The Dangers of One Nation One Election Narrative

tripura election

The debate of simultaneous Lok  Sabha and state assemblies’ elections is gaining momentum in India.  After continuous pitch by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ruling BJP, the Law Commission recently held consultations with national and regional parties to know their views on the idea of ‘One Nation One Election’.  The main arguments behind having One Nation One Election system are that multiple elections lead to financial burdens on government exchequers and are wastage of resource. They also hamper the development works because of frequent enforcement of model code of conduct. In a democracy like India, multiple elections are more than what is seen from a miopic view. Can our elections be a simple calculation based on its economy or should we see them as something more than profit and loss statement?

As per the liberal democratic theory, elections are essential element in the democratic process that allow citizens to intervene directly in the political process, select their rulers and express their policy preferences.  In this way, the elections legitimize the power exercised by governments and make governments representative. Such legitimacy and repetitiveness require more in a democracy like India, which has complex social, regional, cultural and linguistic diversities, and large population is lacking basic needs even after 67 years of Independence.  Here elections have direct as well as indirect role to play for ensuring people participation and maintaining their faiths in the political system. Due to its socioeconomic, urban-rural and elite-mass divides, the country has multiple levels of political consciousness and involvement and periodic and multiple elections give a continuous sense of saying to the people in the world’s largest democracy.

A month after BJP’s defeat in Kairana Lok Sabha bye-polls, Narendra Modi government hiked the Minimum Support Price of 14 Kharif crops including paddy crops for marketing season 2018-19.   It is being said that it is the highest ever single-year rise in the minimum support price of paddy. So, what is the politics behind it? BJP has lost bye-polls one after another in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, from where it had got the largest number of seats in the 2014 Lok  Sabha polls. The defeat in Kairana, the Eastern part of the UP where farming community has a decisive role, sent out a message that the farmers were not very happy with the government. This forced the center to take immediate measures to control farmers’ resentments in view of 2019 Parliamentary polls.

In October last year, months before the Gujarat assembly polls, the Centre had slashed the rate of newly implemented GST on over 200 items because it saw anger among the business community, particularly in Gujarat. Similarly, in 2015 just before the Bihar assembly elections amid strong protests by the opposition parties and farmers unions, the Central government put its hands down and decided not to reissue the Land Acquisition Ordinance, which was aimed at making it easier for private companies to acquire agricultural land. These are but few instances where such state and bye-polls election results, as well as upcoming elections, have forced the ruling party to rethink their approaches and policies and take corrective steps.

Highlighting the crucial importance of polls, former US President James Madison who was key in drafting US constitution stated –“As it is essential that the government in general should have a common interest with the people so it is particularly essential that the [legislature] should have an immediate dependence on, and intimate sympathy with the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which the dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.”

Just after any elections, one can listen to the impromptu reactions of people even though they are not from that poll-bound area.  They will react like – “Acha Hua BJP/Congress har gyi”…or “Nhi Acha hai BJP/Congress Ko Hin Jitna Chahiye…”. Such reactions underline the real essence of the election in a big democracy like India where, election results of any state or bye-polls may have ramification only on the areas of election but they also give a message across the country where ever people can associate themselves with the issues concerned. They react to the results considering present government policies and actions and forces the ruling class to look into the matter related to that area and revisit their approach.  Such elections create a perception across the country putting a check on ruling dispensation.

One must have seen that amidst strong protest by concerned groups and stakeholders on a certain issue if the ruling party wins even a civic poll in any part of the country most of the time they use it across the country as peoples mandate and a referendum on that issue and justify its actions and policies.  Like soon after demonetization in November 2016, BJP won the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation polls and termed it as people’s “stamp of approval” for note ban.  In this scenario, multiple elections are biggest check and balance weapons in a vast and diverse democracy like India, where space for protest and expressing decent voice is shrinking day by day, as it keeps maintaining people’ pressure on the political class.  These multiple election keep alive the true essence of a democracy where people always feel their association in the political system despite facing hardship and denied any political dividend.

Despite many loopholes, election is important to improve the working of politics even if they will not ensure the quality of the resulting products in a democratic setup. ”Participation in government, of which voting is the most common means, is said to contribute to the personal development of the electors.” There is a need today to see the multiple elections beyond the popular narratives of resources involvement. Only seeing multiple elections on financial profit and loss parameters ignoring its latent essence may have dangerous repercussions.

Diwaker is a Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi



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