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The Saga of Simultaneous Elections

The idea of conducting simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies got a big push when President Pranab Mukherjee endorsed simultaneous polls in his speech on Republic Day Eve. The idea finds its root way back in the first ever public elections held after independence. Policymakers of that time must have thought it to be relevant. However, Indian political parties have a habit of putting party interests ahead of national interests. For instance, India voted for the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations in 2012. India initially showed reluctance to vote on a nation-specific resolution but changed its stand after DMK threatened to pull out its support from UPA government. As a consequence, we lost the plot to China. China grabbed the opportunity to expand its footprint in Sri Lanka, both at the strategic and commercial levels.

In 1971, because Mrs. Indira Gandhi was expected to win election, she didn’t want to wait for Lok Sabha elections Vidhan Sabha to be held simultaneously. Indira knew that she has become extremely popular at national level and that in near future she might face tough opposition from within the party as some regional leaders were gaining popularity.  For the first time, India witnessed segregated elections, in that year. Interestingly, with such structure of elections, many political parties especially the regional ones got a golden opportunity to reinvigorate their position as regional power. Hence, they didn’t bother to question the motive behind Mrs. Gandhi’s decision.

Unsurprisingly, in 1995 and later on in 2010 as well, LK Advani pushed hard to have simultaneous polls. He knew that BJP would do well in upcoming elections because of its growing popularity as a better substitute for Congress. Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the same interest in 2019 elections. Hence, he is rushing to implement simultaneous elections. While political parties continue to pursue their vested interests, most of the Indians continue to be into oblivion.

PM Modi claimed India’s voter is mature enough to take different decisions for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls. But how can 46 per cent voters, who vote by looking at party symbol as they cannot read candidates’ names, take appropriate decisions, when political parties try to win state elections by projecting their national leaders during campaigning? Politicians have mastered the art of using voters’ sentiments to push an agenda for their own benefits. Prime example is Rath Yatra and Ram Mandir issue raised in early 90’s. Nowadays Indians get sensitized by the topic of abating black money. Supporters of idea of simultaneous elections have left no stone unturned to exploit this aspect to advocate the idea. However, if all elections are held at the same time after a fixed interval of five years, parties out of power will use all resources and facilities at their disposal to win elections. In reply, parties in power will do the same to retain power. They all will know their next chance to be in power anywhere in the country will come only after five years. No expert can tell with certainty the extent to which usage of black money will reduce or increase during such elections. PM Modi advised students, through ‘Mann ki Baat’, to consider exams like festivals and enjoy them instead of getting pressurized. Why can’t politicians apply the same principle? Instead of citing frequent elections as hurdles in implementing policies and development, politicians can use frequent elections as ‘Unit Tests’ or ‘Sessional Exams’ to better know their performance; they too should celebrate elections as festivals.

If India’s newly appointed think tank – Niti Ayog and policymakers find the idea of simultaneous elections relevant, they can still go ahead with its implementation. However, if they want to achieve the stated goals, they will have to work hard to bring revolutionary reforms in electoral system. Incumbent system is extremely opaque. In fact, political parties do not come under the much talked about RTI Act. In sovereign secular democratic India, elections are still fought on the basis of religion, caste, language and all other possible divisive notions. India needs to target root cause to revitalize the back bone of federal democratic republic nation.

Let’s hope our policymakers will someday transform the stagnant electoral system keeping in mind our national interests.

Saket Aloni

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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