'One nation, one election' can ensure timely implementation of government policies and the administrative apparatus is engaged in developmental activities rather than electioneering.
"The ballot is stronger than the bullet," said Abraham Lincoln. Elections are perhaps the most vital organ of democracy. It gives life and meaning to the very idea of Democratic values and practice. It ensures the electorate has the power to remind and, if required, punish (by voting them out of power) governments of pre-poll promises and duties. However, in a hugely populated country like ours, holding elections is certainly not a piece of cake. In the context of our country's political heritage, the idea and practice of electing a government have always been significant.
The idea of 'One nation, One election', which our Hon'ble Prime Minister recently stressed, is something that has huge precedence and merits of its own. This notion is about synchronising the country's election cycle in a manner so that elections to the State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha can be held simultaneously; in a synchronised and coordinated form, i.e. voters cast their votes for both State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha on a single day, at the same time. At its core, this idea anticipates a system where elections to all the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha will have to be held simultaneously. Although bringing this concept into practice will require restructuring of election laws and the country's election recurrence/cycle, it is an idea that can no longer be ignored or put aside if we truly desire to move forward as a nation. Elections, for its merits, create a huge hindrance to the very idea and practice of development when not held simultaneously(which is currently the practice in India).
As with any idea that is presented to be implemented in political practice, on a humongous scale, the idea of 'One Nation, One Election' is not without its fair share of challenges.
- The synchronisation is a major hindrance when the traditions and conventions that the Indian parliamentary system follows is taken into account. There is always a possibility of countrywide mid-term elections (as the government is accountable to the lower house, and it is possible that the government falls before completing its term). But, as an observation citizen, I cannot help but feel this challenge will not cause much trouble moving forward, as the Indian voter is a much more mature one now than he/she was a decade ago. The voting trends in this decade have shown that citizens have voted for development and nation-building rather than falling into the political traps of divisiveness. Hence, the idea of instability of the central government is something that isn't bound to arise in the future.
- The second challenge/obstacle concerns itself with the political parties and the difficulty in convincing and bringing all parties together on the idea. But the fact remains that the idea if brought into practice, will remove a huge burden from the government exchequer as well as remove various hindrances to government functioning. Parties, understandably, have their own agendas, but those that oppose the idea that is unequivocally aiding the nation(both in its growth and functioning) seriously need to have a look within their own ethical and patriotic base, if there is any.
- The third challenge is a matter of perspective. In my view, it is not necessarily an obstacle. For holding simultaneous elections, the machinery requirement(EVMs and VVPATs) will double as the ECI has to provide two sets (one each for Legislative Assembly election and Lok Sabha Election). But we all know this is something that the ECI(with 70 years of experience in conducting free and fair elections in the world's largest democracy) is more than equipped to handle.
- The fourth challenge is something that concerns itself with regional parties. Critics argue that holding simultaneous elections will be a major hindrance to regional parties' aspirations, relevance, and expansion. They stress the point that regional parties will not be able to compete with national parties in terms of election expenditure. Well, the very fact that critics focus on election expenditures while justifying their claims shows how out of touch they are with reality.
The Advantages of simultaneous elections are many
- The biggest and perhaps the most obvious advantage of holding simultaneous elections is that it would greatly lighten the strain on the Government's exchequer. Due to frequent elections, a lot of money and manpower is used, and simultaneous elections would help to save the same. Also, the voter turnout will increase if elections are held simultaneously. The bottom line is that it will help keep a check on poll expenses party expenses and save public money. Also, it will go a long way in reducing the burden on administration and security forces.
- Single, common electoral roll: a common electoral roll will conserve an enormous amount of effort and expenditure as we all know, preparation of separate voters list cause duplication of the effort and the obvious high expenditure of the exercise.
- If implemented into proper practice, it is also supposed to solve the governance problem (on the part of those in power). For short term political gains from a particular election, those in power avoid taking a harsh long term decision that can ultimately help the country in the longer run. The very idea of 'One Nation, One election' negates this very practice of politicians avoiding long-term decisions.
- It will certainly provide more time to all the stakeholders, political parties, the Election Commission of India (ECI), paramilitary forces, and civilians to prepare elections once in five years.
- The fifth and most important advantage of simultaneous elections is ensuring timely implementation of government policies and ensuring that the administrative apparatus is engaged in developmental activities rather than electioneering. A country can only move forward when its parts are functioning at their most effective/optimal level. When the administrative apparatus of a rapidly developing country like ours is engaged in electioneering all year round, development takes a back seat. And India, as a nation, cannot afford this if it is kept up with the pace of other rapidly developing nations.
Opposition and 'One Nation, One Election'
As is the case with whatever the Prime Minister says, the opposition and critics always find a way to criticise it based on their biased and unfounded predisposition. But criticism on a noble and genuinely sensible idea like 'One nation, one election' is baffling, baseless and frankly speaking, daft. Perhaps, the criticism of the Prime Minister's propagation of an idea such as this stems from the opposition's fear that their increasing irrelevance will manifest into oblivion if this idea is put into actual practice.
A great man once said, "Democracy is of the people, for the people and by the people". The world's largest democracy prides itself on being the torchbearer and an example for others to adopt the idea and practice. But what good are we if we cannot adapt and evolve with time as a democracy; take steps that ensure ease of burden on its people as well as the governments they elect. 'One Nation, One election' is an idea whose time has come to be put into practice. Those who stand against it, invariably in some form or other, stand against this nation moving forward.
(Writer is former State General Secretary and State Vice Presiden, presently senior Spokesperson of BJP Manipur Pradesh)