HALT INDIA’S POLL MERRY-GO-ROUND

Modi’s New Poser

 

By Poonam I Kaushish

The war on black money and corruption continues to dominate the political stratosphere. As things stand, notwithstanding the accolades the Prime Minister is seemingly receiving from the aam janatathe kala dhan campaign seems to be going phut with bank tillers and ATMs running dry, leaving the public angry, frustrated and begging for his own money.

Amidst the war on black money lost in the din is Prime Minister Modi’s bold pitch for simultaneous elections to elected bodies at various levels a few days back as it would not only save the Exchequer and Parties’ money but enable Governments at the Centre and States to concentrate on delivering good governance besides giving ample time to netas and workers to take people-oriented schemes to the aam aadmi.

In the backdrop that money makes the clogged, polluted and corrupt electoral mare go around in the Great Indian Political Circus and how, wherein politicians of every colour, caste-creed have progressively allowed this malady to become chronic, Modi’s suggestion is sensible.

This raises a moot point if it is an idea whose time has come. If so, would it be advisable in the best national interest? Against the backdrop that over the last few decades the country has been afflicted by PES — Perpetual Election Syndrome week after week, month after month in a year-long merry-go-round thereby wreaking havoc on our body politic — right, left and centre?

Think. In 2006 five States Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry went to polls, in 2007 seven UP, Punjab, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur and Uttarakhand and the following year four Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Mizoram and Rajasthan. In 2009 besides the Lok Sabha, three States Andhra, Assam and Arunachal, Bihar the subsequent year.

In 2011 Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Puducherry and Bengal, 2012 UP, Goa, Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand, the following year Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan  and Mizoram followed by the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 and four States Maharashtra, Haryana, Telengana and Andhra, last year Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand,  J&K and this year Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Assam.

Recall, the first four elections in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967 were a joint affair whereby simultaneous elections were held for the Centre and State legislatures. It was only in 1971 when Indira Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and advanced elections by a year that the synchronization fell apart. This saw the onset of many unstable Governments at the Centre and States resulting in early dissolution of the Lok Sabha or Assemblies.

True, poll issues at the Centre and in States are different; consequently it is not advisable to mix them. Two, it could create confusion for voters as a Party could be deserving of support at the Centre but not in a State. Further, having a fixed term of the Lok Sabha and the State Legislature goes against the basic tenets of Parliamentary democracy

However, simultaneous elections could be held for State Assemblies and they be given a fixed term. In the event an elected State Government was to fall, the Centre would have the option of imposing President’s rule till it was time for a fresh poll. But the Lok Sabha cannot have a fixed term as there is no provision for President’s rule at the Centre. This could create more problems than solving them.

Pertinently, the Law Commission’s 170th report submitted to the then NDA Government in 1999 on electoral reform had said, “this cycle of elections every year, and in the out of season, should be put an end to” and recommended a gradual move towards simultaneous elections once in five years.

Importantly, a major benefit of holding simultaneous polls is that it would result in huge financial saving. The statistics say it all: In 1952, when the first national election for the Lok Sabha and Assemblies were held just over Rs 10 crores were spent. In the subsequent two elections 1957 and 1962 the expenditure came down to almost Rs 6 and Rs 7.5 crores respectively.

Since 1977, the expenditure saw an upward spiral. It doubled to over Rs 23 crores, in 1980, it further doubled to Rs 54 crores and 1989 to Rs 154 crores. Just two years later, the expenses shot up to Rs 359 crore and by 1999 it was Rs 880 crores. By 2004, it had shot up to Rs 1300 crores and 2014 Lok Sabha elections entailed an expenditure of Rs 4500 crores.

Assembly elections expenses too are rising. The Bihar Government spent over Rs 400 crores for Assembly polls, the less said the better about expenses incurred by the Election Commission and Central Government. Just see the amount of the taxpayer’s hard money being spent over and over again mindlessly.

Where do we go from here? Elections, after all are the bedrock of our democracy but we should avoid duplication of polls. Today, with State after State going for elections every year, running the Central Government has become a challenge especially when the country is in a perpetual election mode. Happily, the Election Commission is on board, has the ability to conduct simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies as it would save resources and effort, spare officials like school teachers from great inconvenience.

Undoubtedly, it is one way to get rid of incompetence, malfeasance and casual governance. But it is an idea that needs to be debated extensively at all levels. Its pros and cons must be weighted before arriving at a final solution. Remember, the change advocated would entail changing the basic structure of the Constitution.

As also, facilitate the Government in taking hard decisions in public interest without having to worry about its impact on its vote banks. Experience shows that Government’s per se have avoided implementing policies in national interest, lest it upset a caste, community, religion or region. With governance becoming the first casualty of frequent elections, a fixed term for the Legislatures would stem the spreading rot.

Interestingly, Parliament’s Standing Committee too deliberated on its feasibility December last and held it would reduce massive expenditure in conducting polls, check policy paralysis due to imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time, ease burden on manpower deployed during polls, and result in better deliverables.

Additionally, to begin with polls to all State Assemblies whose terms end within six months to one year before or after appointed election date could be clubbed together.

The US model deserves to be considered. The President and State Governors are elected directly for a fixed four-year term. The President chooses his own team and so do the Governors. True, the President is answerable to the House of Representatives and the Senate, but he is not required to seek their confidence vote. This ensures good governance, stability and continuity enabling him to take hard decisions without fear of losing power.

In sum simultaneous polls is not enough it needs to be nationally debated both within Parliament and outside. India’s democracy should not be reduced to a tu-tu mein-mein between Parties all the time. Enough of the destructive PES! —- INFA

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