In 1983, the Election Commission of India said that “a stage has come for evolving a system under which elections to the House of the People and Legislative Assemblies are held simultaneously”. In 1999, the Law Commission in its 170th Report said, “We must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”. In 2015, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its report on the ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People and State Legislative Assemblies’ recommended that “an alternative and practicable method of holding simultaneous elections, which involves holding of elections in two phases—at the middle of the term of current Lok Sabha in November 2016, for some Assemblies, and at the end in June 2019 for the rest. Election to all State Assemblies whose terms end prior to or after a time period of six months to one year from the appointed election date can be clubbed together”.
Simultaneous elections were held in 1951-52, 1957, 1962 and 1967. Premature dissolution of Assemblies resulted in the cycle getting disrupted and in 1970 Lok Sabha itself was dissolved early. Relief from frequent elections is important for India if it is to compete with other nations in development agenda.
Since 1977, the expenditure is on an upward climb. It doubled to more than Rs 23 crore (as compared to 11.5 crore in 1971). In 1980, it more than doubled-to Rs 54 crore. By 1989, it went up by three times to Rs 154 crore. Just two years later, expenses shot up to Rs 359 crore. In 1996, it had reached Rs 600 crore mark. And three years later, in 1999, Election Commission spent Rs 880 crore. By 2004, it had shot up to Rs 1300 crore. The provisional estimate tells us that the conduct of 2014 Lok Sabha elections entailed an expenditure of almost Rs 4500 crore. It is estimated that an undeclared announcement of Rs 30000 crore was spent on the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Thus, doing away with the several separate elections every year is likely to reduce expenditure substantially.
Polling on Sunday
Election Day refers to the day when elections are held. In many countries, elections are always held on Sunday only to enable maximum voters to participate. For example; elections are held on Sunday in Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In South Africa, elections to the National and Provincial Legislatures are held simultaneously for 05 years and Municipal Elections are held 02 years later on a fixed date. In Sweden, election to National and Provincial Legislature and Local Bodies/Municipal Assemblies are held on a fixed date i.e. second Sunday in September for 04 years. For example, last election was held on 14.09.2014 and forthcoming election is scheduled on 09.09.2018.
Every Year’s Affair
Every year, generally, three-four States go to polls. If the last five years are taken into account, the highest was in 2013 with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Karnataka went to polls. In 2014, with Lok Sabha polls, elections to eight Assemblies were held—Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Arunachal, J&K, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha and Sikkim. In 2015, Delhi and Bihar went to polls. In 2016 five States went to polls—Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. In 2017, polls for Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat were held. In 2018, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Karnataka went to poll.
The Way Out
The elections to Assemblies whose terms are expiring six months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well as those doing so six months later may be brought together. This would mean the terms of some Assemblies would be curtailed and for others slightly extended. Assembly elections of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh will be conducted simultaneously with General Elections of 2019, if all respective Governments complete their tenure. In November-December 2018, States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram will go for polls tentatively which is six months prior to General Elections. Similarly, around six months later, States of Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Haryana will go for polls. Therefore, if consensus evolves among major political parties of the States as mentioned above; Assembly elections can be postponed by six months for some and preponed by six months for the rest and election can be conducted together with General Elections of 2019. Since, most of these States are ruled by the NDA, the consensus would emerge without difficulty. This will result in simultaneous Assembly election of 12 States with General Elections 2019. It will not only save huge resources and time but also provide more time for development programmes and activities.
On the similar lines, Assembly election of Bihar can be clubbed with those of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and Pondicherry by postponing it for six months. Similarly, if the gaps between various State Assembly elections are not more than six months, efforts should be put to hold them together. It is very practical approach and can be implemented without difficulty. To reach at a wider political consensus, the idea of simultaneous polls should be proposed at least two years prior to the end of tenure of respective Governments. in these States.
Apart from the fact that valuable money and huge manpower will be saved if the elections are held together, the bigger benefit will be the reduction in what is best called the electoral paralysis, or the lack of decision-making by the Centre and State Government because some State Assembly and Local Body Elections are due every year. This becomes even more problematic where, the Prime Minister and Chief Minister are the main campaigners for the party in elections as well and the hectic campaign schedule distracts from running the Government. Once all the elections are held together and the mammoth election process is over, the Government will get a clear period of 58 months to carry out important reforms and since this is a large enough window for their results to be visible, it will make the life easier for the political class.