in nature ranging from effective foreign relations to clean drinking water, a modest dwelling unit to livelihood assured. Hierarchy of aspirations of masses leads to Constitutional framework of governance comprising of national level Parliament, State level Assemblies, district level Municipal Corporations to Ward level authorities etc. In a democratic society matured to reasonable levels, aspirations generally do not change too frequently hence, electoral process is undertaken at pre-determined intervals as and when term of the executive in power expires. Aspirations too, exist in a hierarchical pattern and one political party may not be in a position or willing through election manifesto to honour entire hierarchy of aspirations of a given set of masses.
Electoral reforms constitute bedrock of democratic governance as executive is elected through elections alone. Every feature of elections viz. integrity, periodicity, accuracy of electoral rolls, mode of casting votes etc. have a tremendous bearing upon quality of governance. Out of these, an important issue pertaining to electoral reforms is One Nation, One Election (ONOE hereafter).
It is not that we in Bharata are completely unaware of benefits and advantages accrued caused by ONOE that nation had undergone from 1952 to 1967. It was elections to Fifth Lok Sabha scheduled in 1972 albeit preponed to 1971 that disrupted ONOE. However, now voices are being raised by various groups who eventually matter, in favour of ONOE and greater advantages than before foreseen. Foremost of all is Prime Minister Modi himself who exhorted all to undertake exploratory exercise to identify advantages hidden in ONOE in spite of plentiful experience already available. In fact the phrase of ‘One Nation One Elections’ was indeed coined by him only albeit supported by the then President Pranava Mukherjee in the name of ‘Simultaneous Elections’. KM Munshi, as member of Constituent Assembly, spoke vehemently in support of ONOE in so many words, “I would warn members to remember, one supreme fact in Indian history, that the glorious days of India were only the days whether under Maurya’s or Shivaji, when there was a strong central authority in the country and most tragic days were those when the central authority was dismembered by provinces resisting it. Provincial sphere should enjoy a large measure of autonomy but only subject to national power.”
On Dec. 17, 2015, an expert committee headed by EMS Natchiappan submitted a report, ‘Feasibility Of Holding Simultaneous Elections To House Of People (Lok Sabha) And State Legislative Assemblies’ wherein ONOE is recommended to reduce massive election expenses incurred in frequent elections, policy paralysis imposed by the Model Code of Conduct during elections, disruption in delivery of essential services and disruptions due to massive manpower deployment for every election held individually. NITI Aayog too, have been a conscious supporter of ONOE and one Chief Election Commissioner affirmed, Election Commission is well-equipped to conduct ONOE. Ex-President Pranava Mukherjee too added in one of his Republic Day speeches, “The time is also ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after independence when elections to the Lok Sabh and State Assemblies were held simultaneously. It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties.”
Sixteenth Lok Sabha elections were held in nine phases from April 7 to May 12 followed by nine State Assembly elections, all in different months. In 2015 two, in 2016 five States underwent Assembly elections while in 2017, it was seven. All these in addition to numerous elections for local self-governments, both rural and urban included. It is obvious, almost entire tenure of the Government headed by PM Modi during 2014-19 had been under Election Commissions Model Code Of Conduct !! That’s an important reason ostensibly, why Modi Government could not function to the best of their potential. Too frequent elections have deeply disturbed quality of governance and buoyancy of economy. Development projects were hurdled as politicians were more inclined to vote-catching populism rather than development decisions. With passage of time, elections are becoming prohibitively expensive as evident in LS-2009 and LS-2014 costing Rs.1115 and 3870 crores respectively. Client-patron relationship between political parties and electorate also raises the bar further, impossible to record accurately. Incentives and bribes exchanged are the main source of black money in the country. Frequent elections exert perpetual non-financial negative impact too by energising social boundaries on caste, race and parochial politics. If country is in election mode, there is no respite from these evils as after every election, it consumes considerable time for frayed tempers to subside. Model Code Of Conduct (MCC) has become a potent tool to cease and desist Government functioning or undertaking any crucial decision. Unpopular albeit highly desired decisions are postponed while the nation lands in an avalanche of populist albeit regressive decisions. Multiplicity of elections also degrades quality of mandate. Voter-preferences migrate in a short span of time leading to Governance-paralysis and Governance-conflicts, an atmosphere of political uncertainty or instability. Opposition to the national mission emerges only from regional political parties several of whom have no political base at all and constantly worried over their grave existential issues. It appears, to them it does not matter at what cost and disruptions one crore personnel were deployed as polling officials across 9,30,000 polling stations with Central forces guarding them throughout the country to elect 16thLok Sabha.
One Nation, One Election confronts all those issues head on without violating sanctity of federal structure of the Constitution till we arrive at the level of Constitutional maturity wherein federalism is rendered redundant due to homogenization Bharatiya society beyond a critical point.
Once a target year for implementation of ONOE is determined, a few State Assemblies may have to be dissolved prematurely to ensure, nation is in election mode only once in five years i.e. National General Elections (NGE hereafter).
If for any reason a State Government goes down under ONOE regime and no alternate dispensation emerges, Governor of the State shall rule over the State for rest of the five year term leading a team of advisers.
If no party is able to garner absolute majority in Lok Sabha and no workable coalition emerges, President may order National Government of all parties to run governance for the entire term. If National Government is not acceptable to political parties, then continuance of Care-taker Prime Minister with newly elected Lok Sabha in suspended animation is the next option. If that too is not acceptable, Presidents rule at the Centre may be allowed with President running the Government assisted by a Council of Advisers till politicians converge their wits into a coalition or national government. In this extra-ordinary scenario if at all re-election of Lok Sabha is ordered, it should be restricted to the remaining period out of five-year term subject to subsequent NGE under ONOE regime.
Before a No-confidence Motion (NCM) against a Government at the Centre is admitted for debate, champions of the Motion must submit ‘CV’ of the alternate Government otherwise NCM must be declined.
Bye-elections to seats falling vacant due to a variety of eventualities, may be conducted only once in a calendar year. No bye-election should be held if less than a year of legislative tenure shall be available to the bye-elected legislator after being elected to the House.
Necessary Constitutional amendments may be undertaken to facilitate switchover to ONOE.
It is always desirable and better to switch over to ONOE regime after switching over to Presidential form of governance from conflict-riddled ‘Buckingham Palace’ model of parliamentary governance.
ONOE rationalises, economises national resources expended to conduct multi-level elections to a great extent. Spending precious resources on frequent elections is a sheer waste of tax-payers money. It will also prepare necessary ground for switchover to Presidential form of governance with enough authority vested in the Office of President to ensure smooth functioning of the government. Element of centrality vested in ONOE consolidates strength in unity of the nation, dilutes plurality invoked to promote separatism. USA happens to be the best example of ONOE among large countries where it became institutionalised long ago and highly successful till date.
One Nation, One Election is a grand idea whose time has arrived and Bharata must adopt it earliest possible.