With less than a year to go for the 2019 general elections, operational guidelines are yet to be fleshed out. There are no clear answers to many questions.
The opposition from political parties to holding simultaneous elections for states and the central government in India was evident at the weekend consultation meeting called by the Law Commission of India. Nine parties, including the JD(U), DMK and AAP, raised objections while four supported the idea. The BJP and the Congress were not present.
The commission, in a draft working paper released on April 17, had proposed ways to implement simultaneous elections and also sought the opinion of all stakeholders.
Supporters of the idea, which include the ruling BJP, are of the opinion that development and governance is taking a hit because, at any given time, a part of India is in election mode. They also argue that by holding elections at one go, poll costs would be drastically reduced. The 2014 general elections had cost Rs 3,500 crore, according to estimates from the Election Commission.
The law commission has suggested that as a one-time measure, simultaneous polls be held in a phased manner. It has recommended that for states that are going to polls in the near future, elections be held with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The remaining states will then hold their elections in 2024.
But simultaneous elections is an idea that looks good only on paper. With less than a year to go for the 2019 general elections, operational guidelines are yet to be fleshed out. There are no clear answers to many questions.
What will happen if a hung assembly is produced? What if a government falls before its term ends? If the government at the Centre falls before its term ends and fresh elections are called, would stable state governments also have go to the polls? If so, doesn’t that compromise the power of the state government?
Yes, the law commission working paper discusses possible solutions when a government falls before its term. In the case of a state government that fails a no-confidence motion, there is an option for opposition parties to stake claim to power without going to polls. This safeguard is not there in the Lok Sabha currently. To address this, the commission suggests that “…members while moving a no-confidence motion, may also put forward an option for forming an alternative government….This system is prevalent in Germany.”
However, such a move would require amendments to the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, 1951. At a time when the government finds it difficult to pass bills in Parliament, it will be a tough ask to generate cross-party consensus.
Many parties that oppose this idea fear that such a move would compromise the strength of India’s federal structure. Their fears are founded on the fact that results from the previous three general elections (2014, 2009 and 2004) show that the party/coalition that won the Centre also won a majority of states that went to the polls the same year. There is a fear that a powerful BJP could benefit from such a move.There are democracies around the world, such as Sweden and Belgium, which have worked around many of the questions raised earlier. However, in a nation as diverse as India and with 2019 snapping at our heels, it’s a bit too late to get the ball rolling.