Simultaneous Elections in India

An election is a process through which people choose an individual or an organization to hold public office. Since the 17th century, elections have been used as an intrinsic feature for representation in a democracy[1], wherein the people democratically elect the head of the state by their vote. In a democratic election of a state, the people vote for a party or an organization from the listed political parties and the entity or an individual who gets the majority votes is said to be democratically elected head.

Being a democratic nation, India also implements the same democratic election for the appointment of the head of the state, region and local body. Embraced with a parliamentary setup, India is divided in states and union territories and has a federal governance setup i.e. there exists a division of power between the national central government (Lok Sabha) and the local state government(State Legislative Assembly). The election of the representatives for the central government, the local state government and the village administrations are conducted separately for a tenure of 5 years by the Election Commission of India.

Simultaneous Elections (SE)

The concept of Simultaneous Election proposes to organize the elections of the Lok Sabha, the State Legislative Assemblies, the local administration bodies and panchayats at the same time, once in five years. Comprising 29 states, India has faced complications of the recurrent polling of the states at different times. Thus, the idea of simultaneous election is propounded in the light of the shortcomings of the frequent elections in India. It is also termed as “One Election, One Vote”.

History of Simultaneous Elections in India

After Independence in 1947, the first Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas elections were held simultaneously in 1951-52. The same election procedure was followed for three subsequent legislature elections (1957, 1962 and 1967) until the premature dissolution of some Vidhan Sabhas in 1968 and 1969. The premature dissolution led to fresh elections of those state assemblies which in turn disorganized the cycle of the simultaneous election.[2]

In 1970, the Lok Sabha was itself dissolved ahead of time and could not complete its full five-year terms. Further, the term of next elected Lok Sabha was stretched till 1977 under Art 352 (Emergency proclaimed by the President) of the Indian Constitution.

Consequently, the extension and dissolutions ahead of time of the terms of both the levels of the government, since 1968, built a gap between the time of elections and thereafter the elections to the State Legislatures and the Lok Sabha have still not been realigned.[3]

Merits

Reduction of Massive Expenditure

To maintain the status of electoral democracy, the Election Commission of India incurs an estimated cost of 8000 crores in conducting all the state and central elections in the time of total five years. The estimated cost of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was 3870 crore while the average for state elections was 300 crore per state.[4]

In Simultaneous Elections, this hefty expenditure would be once in 5 years and would be borne by the respective State Governments and Union government on 50:50 basis. Thus, it would help in the reduction of expenditure.

Focus of Governance

In the last year of the tenure, the ruling party tends to shift the focus from governance to political strategy for campaigning and consequently floats schemes with an aim to persuade a certain section. For e.g.- The release of the second instalment of funds under MGNREGA towards the end of the tenure. However, the permission of the Election Commission is to be taken which imposes a condition that the scheme should not be publicized but unofficially the publicity is done indirectly.

 It unscrupulously fails to deal with the issues in hand for the advertisement and promotion of their party for the upcoming election.

So, in case of a simultaneous election, the government would stay undistracted from its policy goals and long-term planning for five years.

No concurrent imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC)

The Model Code of Conduct is imposed after the announcement of the dates of the election which is generally three to four months before the happening of the elections and it stays imposed till the results of the elections. The frequent imposition of MCC puts the entire development process at a halt and it further leads to the wreckage of all policies and governance which could have been better for growth in the absence of MCC.

Manpower

Huge manpower is deployed for election duties. These duties of a prolonged period in each election infringe the people deployed to focus in their field and work for their betterment. For e.g.- Over 60,000 personnel of security forces from Para-military forces were deployed in Gujarat for the 2017 election meanwhile 1,20,000 personnel were deployed in the UP assembly election. The frequent deployment of the personnel for these duties in different states deprives them to focus on the primary aim of providing internal security in the country.

Better Governance of Election Commission

The Election Commission would be able to function better if the simultaneous elections happened once in five years. It would be able to focus on polls reforms and could analyze and scan the loopholes in the system. The Simultaneous Election would lead to better structuring and functioning of the methods and procedures of the Election Commission.

Boost in Voter Turnout

As per the Law Commission, it will boost the voter turnout as people will tend to turn up as it is only once in five years.

Demerits

Purchase of EVM and VVPAT

For conducting the simultaneous elections, there needs to be the availability of EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) and VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) in large numbers. Consequently, the ECI would require large scale purchase of both the equipment. The ECI claimed that more than 9000 crores will have to be spent for their procurement. Adding on, the storing of these machines will incur warehousing cost.

Against Democracy and Federalism

The feasibility of implementing the simultaneous election for the first time is ambiguous. The series of questions arise- How would it synchronize terms of all the levels of government in the first place? Would it be feasible to curtail or extend the terms of the existing state assemblies for achieving synchronization?[5] Wouldn’t it be undermining democracy and federalism?

The answers to these questions are still a matter of concern and it reflects that the operational feasibility of simultaneous elections is a bit low as it would introduce a large amount of arbitrariness in its implementation.

Impact of Voter Behaviour

The Voter has a tendency of looking at both state and central elections from different angles. In local state elections, most of the voters tend to vote for the candidate of the party who benefits them or actually listens to them or promises them to address their issues i.e. the state issues. In national elections, the voter actually focuses on the party’s work in the past tenures and the issues of the national level. Consequently, most of the time a voter chooses a different party at both the levels.

In simultaneous elections, the voter will have to go for a single political party, which in most cases may be larger national parties[6]. So it will affect the judgment of the voters and also does injustice to the regional parties.

Accountability of the Politicians

During frequent elections, the politicians are concentrated on better results of their schemes and initiated programmes. They are on their toes to enhance their work to stay at a better hand than the other parties. Thus, it enhances the accountability of politicians and keeps them striving for more quality work.

Deployment of Security Forces

The security officials are posted in widely varying geographic and climatic conditions, and coming all at the time would be really difficult and would also compromise the security of their posts. These were some of the reasons why the elections began to happen in multiple phases and on different dates.

Centralization of Power

The idea of One Nation One election will lead to centralization of power and the authority of states would become less. The power of states would decrease in the sense that they would mostly work in the direction of the central government and the federal structure would also be abrogated.

It can also lead to dictatorship as the control will go in a few hands.[7]

Current Scenario

The matter of implementing simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies has been in the constant discussion of the current ruling government since its last tenure. The Parliamentary Standing Committee was set-up under the chairmanship of Dr E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan[8] on the subject feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to

Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies. The committee suggested that it would be achieved in stages.

After examining the matter in the sixteenth Lok Sabha(2014-2019), the Lok Sabha made certain recommendations and it was put forward that the initial step would be reducing the current number of elections. It prepared a full-fledged list with the phases in which the election of different states was scheduled.[9]

The Committee also stated that it may not be feasible to implement simultaneous election in 2016 due to the major conflict of the merits and demerits of the simultaneous elections, however, the committee claimed with confidence that a solution will be found out eliminating the odds and a continued hustle will go on to reduce the frequency of elections which relieve people and government machinery being tired of frequent electoral processes.[10]

In 2018, a draft report on Simultaneous elections was released by the Law Commission of India chaired by Justice B.S. Chauhan. In the beginning, the draft mentioned that within the existing constitutional framework SE cannot be held. However, the commission suggested that at least 50% of the states should ratify the constitutional amendments.[11] Further, the draft described the framework for synchronization of elections where the elections of states are divided into groups for three time zones.  The commission recommended that if simultaneous elections cannot be conducted then all elections falling due in a calendar year would be conducted together. The replacement of ‘no-confidence motion’ with ‘constructive vote of no-confidence’ was recommended wherein the government will only be removed if there is confidence in an alternative government.

Time and again, the nation has seen the dignitaries stating the desirability of conducting simultaneous elections in India.[12] It is indeed desirable to implement ‘One Nation, One Vote’ but it will take a long way(several constitutional amendments, the consensus of political parties, appropriate and well-defined approach) to make its entry back like the 1st three general elections of Independent India.


[1] Paul David Webb, Roger Gibbins, Heinz Eulau, Election, BRITANNICA. (June 13th, 8 pm) https://www.britannica.com/topic/election-political-science

[2]DRISHTIIAS,https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-editorials/simultaneous-elections-in-india, June 13th.

[3] Shri B. Phani Kumar, Smt. Bela Routh, Smt. Kalpana Sharma, Shri C.N. Sathyanathan, Simultaneous Elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies, MEMBERS’ REFERENCE SERVICE LARRDIS LOK SABHA SECRETARIAT, NEW DELHI. (June 13th, 8 pm) (hereinafter “LS and SLA”)

[4] Bashir Ahmad Wagay, Simultaneous elections and Indian Democracy: A Hanging Fruit requiring safer hands to pluck it, Vol-5/44, SCHOLARLY RESEARCH JOURNAL FOR INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES, 10161,10163. (Mar-Apr, 2018) (hereinafter “SE and ID”)

[5] Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai, Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The “What, “Why” and “How”, NITI GOV. (June 14th, 4 pm) http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Note%20on%20Simultaneous%20Elections.pdf

[6] Ibid at 17.

[7] Dr Renuka Choudhary, One Nation One Election, Vol 4, Issue I,INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LAW, 98,99.

[8] SE and ID at 10165.

[9] LS and SLA at Annexure-III.

[10] LS and SLA at Annexure-II

[11] LAW COMMISSION REPORT SUMMARY- DRAFT REPORT ON SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS, PRS INDIA.  https://www.prsindia.org/content/draft-report-simultaneous-elections

[12] LS and SLA at 5.

Rishabh Gupta from Symbiosis International Deemed University

“He ventures to learn and write on different aspects of law and has a keen interest in Criminal Law.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: