Simultaneous polls likely

The on-going debate over simultaneous polls received a huge fillip with the BJP president Amit Shah writing to the Law Commission making a strong case for them. Shah’s detailed letter has naturally caused disquiet in the Opposition ranks. Speculation that the letter is a precursor to the idea being accepted officially is rife in the political circles. Shah has forcefully countered the Opposition plea that simultaneous polls are against the federal structure of the country. On the contrary, he has argued, it would strengthen the federal structure. He has described as  politically motivated and inappropriate the Opposition objections to the simultaneous polls.

The eight-page letter made public on Monday said that simultaneous polls aside from curbing expenditure on multiple polls would ensure that the country is not in the election mode throughout the year. He has also nailed fears that simultaneous polls result in uniform wins for a single party, citing the case of the 1980 parliamentary poll when the Congress swept the board at the national level while Janata Dal (S) won the Karnataka Assembly poll. Another forceful and valid point concerned the enforcement of the Election Commission’s model code of conduct upon the notification of a poll schedule. Shah pointed out in his letter to the Commission Chairman, Justice (Retd) B S Chouhan, that in 2016, Maharashtra remained under the model code of conduct for 307 days due to elections at various levels. The model code of conduct virtually freezes decision-making by the government in order to ensure a level playing field for all the players in the electoral fray.

The Congress, however, insisted that the idea of simultaneous polls was ‘unconstitutional and impractical’. Of course, there is nothing unconstitutional about simultaneous polls. The Congress would recall how it won the State and parliamentary elections held simultaneously from 1952 to 1967  — it lost power only in Kerala to the Communists which, too, it regained through the back door when it dismissed the first freely elected communist  government in the world under Article 356. Yes, holding them simultaneously has become impractical due to the fall of State governments before they complete the regular five-year terms. In the current situation, the BJP reckons a beginning can be made by small adjustments. The plan envisages the resignations of State governments in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram  before their five-year term is scheduled to end. Since these are all BJP-ruled States, the resignations of the respective chief  ministers would cause little problem. Again, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha are set to elect new Assemblies along with the Lok Sabha poll in any case. Also, Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Jharkhand, all NDA-ruled, can be advanced to time them with the Lok Sabha poll. In other words, the next Lok  Sabha poll can be held along with Assembly polls in twelve States. Notably, it would require no tweaking of the Constitution at all.

Significantly, the BJP wasn’t the first to moot the idea of simultaneous polls. The Election Commission had proposed it way back in 1983 and the Law Commission in its 170th report in 1999 had endorsed it forcefully. Modi had picked up the thread, pressing for ‘one nation, one election’ in 2014 itself. Several parties, including the Akali Dal, Biju Janta Dal, AIADMK, Samajwadi Party, TRS, etc, too, are in favour of simultaneous polls while quite a few others are opposed. The nay-sayers fear that simultaneous polls would give the BJP an undue advantage since Modi will make it a national election, thus, subsuming anti-incumbency against the State governments. Elections in key States like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on schedule, the Opposition hopes, would result in its win, and therefore, help create the right atmosphere against the BJP ahead of the parliamentary poll. However, as things are, it is more than likely that the BJP would try and create a situation whereby a simultaneous poll becomes inevitable. It is because the balance of convenience and commonsense favours that the Lok Sabha poll be advanced by a few weeks and the Assembly polls be put off by a few weeks. It is constitutionally obligatory to hold Assembly polls within six months of the dissolution of the Assembly. That condition can be fully satisfied if the polls are held simultaneously sometime in February-March next year.

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