The query is decades old, but has remained unanswered by the government ~ possibly because it boils down to administrative efficiency versus political grandstanding.
Now the issue is being examined afresh by the apex court ~ should electoral law be amended to prevent a candidate from contesting more than one parliamentary or assembly seat in a single election? The matter would seem a straightforward one ~ until a check of history confirms that among those who have contested from more than one constituency are political heavyweights such as Narendra Modi, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Sonia Gandhi, Mulayam Singh, Biju Patnaik, NT Rama Rao and Lalu Prasad.
And in none of those cases was the second seat contested as insurance against an unexpected reverse, it was always an essay at proving the extent of the candidate’s clout ~ sometimes in different parts of the country to boost a “nationwide” aura, flatter the ego.
Since there is seldom rationale, or logic, to issues of prestige or pique, political observers will be carefully awaiting the response of the Central government that the court has sought on appeal from an advocate, Ashwini Upadhyay.
A Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India is hearing his plea for striking down Section 33 (7) of the Representation of the People Act. In an ideal situation a political consensus on the matter could have been sought, but given the reality of the prevailing bitter and vicious party divisions, a judicial determination might be the more feasible remedy.
The Election Commission has made its stand clear. It is not in favour of multiple contests which put the poll-machinery to avoidable strain since all too often the heavyweight wins both contests, is permitted to retain only one seat, and a by-election becomes necessary.
Recalling that it recommended a change in the law way back in 2004, it has suggested that the winning candidate must be made to at least bear the expenses of the by-poll he/she had necessitated. Money, however, has seldom deterred a politician from flexing muscle.
Nor have the political class been impressed by the Law Commission’s frowning on the practice. For the common man it is not a matter of money, but the ordeal of being subjected to two polls in quick succession ~ the model code of conduct takes one kind of toll, given the tensions that polls now generate a second contest could trigger debilitating strain.
The Chief Election Commissioner who had said Indian elections were akin to a ‘mela’ was way off target. But then do politicians actually care for the fallout of their shenanigans on the simple citizen? The apex court might consider issuing notice to all recognised parties so that they get opportunity to express their opinion, and be party to the eventual judicial determination: they might even be pressured into some kind of compromise consensus.