Whether the special session of Parliament has been called to advance the ruling party’s agenda of “one nation one election”, or to finally bid goodbye to the old Parliament House and shift to the new one built adjacent to it, will be clear only at the end of the five-day session between September 18 to 22. Indeed, there was also speculation that there could be a move to advance the general elections, due in the normal course in April-May next year. That the official announcement about the special session came just when the Opposition’s dotted I.N.D.I.A conclave was meeting in Mumbai, made Congress’s media in-charge Jairam Ramesh complain that it was meant to steal their thunder.
The timing of the special session too caused the Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena to protest that it interfered with the celebration of Maharashtra’s biggest festival, Ganesh Chaturthi This in turn led some pro-government elements to counter that precisely why this was the most auspicious time to make the shift from the old Parliament building to the new one. Given that there is utmost distrust of government in the Opposition, and given that the government has proven itself adept in catching the Opposition by surprise, the consternation in the Opposition ranks about the convening of the special session causes no surprise.
In mitigation of their misery one can say that the prime minister tends to keep things so secretive, so close to his chest, even his senior ministers are often in the dark about major announcements until the last minute. Modi’s may not be a one-man government but unlike all previous governments his is the only one where the identity of even his principal advisers, aides, etc. remains unknown even to the senior most members of the ruling party. The element of surprise has its uses in politics, as the latest confusion in the Opposition ranks about an early general election or the constitutional amendment proposed to make “one nation one election” possible has forced them to hurriedly plan their strategy.
Whether they intend repeating the disruptive behaviour on one pretext or the other, virtually continuing from where they had left off in the monsoon session, or present an orderly but united opposition in Parliament to the extraordinary government move will become clear during the course of the session. Hopefully, they will resist the temptation to disrupt the proceedings, allowing the two Houses to function in an orderly manner for a meaningful exchange of ideas and views.
On its part, the official side must soon share the agenda for the special session. As for the “one nation one poll”, proposal we don’t think it is possible to implement it now or in the foreseeable future. Yes, aside from the huge savings in expenditure involved in holding frequent elections, it is ideally the best way to ensure that governments, both central and states, don’t always keep one eye fixed on the election while seeking to advance their development agendas.
Given the broken political system, especially after the end of the one-party rule in 1967, frequent elections in one part or the other divert attention of governments from the real task of providing roti, kapada aur makaan to the poor and the hungry masses. For, major parties ruling in one state while being in Opposition in others cannot completely cut themselves off from the fallout of election outcomes. However, in the foreseeable future it is hard to see how the objective of “one nation one election” can be achieved. Aside from the sheer logistics of assigning a huge chunk of the security forces on election duty, and the need to procure millions more of electronic voting machines, the government will need to amend the Constitution necessitating endorsement by two-thirds of the state assemblies.
Even though a committee under the aegis of former President Ram Nath Kovind has been asked to explore the possibility, such a trial balloon may be aimed at confusing the Opposition while it milks the idea for electoral purposes. For despite the obstacles involved ordinary voters will easily buy into the idea of one election every five years.