After Amit Shah reiterating his position on the need for simultaneous elections, it was Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat’s turn to voice his opinion on the same. He said at most eight states can vote with Lok Sabha, given our logistical issues and emphasised as to how it is possible if all the parties agree to it. It is intriguing how this idea, which has been floating around for quite some time, already seems to have gone to a stage where only last minute logistical worries is the main issue. That it is an inherently anti-democratic move which goes against the basic tenets of Constitutionalism and federalism is simply bypassed as a nonissue by our central government.
“One Nation, One Election” ticks all the popular boxes on paper. Curbing corruption during elections and only a one time logistical arrangement are some of those fanciful ideas. At the same time, accountability ensured and addressed at periodic levels is the fundamental base of an electoral activity. Unfortunately, it is convenience of ‘getting things done’ in a small span of time that has taken precedence over subjecting claims of legitimacy to popular scrutiny. In a way, periodic elections are even castigated as a retrograde activity, some sort of a ‘catching up with time’ syndrome wherein the perception weaved is as to how our electoral populace is jaded by the traditional cliche of accountability. Modernising the process becomes the new fad where along with speeding up this laborious process, the allurement of logistical efficiency trumps the idea of constant monitoring as a shibboleth that needs to be rinsed off our governance apparatus. Democracy as a deeply messy affair goes antithetical to the very stultifying ethos of the centralising posturing on display at the moment. Filtering this muck and homogenising the pool is touted as the solution. This is a classic coloniser’s mind at play that seeks to iron out the social differences of the federal nature of our polity. In its place, a sanitized dummy model would be proudly showcased as a specimen of a well-oiled machinery. At one level, it also becomes similar to a shared disdain by many people for the hotchpotch nature of coalition politics. Instead, a one party dominant rule is dished out as the solution for as diverse a country as ours.
The core principle that gets pushed into oblivion is the idea that we are not a unitary State but a Union of States. This premise itself makes us a peculiar variant of the Westminister style Federal political Union. The centralising tendency behind the synchronization of elections intrudes or rather violates the constitutionally sanctioned federal autonomy of the states. Legitimacy in this political framework need not get channelled through the medium of the Centre. The sub-national political space has its own dynamics and it cannot be overpowered by capitulating to the notion of a manufactured overlapping consensus. Especially so after 1990s where the ‘state has become the primary locus of political power’. The deepening of the idea of participatory democracy has been instrumental to string a narrative of ‘co-operative federalism’ over the years. The present political dispensation uses the term as a bookish homily, a glittering form without any meaningful substance. Quite simply, a bird’s eye national viewing of sundry issues faces innumerable hurdles in comprehending the vexed regional issues. The latter is bound to get the short end of the stick as the priority will always get appropriated by the overweening centre. Paradoxically, in its purported quest of moving forward and designing ingenious suggestions, it harks back to the pre 1967 period where simultaneous elections was the norm because of the dominant party system of our polity. Even then, it was less of a conscious, well deliberated norm than something that merely reflected relationship of the then existing party system and the political behaviour that got engineered by it.
Other important issues like the problem of constitutional amendment and how would that be justified are certainly massive hurdles for an idea like this. However, more troubling is the step before that which is the justifying of a President’s rule in states that have been legitimately elected by the people of the respective states. President’s rule under article 365 can be imposed only on a few conditions, namely – the collapse of a coalition government, the inability of a the legislature to elect a leader as the Chief Minister and the incumbent government losing majority in the state assembly. Tinkering with this provision is tantamount to deliberately mishandling one of the basic provisions of the constitution. Besides, if ever there appears to be a case where the incumbent government loses its majority, it will further burden the opposition with making quick-fix arrangement of a coalition comprising of disparate set of parties. The tenuousness of this coalition is bound to crumble, further damning the notion of stability and robustness proposed by this synchronization. Needless to say, the incumbent party stays in a commanding position to lap up the inefficiency of the fragile alternative which would further see to it that they remain anchored in power.
It would not be off the mark to suggest that this is nothing but a gross infantilising of the electoral system and its normative functions in a democracy. What it essentially means is simple – One game. Heads or tale. Winner takes all. No questions asked. The motive behind it cannot be anything but a desperate attempt to neutralize the wave of anti-incumbency. This charade of benefits clouds the more pressing issues like that of money politics in India. No cap on corporate funding or even the dubious role of electoral bonds seem to have gone off the radar because of this rosy proposition. The focus must be brought back to real issues.
Suraj Kumar Thube has an MA in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is interested in Indian politics and Indian political thought. He spends most of his time reading books, playing football and listening to Hindustani classical music.