These are tense times. Trust between the Opposition and the ruling party has vanished completely. Both suspect each other’s motives. The absence of engagement, formal and informal, has led them to fear the worst from each other. In such a dire climate, a give and take on a matter of huge importance, requiring close cooperation and coordination at the political and government levels, is unthinkable. In this context, the suggestion of the Law Commission of India to hold simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies, possibly in 2019, does appear to be unworkable. Indeed, the Opposition is bound to read a sinister motive behind the oft-repeated proposal emanating from the official sources which has since been endorsed by the Niti Ayog, and now by the Law Commission.
However laudable the proposal, when there is no trust between the main protagonists, all sorts of motives are bound to be read. Besides, implementing it requires drastic changes in the law which might not be possible given the current political climate of mutual hostilities. The Law Commission on Tuesday invited comments and suggestions from the experts and other concerned people on its draft proposal. It noted that in the first two decades, simultaneous elections at the State and national level were held. Due to the early dissolution of certain assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, simultaneous elections were disrupted. And have not been held together nation-wide since then. Restoring simultaneity would require constitutional amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies.
The suggestion is to extend the life of the Assemblies by a few months, or impose central rule upon the end of their regular five-year term, in order to hold the elections simultaneously with the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. As for the rest of the States, whose five-year term is set to end much after the Lok Sabha poll, these could elect new Assemblies along with the Lok Sabha poll in 2024. Besides, there is a suggestion for a constitutional amendment requiring that a no-confidence motion should not cause premature dissolution of an Assembly. A precondition for moving the motion must be an alternative plan for government formation, something prevailing in Germany. The Commission has also proposed changes in the anti-defection law in order to prevent stalemate at the Centre or in the States. More or less, the Niti Ayog draft contained the same set of proposals.
Of course, it is an eminently sensible and cost-effective idea to hold country-wide simultaneous elections. As things are now, the nation seems to be perennially in election-mode with elections looming in some or the other part of the country, and obliging rulers, including at the Centre, to keep their gaze fixed on the popular mood. But the problem is that what is desirable is often not possible, at least not in the current climate of viciousness in the polity. We hope that further angst and bad blood is not injected in the already poisoned atmosphere. The Government must move gingerly in the direction of simultaneous polls after first taking the Opposition in confidence.