On the agenda of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and Assemblies

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, July 30: The issue has been under debate at various forms ever since Prime Minister Prime Minister Narendra Modi mooted the idea of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha, state assemblies and panchayat bodies. Former Chief election Commissioner Dr S Y Quraishi led the debate at the Institute for Development and Communications here that culminated in the decision to set up an exspert group to discuss its modalities. It may be mentioned that till the sixties, elections to the lok sabha and the Assemblies used to be held at the same time. The situation changed subsequently for various reasons.

IDC Director and Chairperson, Punjab Governance Reforms Commission, Dr Pramod Kumar, laid emphasis on hold these elections simultaneously. His observation was interesting. He said under the present system, the national political parties try to play regional card while the regional parties endeavour to opt for national orientation. Moreover, this would lead towards secular orientation. He was of the view that good elections need not result in installation of good governments. The two are separate issues.

He suggested what he described as the clustered approach while stressing while bringing constitutional amendment that whenever, assembly or lok sabha is dissolved the new House should be elected for the remaining term. He cautioned that holding of elections simultaneously should uphold the basic principles of democracy that include secularism, federalism and participation of people on the margins.

In his address, Dr Quraishi  stated that the benefits of a simultaneous election are manifold that include substantial drop in expenditure incurred, time invested, and reduction of inconvenience to ordinary citizens. To achieve this he envisions a substantial upheaval and modification of policy, logistical framework and financial resources.  He stated that simultaneous elections will require making available to the EC five times the Central armed police force that is currently provided. Instead of 700-800 companies, the EC will then need about 3,500 companies. Raising a few battalions of various paramilitary forces will also give relief to the extremely stretched and stressed forces, provide employment and contribute to better enforcement in troubled areas. He expressed that simultaneous elections are extremely desirably but legally, constitutionally difficult - near impossible.  Further, the terms of lok sabha and Vidhan Sabha do not coincide. The Panchayat elections are missing from the debate, will they be included? The logic of simultaneous elections must extend to Panchayat Municipalities.

 

He stressed that ingenious legal safeguard and constitutional provision would have to be ensured before such an attempt to coincide elections are made. Alternatively, Dr. Quraishi looked at improving the current scenario of frequent elections. Those who advocate simultaneous elections have alleged that elections come at a heavy cost. To cut cost he suggested putting a cap on the expenditure of political parties and instituting state-funding of political parties,not elections, with a simultaneous ban on all private, especially corporate, funding. Other reason that was stated was frequent elections bring to a standstill normal functioning of the government due to the model code of conduct.

The former CEC also took up the issue as to how this biggest democracy has evolved over the years. His observed that  the present system has encouraged communalism, casteism and corruption. All three are not the healthy trends for the functioning of a healthy democracy but this is the path the Indian democracy has traversed. He also mentioned crony capitalism in this regard. The politician who spends a lot to win the election seeks immediate returns for which he or she tries to use bureaucracy.

He stressed that segregated elections do have some benefits - Politicians who tend to forget voters after the elections for five years have to return to them during every election. Elections give a boost to the economy at the grassroots level, creating work opportunities for lakhs of people.  Then there are some environmental benefits also that flow out of the rigorous enforcement of public discipline like non-defacement of private and public property, noise and air pollution, ban on plastics, etc.

 

Harish Khare, Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune Group of Publications, commented that ‘It is widely conceded that there are too many elections, too much fragmentation, too many political parties, and consequently too much distraction for those who want to deliver "good governance". Too many elections are a positive hindrance in pursuit of hard decisions and produce a deleterious dilution of a hard state. He added that ‘the doctrine of constitutional functionality demands that the polity find a way of fixing the election-overload without in any way tinkering with the basic structure of the Constitution. Synchronisation of the lok sabha and Assembly polls is an idea whose time has come. But the idea cannot be sneaked in by the BJP under the radar screen. It will have to be an open and a transparent solution.

Gurbachan Jagat, former Governor of Manipur, also endorsed simultaneous elections, but carefully planned and in accordance with the constitution.

It was decided to constitute an expert group to work out the modalities of holding simultaneous elections.

Other notable participants included Ashutosh Kumar, Manjit Singh, Harish Puri, B.S Ghuman, P.S. Verma, R.I Singh, Subodh Aggarwal, S.L. Sharma, Rainuka Dagar and Asha Sethi.

Editor-in-Chief

Jagtar Singh

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