Considerable misgiving and potential controversy might have been averted if a know-all attitude had not been displayed ahead of the only-partially attended all-party meeting the Prime Minister had called on Wednesday to discuss the proposal for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas.
Scheduled as it was virtually immediately after the BJP/NDA’s massive victory it was inevitable that the Opposition would have suspected a bid by the ruling entity to enforce and perpetuate its stranglehold on the polity ~ which ensured that the exercise remained a nonstarter.
And the “way out” that the defence minister finally suggested also failed to attain a breakthrough since the proposed committee lacked even an outline of what its mandate would cover. If there was sincerity to the claim that “one nation, one election” was a national goal, the least that could have been done was to formulate and circulate a position-paper, and then seek responses.
Unfortunately, governments (not just the NDA’s) have ceased to seek a genuine consensus. It is difficult to imagine any party, even if allied with the ruling alliance, daring to suggest a line in variance with what the official think-tank has determined.
And no doubt political motivation would be attributed to anything originating from “the other side of the aisle” ~ gone are the days when a Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) willingly explored an avenue out of a Constitutional complication advocated by the veteran parliamentarian, Chitta Basu of the Forward Bloc.
No longer does the legislature play host to such positive thinking ~ politicians deem themselves honour-bound to play “follow the leader”. The debate on simultaneous elections has deviated into a clash between the administrative convenience of the ruling entity to spread its political wings and the checks and balances that are integral to democratic functioning.
Even a presidential system like the United States’ provides for a bi-annual check on the way the political winds are blowing.
The Law Commission has pointed to how amending the Constitution will become necessary, and manipulating a majority on the floor of a Vidhan Sabha will no longer be a matter of wielding clout ~ financial or otherwise.
The present anti-defecion laws will call for a thorough re-look. The administrative headaches of a simultaneous poll would trigger much pain too. The idea certainly has merit in abundance, and election-mode might not be synonymous with stalled governance.
The Election Commission would find its wings clipped. As in all “reforms” there will be both pros and cons, each issue will require in-depth evaluation.
The biggest danger in such moves comes from hasty over-simplification. Just because the NDA has proved its skill at political and electoral management (and Mr Modi’s power to sway the voter is unmatched) does not mean it has all the answers. As demonetisation and the ineffective roll-out of GST have proven.