One Nation, One Election has the entire polity divided into camps. As the Lok Sabha and multiple Vidhan Sabha elections come closer, here’s a deep dive into the discourse on the same.
One Nation, One Election is a concept aimed at holding simultaneous elections for Parliament and Assembly elections. Currently, these elections occur at different times and phases. Multiple attempts have been made to study this concept, including efforts by the Law Commission in 1999, a Parliamentary Committee in 2015, NITI Aayog in 2018, and another Law Commission report in 2018. In 2023, a new Parliamentary Committee, chaired by former President Ram Nath Kovind, is examining the idea. Key members of the committee include Home Minister Amit Shah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, N.K. Singh, former Lok Sabha Secretary General Subhash C. Kashyap, senior advocate and former Solicitor General of India Harish Salve, and former Chief Vigilance Commissioner Sanjay Kothari. Proponents argue it could save funds and reduce perpetual election cycles, while critics, including the Indian National Congress, view it as a tactic to disrupt India’s federal structure by the Bharatiya Janata Party
In the early years following India’s independence, simultaneous elections took place for both the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha in 1951–1952, 1957, 1962, and 1967. However, this practice faltered due to premature dissolution of certain state assemblies, and the Lok Sabha being dissolved prematurely in 1970, leading to elections in 1971.
The debate regarding the possibility of holding simultaneous elections of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha is active again. 12 states are due for elections before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and these states hold 199 Lok Sabha seats and 1,534 Vidhan Sabha seats. Eight states out of these are ruled by opposition parties. The political dynamics of these states would be directly affected by the provision of One Nation, One Election.
Divergent Voices: The Stand of Indian Political Parties on One Nation, One Election
Several Indian political parties have expressed concerns about the One Nation, One Election proposal. The Indian National Congress and Trinamool Congress believe it may not align with the Constitution and potentially affect the federal structure, leading to concentration of power and diminished democratic accountability. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam emphasises on the constitutional and economical efficacy of separate elections. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Aam Aadmi Party consider the proposal for concurrent elections to be unconstitutional and undemocratic, potentially diminishing political diversity and undermining smaller parties and regional concerns. Similarly, the Janata Dal (Secular) underscores the importance of maintaining distinct state and national election cycles to address region-specific needs and aspirations. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, and the Telugu Desam Party advocate for parliamentary discussions and multi-stakeholder involvement before unilateral implementation. These concerns collectively highlight apprehensions regarding the impact of One Nation, One Election on India’s democratic and federal character.
On the other side of the spectrum, support for One Nation, One Election has come in from across the country, with the Biju Janata Dal, the Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde faction) expressing concern over the strain on resources and administration during frequent elections, which they argue hinders governance and development efforts. The Shiromani Akali Dal and Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party see synchronisation of elections as the path to stronger governments which act in the people’s interests. Even the Samajwadi Party, an opposition member, suggested its implementation as early as 2019, citing potential benefits for India’s political landscape.
Cost Savings to Governance Efficiency: Assessing the Benefits
One Nation, One Election holds the promise of transforming India’s electoral landscape by synchronising the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. This concept is rooted in several advantages that can reshape the country’s democratic processes.
Foremost, it offers significant cost savings. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections alone incurred a massive expenditure of approximately Rs. 60,000 crore. The move towards simultaneous elections would curtail these expenses, alleviating financial burdens on political parties, governments, and the electoral system. Single elections would enable governments to shift their focus from perpetual electioneering to effective governance. Frequent elections often hinder policy implementation and disrupt the regular functioning of administrative and security forces. With One Nation, One Election, governments can concentrate on governance, potentially enhancing policy execution and public service delivery.
Simultaneous elections can also combat voter fatigue. Holding multiple elections at different times can lead to exhaustion among voters. Such elections could revitalise civic participation, leading to higher voter turnout and more informed choices. Moreover, political parties and candidates can allocate their resources more efficiently when elections are held together, optimising their campaigns. Streamlining security arrangements, especially in regions with security concerns, becomes more manageable under this framework.
One Nation, One Election introduces uniformity and uninterrupted governance at both the central and state levels. Currently, during Lok Sabha elections, the Model Code of Conduct restricts states from initiating new programs or policies until the election process is completed. This reform could empower governments to focus on effective governance, ultimately improving policy execution and represents a significant step towards more efficient and effective electoral processes, potentially reshaping the democratic landscape of the nation.
Overshadowing State Elections and Logistical Hurdles: The Drawbacks of Simultaneous Elections
The first challenge is the potential erosion of state government autonomy, as state elections could be overshadowed by national ones. This may disrupt the balance of power and governance. Synchronised elections could have detrimental consequences for India’s federal structure. This shift may also weaken regional parties, which play a crucial role in representing local interests, leaving them at a disadvantage in a political landscape which values national issues. Additionally, such elections could introduce conflicts of interest between the central and state governments, with the national ruling party potentially using its influence to tip the scales in state elections.
Logistically, conducting simultaneous elections in a nation as populous as India is a complex endeavour. It demands meticulous planning, substantial resources, and robust security arrangements. The simultaneous deployment of significant security forces presents its own set of challenges. Financial and administrative resources must be allocated wisely, and a sound legal framework is essential to govern simultaneous elections effectively.
Obtaining consensus among political parties is a formidable task, as opposition parties have reservations about the concept. Cost considerations are significant, particularly regarding Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). While campaign costs might decrease, EVM expenses could rise substantially, with the limited lifespans of EVMs posing storage and replacement challenges. Amending the Constitution of India to accommodate simultaneous elections requires altering multiple articles and parliamentary procedures, a process demanding a two-thirds majority.
Anti-defection laws may also necessitate adjustments, potentially impacting the core principles of the concept. Simultaneous elections could curtail the autonomy of local governments and regional parties, affecting their ability to advocate for local issues.
Concerns about voter manipulation, information overload, potential political conflicts, and an increased caseload on the judicial system are additional challenges to be considered.
Way Ahead for the Idea of One Nation, One Elections
As India approaches its next electoral phase, the road ahead for One Nation, One Election is both intricate and multi-dimensional. There are potential benefits such as cost savings, governance efficiency, and policy stability, but also raises concerns about overshadowing state elections and logistical complexities. It is estimated that at least five articles of the Constitution would have to be amended which is a daunting task in itself.
Moving forward necessitates a balanced and collaborative approach. Achieving consensus among political stakeholders, meticulous planning, and a steadfast commitment to preserving India’s diverse democracy are paramount.
As the nation prepares for the upcoming elections, the ‘One Nation, One Election’ discourse persists as a reflection of Indian democracy’s enduring vitality. The journey ahead may be challenging, but it holds the promise of shaping India’s political landscape for generations.
Ratika Khanna/ New Delhi
Contributing reports by Pavitra Mohan Singh and Sk Saiful, Researchers at Polstrat.
Infographics by the Graphic Design Team at Polstrat.
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.