July 19, 2024

Syllabus- General Studies 2: Indian Polity

Context

As the elections in four states and one Union territory in March-April are suspected to have contributed to the second wave of Covid infections, a well-reasoned debate on a concept as important as “one nation, one election” is called for.

  • According to NITI Ayog, barring a few exceptional years within a normal 5 year tenure of the Lok Sabha, the country witnesses, on an average, elections to about 5-7 State Assemblies every year.
  • The idea has been around since at least 1983, when the Election Commission first mooted it.

Concerns

The concept needs to be debated mainly around five issues:

  1. Financial costs of conducting elections;
  2. Cost of repeated administrative freezes;
  3. Campaign and finance costs of political parties
  4. Visible and invisible costs of repeatedly deploying security forces; and
  5. Question of regional/smaller parties having a level playing field.

1. Financial costs of conducting elections

  • Costs of conducting each assembly or parliamentary election are huge and, in some senses, incalculable.

e.g Directly budgeted costs are around Rs 300 crore for a state the size of Bihar.

  • Other financial costs and incalculable economic costs.
    • Revision of electoral rolls
    • Election duties of teachers etc.
    • All government officials and machinery “requisitioned” for election duty, disrupting the work of, say, building roads, or supervising welfare schemes.

These costs of the millions of man-hours used are not charged to the election budget; and the economic costs of lost teaching weeks, delayed public works, badly delivered or undelivered welfare schemes to the poor have never been calculated.

2. Cost of repeated administrative freezes

  • Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has economic costs too.
  • Works may have been announced long before an election is announced, but tenders cannot be finalised, nor work awarded, once the MCC comes into effect.
  • Time overruns translate into cost overruns. But the huge costs of salaries and other administrative expenditures continue to be incurred.

3. Campaign and finance costs of political parties

  • Add to this the invisible cost of a missing leadership.
  • Ministers are politicians, and politicians need to campaign, to select candidates, and to devise strategy for their party.
  • The time for their ministerial duties reduces sharply, in spite of most of them putting in 16-18 hours of work each day. Important meetings and decisions get postponed, with costs and consequences that are difficult to calculate.

4. Visible and invisible costs of repeatedly deploying security forces

  • There are also huge and visible costs of deploying security forces and transporting them, repeatedly.
  • A bigger invisible cost is paid by the nation in terms of diverting these forces from sensitive areas and in terms of the fatigue and illnesses that repeated cross-country deployments bring about.

 5. Question of regional/smaller parties having a level playing field

Fears about the Centre somehow gaining greater power, or regional parties being at a disadvantage during simultaneously held elections seem naïve.

  • Fixed five-year terms for state legislatures in fact take away the central government’s power to dissolve state assemblies.
  • Regional parties are supposed to be at a disadvantage because in simultaneously held elections, voters are reportedly likely to predominantly vote one way, giving the dominant party at the Centre an advantage.

Those that take this view need to be reminded that “Indians became voters before they were citizens

  • In any case, votes cast the same way may, as they have in the past, help regional parties tot up a nice enough number in Parliament to be a part of the central government.

Another concern is that-

If a government loses its majority in the House, it necessarily means fresh elections. But its not so because of 2 reasons-

  • Firstly, with the current anti-defection law, it is virtually impossible for a ruling party/coalition to lose numbers.
  • Secondly, even if a Prime Minister or Chief Minister loses a vote of confidence, those who voted against her have a majority, and their leader should become the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister.

Therefore, the dissolution of Parliament or Assembly is not a necessary consequence.

 

Question- The sheer wastage of fiscal resources and administrative time on frequent elections itself advocates for conducting simultaneous elections. Comment.

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