Simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies are beginning to appear a distinct possibility. Recently, the Chief Election Commissioner stated that the Commission would be logistically equipped to hold simultaneous polls by the middle of next year, in September 2018 to be precise.
This was in a response to a specific question from the Centre on the Commission’s preparedness for polls in tandem. The EC response led to speculation of not just synchronised polls but also of early polls to the Lok Sabha whose term will expire in May 2019.
While early Lok Sabha polls depends on the government of the day taking a risk by going to the people months ahead of completing its term of office and seeking a fresh mandate, as yet there are no signs of the government planning any such move. But simultaneous polls have been debated in political circles with even former president Pranab Mukherjee suggesting that this be considered.
The EC’s statement on the commission’s preparedness for it has increased the decibel level of the debate, as the prospect appears very real.
Simultaneous elections, however, will not happen through a mere government decision but would necessitate a consensus among all political parties, as there are legal issues involved that would have to be first cleared. For instance, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa had State Assembly polls this year, these State Assemblies would have to be dissolved if simultaneous polls are going to be held. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will have polls later this year, Karnataka and some other States in 2018.
How would all these be handled, would the governments be dismissed, are questions being asked by the opposition.
In that respect the political game is already being played out. While the BJP has been a proponent of simultaneous elections, the opposition parties are not supporting it.
Most have reacted negatively to the EC statement and said that Lok Sabha and State Assembly polls together are not feasible and would also not be democratic. Parties have also said that it would require a constitutional amendment in relation to Article 356 that in the event of a failure of law and order in a particular State, it allows the Centre to dismiss that State government. The opposition has also sought an all-party meeting on the issue, before it is taken forward.
Despite the EC’s assertion of its readiness to hold simultaneous polls, there lies the question of whether the Commission that staggers polls through five to seven phases will actually be able to rise to the challenge. The Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls this year were held in seven phases, while last year the West Bengal Assembly poll was held in six phases with two polling dates for the Naxalite-infested areas. This gives little confidence in the ability of the EC to hold Lok Sabha and State Assembly polls at the same time.
Simultaneous polls, however, would be good for governance, as it would give the government and the administration a clear window of five years to deliver without the threat of a period of a code of conduct that would rein in all government policy making and announcements.
After the One Nation One Tax decision that three months later forced the Centre to introduce a series of changes in the GST system to make it easier on the traders and to the consumers’ pockets, the government may want to be more circumspect with the One India One Poll plan.