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One nation, one poll

Polls are merely the means for selecting governments and not an end in themselves. But with frequent elections, the means tend to become the end and the end is reduced to being the incidental. Moreover, populism is thrust upon the parties for fear of losing votes. For the national parties continual elections are a punishment without having committed any crime.

Prafull Goradia | New Delhi |

“One nation, one election” not only sounds appealing, but is also a pragmatic proposal. That was the practice until the 1967 general election. With the Congress being the dominant political factor, no objection was raised. Thereafter, in a number of states, there were defections from the Congress, new parties came into being.

For example, Chaudhary Charan Singh left the grand old party and formed the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal government in UP. The uniform fiveyearly pattern of polls was disturbed. After the 1972 Lok Sabha garibi hatao election, several state governments were dismissed under Section 356 which also led to out-of-turn polls without maintaining any pattern of uniformity. Now that there are a number of parties, most of them regional formations, there are likely to be some objections to simultaneous polls.

There is little doubt that frequent elections, whether in one state or the other, makes life continually preoccupied with campaigning. As a result, there would be less time and energy for the politicians to concentrate on governance. Polls are merely the means for selecting governments and not an end in themselves. But with frequent elections, the means tend to become the end and the end is reduced to being the incidental.

Moreover, populism is thrust upon the parties for fear of losing votes. For the national parties continual elections are a punishment without having committed any crime. Campaigning becomes like a continual marriage celebration for a family; all marriage and no normal life. For the party in power in New Delhi, continual campaigning not only means stress without rest but depriving governance of its full attention.

Plus, its policies could get coloured by populism in order not to lose votes. Populism is an enemy of development. For the country, frequent elections means an enormous financial burden. For the people, that means higher taxes or greater inflation. There is a flip side to this volume of disadvantages of frequent polling. Consider, for instance, the Bangladesh war of 1971, India’s quick victory and Pakistan’s total humiliation had a decisive impact on the 1972 general election.

The cause of Indira Gandhi’s triumph had less to do with garibi hatao and more to do with Pakistan being cut into half. Incidentally, Hindus are perpetually hungry for victories because they have experienced no triumph over a foreign power since Chandragupta Maurya expelled Seleucus out of India nearly 2,400 years ago. The 1965 war against Pakistan was a meta-civil war. Lahore was a part of India until 1947.

Any wonder why Indians rejoice at a Test cricket victory and become delirious when we defeat Pakistan. Balakot in March of this year had greater influence on the 2019 general election than the Delhi elite would realise. Imagine, a one nation, one poll for the regional parties or even a national opposition party in the foreground of a military victory.

Except for the cool, calm and thinking voter, any national triumph would influence a normally emotional voter. If he /she votes for the central party, he is likely to also cast his mandate for the same party in the state. If he/she is over pleased with a state leader, like say Jayalalitha in her days, he is also likely to support her party’s Lok Sabha candidate.

There might not have been many charismatic state leaders whereby the central vote could be diverted. Nevertheless, state causes or grievances like the Cauvery water or the Hindi language could influence voting. The thrust of this essay is that while commending the reduction of electioneering and consolidating polls, the central and the state elections should be held separately.

The 2014 and 2019 central polls were timed in the month of May. All the states together can go to elect their governments in say November. This would confine the poll season to only twice in five years. If any government were to fall midterm, every attempt should be made to reconstitute it. If that is not possible, the state concerned would have to bear with Governor’s rule until the five years are over.

The re-election should take place along with the rest of the states. If the central government were to fall and could not be re-formed, there would be no alternative to a mid-term poll. Another electoral issue repeatedly raised by women legislators, and promptly swept under the carpet by the men members, is with regard to reservations for women in Parliament. There are several castes and communities which by tradition do not wish to accept women as equal.

Their arguments for opposition are several. One of them is that reservation, if given, would benefit balkatties (short haired) which expression they use for the more fashionable women. Those who are traditional or conservative and retain long hair would remain left out. At the bottom of the hearts of most opponents is the prospect of losing up to one-third seats.

The chances of men being given tickets and getting elected would be reduced by up to onethird. It is also true that not a sufficient number of women have rubbed shoulders with the common folk. To that extent, not many have yet qualified to be candidates. There can be no limit to excuses when the implementers are unwilling. When the first general election was held in 1952, the population was say 30 or 32 crore.

Today, the numbers are estimated to be 130 crore or about four times. The number of representatives in the Lok Sabha have not been increased commensurately or even reasonably. In other words, there is scope for an increase. There are Constitutions, as in Germany, that provide for the contesting political parties to nominate a percentage of those numbers who have been elected in the public elections.

The proposal here is to provide for nominating half the number that has been elected. Say 272 women nominees for the 543 maximum electable at present. To have a check on party bosses getting arbitrary in their selection, it could be provided that all the nominees, party-wise, should be approved by those elected as members of the Lok Sabha.

This could be one check on arbitrary selection. The other is the qualification of those who would be nominees. Parliament could consider setting up an institute of training future legislators in the course of a year. This will enable the prospective candidate to know the Constitution plus the essential facts about the country, the rules and procedures for the conduct of parliamentary proceedings. Public speaking could be added so that members do not have problems of expressing themselves in Hindi or English.

When this writer was a member, making one’s speech meant spoken and not read. It appears that this restraint has lately been relaxed; it should not be. If this proposal is accepted, the Lok Sabha would have say 815 members. The halls in the Parliament building are quite spacious. The furniture however would need restructuring both forward and backward of the present benches.

Incidentally, very seldom is the Lok Sabha fully attended. Most of the time the House is more empty than full, especially in the afternoons. On peak days, the House of Commons at Westminster is so chock-a-block that a few members have to stand.

(The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament)