CHIEF Election Commissioner O P Rawat has emphatically ruled out the possibility of holding simultaneous elections to the state assemblies along with the Lok Sabha anytime soon, which puts to rest all speculations going on about it for six months from now. There were BJP politicians talking how assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram, due in a few months from now, could be deferred and held simultaneously along with the Lok Sabha elections. Holding simultaneous elections could be possible, according to CEC Rawat, only if the country’s elections laws are amended. The idea of holding simultaneous polls was mooted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi more than six months ago and several BJP leaders have been talking about it ever since. BJP president Amit Shah recently called for a “healthy and open debate” among stakeholders for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. While the BJP has been pushing for simultaneous polls, the opposition parties have not been very warm to the idea.
Though Modi and BJP leaders talked about the idea they did little to start the process of amending the relevant laws to provide for simultaneous elections. According to experts, the lawmakers would take at least a year to frame a law that can be enforced. With the term of the Lok Sabha set to end in about eight months from now, it is unlikely that the NDA would bring the changes to the election laws. According to Rawat, the Election Commission starts preparations for the Lok Sabha elections about 14 months before the scheduled timeframe of polling and the process for the 2019 elections have already been initiated. It is unlikely that the changes, if made now, can be implemented by the Election Commission for the upcoming elections. What is more: merely changing the law would not be enough; the government would have to make provision for at least Rs 10,000 crore for acquisition of EVMs and VVPAT machines and give the suppliers time to make them available. Simultaneous elections would also need deployment of huge numbers of security personnel to man seven lakh polling stations in the country. It is owing to inadequate number of security personnel that the elections in the country have been held in phases.
Elections to state assemblies and the Lok Sabha were held simultaneously in 1951-52 and the process continued till 1967. Simultaneous elections were then possible as the parties used to get a stable majority in the legislatures. But politics started changing from the mid-1960s with the dismantling of the dominant party system of the Congress. That gave birth to many non-Congress parties and coalition politics; the stability of the government now depended on the coalitions stitched by the parties concerned. There were however governments falling and being formed in states owing to frequent changes in allegiance. Ever since 1967, the electoral cycle for the Lok Sabha and the assembly elections in the country has been staggered. Elections to almost all the state assemblies, barring a few, are held at different dates after the Lok Sabha elections. No doubt, simultaneous elections can save huge amounts of money. However, the Modi government woke up late to the idea.
The idea of holding simultaneous elections is desirable but not feasible. The government would need to build a political consensus, which is rather a difficult task. Also simultaneous elections might not mean stability. In 1999 Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government lasted just 13 days. It could happen to one or more state assemblies, with a minority government not lasting long. There will have to be fresh polls to the Lok Sabha and assemblies in such cases and these will have to be conducted separately. It would be absurd to dissolve all state assemblies just because a minority government in Lok Sabha does not last or dissolve the Lok Sabha if a government in a state assembly does not last. The Centre has to keep in mind that to introduce simultaneous elections it would need to curtail the legislature’s power to unseat a government, which means that no opposition party would be able to table a no-confidence motion unless it has the capacity to also simultaneously form a new government; or a minority government would have to be allowed to run the government. The government should rather let the elections be held as they are being held today in order to fortify federalism. Energies should be channelized to cure the ills of the electoral system like use of money, muscle power and divisive tactics, rather than forcing simultaneous polls.