Vital to build consensus on simultaneous polls

The High-Level Committee on Simultaneous Elections, led by former President Ram Nath Kovind, has unanimously proposed aligning polls for the Lok Sabha, state legislative assemblies, municipalities, and panchayats.

Vital to build consensus on simultaneous polls

Old Indian Parliament building (IANS file photo)

The High-Level Committee on Simultaneous Elections, led by former President Ram Nath Kovind, has unanimously proposed aligning polls for the Lok Sabha, state legislative assemblies, municipalities, and panchayats. Notably, Congress Leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s absence from participation indicates the committee’s inclination towards views aligned with the government’s stance. The committee’s terms of reference presumed that simultaneous elections serve the “national interest.”

The Kovind Committee report’s alignment with the government’s agenda or commitment to thorough deliberation remains questionable. While it asserts consultation with a range of stakeholders such as political parties, legal experts, former election commissioners, economists, business representatives, and members of the Bar Council, the report fails to showcase exhaustive research and inclusive procedures convincingly.

Although it mentions addressing constitutional and legal concerns and reviewing pertinent literature on domestic and international elections, its content, tone, and methodology seem to lack profound exploration and genuine involvement with diverse viewpoints. The recommendations put forth by the high-level committee led by former President Kovind regarding One Nation One Election follow a predictable trajectory. Notably, the absence of any Opposition member, as the Congress declined participation citing imbalance, raises concerns.


Consequently, attributing responsibility to the government for the Congress’s self-inflicted setbacks, even on critical matters, seems unjust. Nevertheless, without thorough deliberation, the committee’s actions might be perceived as mere validation of the BJP’s longstanding agenda since 1984. Such a significant reform necessitated broader engagement with all stakeholders to ensure inclusivity and credibility. Undoubtedly, the committee has meticulously carried out its task, and many of its suggestions are indeed sensible. As a preliminary measure toward implementing simultaneous elections, the committee proposes a “one-time transitory measure.”

It entails the Union government designating an “appointed date” immediately following a Lok Sabha election, after which the terms of all state assemblies going to polls would align with that of Parliament. Subsequently, municipal and panchayat elections should occur within 100 days of Lok Sabha and state elections. Wisely, the committee refrains from specifying the starting point, leaving it to the government’s discretion. To ensure continuity and prevent disruption caused by premature dissolution of Parliament or state assemblies due to factors like a no-confidence motion or a hung House, the committee suggests conducting fresh elections only for the remaining term, or the “unexpired term,” These recommendations effectively address many underlying issues.

Although the timing of government elections at the Union and state levels currently differs, the concept of simultaneous elections is not novel. In the early years following Independence, elections were conducted concurrently for the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and state assemblies. Between 1952 and 1967, the Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies held their elections concurrently for the first four general election cycles. However, subsequent premature dissolutions of the Lok Sabha on seven occasions and various premature dissolutions of legislative assemblies led to elections being held at different times.

In 2019, only four states conducted their assembly elections alongside the Lok Sabha. The notion of simultaneous elections has been proposed previously by both the Election Commission of India in 1982 and the Law Commission in 1999. Therefore, the proposal aims to reinstate simultaneous elections by introducing constitutional amendments to establish it as a permanent aspect of the electoral system. The desirability of holding simultaneous elections can be analysed from various angles including costeffectiveness, governance efficiency, administrative convenience, and social cohesion.

Firstly, conducting separate elections for the Lok Sabha and State assemblies incurs significant expenses, estimated at around Rs 4,000 crore for the Central government alone, not to mention the additional costs borne by parties and candidates. Simultaneous elections could lead to substantial cost savings. Secondly, the current system sees a continuous cycle of five-six State elections each year, keeping political parties in a perpetual campaign mode. This hampers effective policymaking and governance as the Model Code of Conduct prohibits the announcement of new schemes or projects during the election period, lasting typically 45-60 days.

Thirdly, the administrative machinery faces disruptions during election periods, diverting resources toward election management instead of regular governance duties. Paramilitary forces are often redeployed from their regular duties to ensure the smooth conduct of elections, affecting overall administrative efficiency. Lastly, the frequent high-stakes elections in various States foster polarizing campaigns, particularly exacerbated by the rise of social media in recent years.

This trend deepens existing divides in our diverse nation along religious and linguistic lines, undermining social cohesion. Thus, simultaneous elections offer potential benefits in terms of cost reduction, improved governance effectiveness, streamlined administration, and mitigating divisive electioneering practices, thereby fostering greater social harmony. While the concept holds promise, the primary challenge lies in establishing a mechanism for conducting simultaneous elections, especially given the potential need for early elections in parliamentary or assembly constituencies due to various factors. The committee has proposed the synchronization of elections to the House of the People and State Assemblies as an initial step, followed by a subsequent synchronization of local body elections within 100 days thereafter.

To implement this synchronization, the committee suggests that the first session of the House of the People following general elections be designated as the appointed date. Any State Assemblies formed after this date and before the completion of the House of the People’s full term would serve until the next general elections to the House of the People. Similarly, in the event of a hung parliament or similar circumstances, any new elections to the House of the People would only be for the remainder of the previous House’s term. Similarly, if fresh elections are held for a State Assembly, the new Assembly’s term would align with that of the House of the People.

While this proposed mechanism and the constitutional provisions to enable it would ensure synchronization, they may give rise to other challenges. For instance, if a government loses the confidence of the House shortly before the House’s term expires, say, a year in advance, the opposition might hesitate to initiate a no-confidence motion. Consequently, although the government would remain in power, it might not accurately represent the people’s will, potentially undermining democratic principles. As a result, these recommendations should only move forward with widespread political agreement, especially considering that the majority of national parties do not support the notion.

If every political party is consulted, this goal can be accomplished within the next decade and sustained thereafter. This approach will secure the primary advantages of synchronized elections while upholding democratic and federal principles intact. Achieving simultaneous elections should not come at the expense of democratic values.

(The writer is a Goa-based commentator.)