By Aviral Virk
The Opposition is not playing ball on the Modi government’s proposal to hold simultaneous elections. The Law Commission’s invite to all seven national and fifty-nine recognised state parties to hold consultations on 7-8 July in New Delhi has met with a tepid response.
This is the panel’s second attempt to get on-board opinions from across the political spectrum on the practicality and viability of holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. It gains significance in the view of the speculation on whether the four Assembly elections slated to be held in the next 6-8 months in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram, could be delayed or advanced to kickstart the first step towards synchronising the elections with the 2019 general election.
In the absence of any clear consensus on the issue, here are the current stands of the political parties that have spoken on ‘One Nation, One Poll’.
1. Congress: Just Another Jumla
The Congress admitted to have received an invite from the Law Commission but refused to confirm or deny when asked if it will send a representative to the all-party meeting scheduled for the weekend. The party has, however, gone on record to state its opposition to streamlining elections.
“Consolidation of power through change in electoral processes to change the very character of democracy and voting behaviour are one among the Modi-led government’s strategies to sideline principles of a plural democracy, mute the voices of Opposition, and get a favourable election mandate”, states the party’s website.
Further, the party has said simultaneous polls could also help poorly performing Bharatiya Janata Party ruling states to hide their policy failures to overcome the election hurdles.
2. Samajwadi Party: Not Afraid of Simultaneous Polls
Encouraged by the bypoll wins in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav challenged the BJP to hold simultaneous elections in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre. “We have no problem if the voters’ list is linked with Aadhar number. We have no problems with one nation, one poll. I ask them (BJP) to implement it from the 2019 elections, he told the media at a press conference at the party HQ in Lucknow.
The anti-incumbency bypoll trends in Uttar Pradesh, coupled with the alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, is bound to boost the Samajwadi Party’s confidence. This is what apparently translated to his vote of confidence for the Modi government’s proposal. But, it’s still unclear whether the SP will send a representative or if it will officially back the proposal when the Law Commission meets.
3. Janata Dal (United): Mixed Signals
In September 2017, just two months after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar pulled out of the Mahagathbandhan and formed a new government with the BJP, the JD(U) chief said he was in favour of a synchronised two-phase Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. “It will save unnecessary expenditure”, he had said. This, despite the fact that the next Bihar election is due only in 2020.
Cut to a few months later, the JD(U) found itself at the receiving end of the BJP’s ‘big brother’ attitude and changed tack. After reviving the ‘Special Status for Bihar’ demand, the party was openly critical of the BJP’s performance in the June bypolls, and also, spoke against repeated communal flare-ups, the Assam Citizenship Bill, demonetisation and even the issue of simultaneous polls.
Speaking to the media earlier this year, JD(U)’s principal general secretary and national spokesperson, indicated the party had a change of heart and said, “The Niti Aayog recently recommended simultaneous polls from 2024 to save money and lessen burden of teachers, who often need to be involved in the electoral process. There would also be need of several constitutional amendments to effect simultaneous polls. Under such circumstances, we are not very comfortable with the idea of simultaneous polls or even early polls as being rumoured by political opponents.”
4. CPI(M): Opposed to Artificial Attempt to Bring out Simultaneous Elections
Responding to the Law Commission’s invite, Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury wrote back saying that “the concept is fundamentally anti-democratic and strikes at the root of the parliamentary democratic system as ordained in the Constitution.”
The letter pointed out that while the life of a state Assembly or the Lok Sabha could be curtailed before its five-year tenure, any attempt to prolong it would “not only be unconstitutional, but anti-democratic.”
Yechury also raised a red flag on a suggestion in the Niti Aayog’s discussion paper which suggests that if the dissolution of the Lok Sabha cannot be avoided and the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long then a provision can be made to made for the President to carry out the administration of the country on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers to be appointed by him/her till such time the next House is constituted.
“This”, the party says, “is an outrageous proposal which would make the President the head of the executive, this is bringing an executive presidency through the back door.”
Thanking the Law Commission for it’s invitation for a personal interaction, Yechury said his letter was self-explanatory and appearing for a personal interaction, may not be necessary.
5. AIMIM: Proposal is a ‘Solution in Search of a Problem’
In a ten-page memorandum submitted to the Law Commission, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) opposed holding simultaneous elections, saying it would privilege national parties and impair regional parties from raising local issues.
Disputing the argument that consistent operation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) leads to ‘policy paralysis’, Party President, Asaduddin Owaisi took a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said it wasn’t the Model Code of Conduct as much as the insistence of national party leaders to participate and campaign in various state and local elections, that causes policy paralysis.
Owaisi wrote, “Constitutional principles of collective responsibility and legislative oversight of the executive cannot be sacrificed at the altar of efficiency and stability. It is not possible to privilege convenience over constitutional guarantees.”
6. Volte-Face by TDP Chief Chandrababu Naidu
Much like Nitish Kumar, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu also did a volte-face on simultaneous polls as soon as he officially quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Taking the same line of opposition as the AIMIM, Telugu Desam Party politburo member and Andhra Pradesh’s Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said the “BJP has turned into a political shark. It is trying to live by prying on smaller fish” and “the move to hold simultaneous elections will only weaken the regional leaders.”
In February 2017, however, Naidu had said simultaneous elections should be held from the village panchayat level to Parliament and “then we can focus on development for five years without worrying about elections.”
7. BJD: Round the Year Elections Disturb Developmental Work
Among the regional players who have specified their stand, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Biju Janata Dal President has spoken out in support of holding simultaneous elections. “We are elected to work for the people. Elections throughout the year disturb developmental work. Therefore, we support simultaneous polls.”