“One Nation, One Election:” A Mirage? 

Vote Election

Notwithstanding all the hype being raised about Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being “serious” about pursuing its proposal of “one nation, one election,” prospects of it actually being implemented in near future are fairly remote. Chances of BJP itself being compelled to backtrack from doing so by its own regional allies cannot be ignored. Speculations have certainly being voiced about this proposal being in line with BJP’s primary agenda to hold political reins at the center and in as many states as possible. This does not simply imply targeting its key rivals such as the Congress but also pushing regional parties to the sidelines. Regional parties, including BJP’s allies, are well aware of this intention of BJP. It wouldn’t be surprising if they strongly oppose this proposal. BJP lost support of its key ally, Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal-United) around a year ago. And he is a key figure in the newly formed alliance of opposition– INDIA. Politicking apparently indulged against him in his home terrain – Bihar by BJP compelled him to ally again with Mahagathandhan (Grand Alliance). Kumar had pulled out of this alliance in 2017 to join hands with BJP. His prime interest was to retain his political berth in Bihar, whether with BJP or against it. The same may probably be said about all regional allies of BJP.

Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray, formerly a strong ally of BJP, faced a similar situation when latter’s politicking led to a split in his party-Shiv Sena and left him without chief ministerial position. Heading Shiv Sena (UBT), at present he opposes BJP strongly and is a member of INDIA. Prospects of him aligning again with BJP seem limited. The same may be said about Kashmiri leader, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti whose alliance with BJP spelt for her only a brief stay as J&K Chief Minister.  Following J&K assembly elections in December 2014, PDP and BJP reached an alliance in March 2015 to head the state government. The BJP walked out of the alliance on June 19, 2018, leading to fall of coalition government. Now, Mufti is also a key member of opposition’s alliance.

It would be erroneous to assume that other regional as well as national parties are not aware of politicking engaged in earlier by BJP against the very parties which once chose to be its allies. At present, INDIA alliance includes more than two dozen parties. True, BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 38 parties, which includes split-Shiv Sena as well as faction of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). A few regional parties have chosen to stay away from NDA as well as INDIA alliance, at least for the time being. These include Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Janata Dal (Secular) and Akali Dal. While BSP still has some support in Uttar Pradesh, BJD heads Odisha government, JD(S) enjoys a little support in Karnataka and Akali Dal in Punjab. Though recent years have witnessed BJD supporting BJP on few key issues, the two parties remain strong rivals in Odisha elections. It may also be said these parties have chosen to keep their options open, depending on which alliance fares how in 2024 polls. What, however, is certain that neither of these parties is willing to lose its regional base in keeping with BJP’s nationalistic agenda, particularly that of holding elections at the same time. In fact, this point can also be said about regional parties in NDA. This is partly suggested by objections reportedly voiced by several leaders against BJP’s agenda regarding one nation, one language. This refers to BJP stalwarts’ desire for Hindi’s acceptance as alternative to English.

BJP is certainly aiming high where its “nationalistic” aims are concerned, whether they are linked with one-language, one election or other issues. Chances are that political storm raised over the same, from the opposition, its own allies and others are likely to restrict BJP itself from moving further on these lines. Of course, as has been pointed out in various circles, without several constitutional amendments, consent of state governments and so forth, it is not possible to implement the idea of one nation, one election. Besides, several other factors need to be given serious consideration by BJP. Each state is not Jammu & Kashmir, regarding status of which the central government can gain support from most sections. Even here, in J&K, regional parties have not lost their support.

It is possible, BJP has deliberately banked on this strategy, at present, to divert people’s attention from its own weak points, particularly that of inflation, Manipur-crisis, communal violence in Haryana and similar issues. Or perhaps, the party is actually disturbed by opposition parties’ anti-BJP political strategies.

Elementarily speaking, it is difficult to visualize the actual happening of one election at the same time to both the Parliament and to all State Assemblies. Numerous politicians try their luck at both levels and also from different constituencies in the Parliament. If they succeed in both, elections to seats they choose not to take would have to be held again. How would the process be organized? Different EVMs would be used for both elections in any place. Voters would have to exercise their right to vote for both, which means twice. One vote won’t decide their choice for both the Parliament and Assembly. Now, does this mean, different teams in different rooms would be in charge of the two elections? Or would voters have to go to different places? This also implies voters queuing up twice, whether in one room, same building or different ones, to cast both their votes. And as voters enter, if both elections are being conducted on the same day in the same place, electoral officers would nevertheless be checking their names in two lists- one for the Parliament and one for the Assembly. Even if somehow, the same list of voters is used, what about the voting ink on fingers? Would it be of different colours or would different fingers be used for both elections? Seriously, irrespective of whether elections are held at same time or not, the same data in EVMs cannot be used for both nor can one vote of each voter decide the fate of candidates to Parliament and Assembly. When electoral power for parliamentary and assembly elections is exercised at two distinct levels, it only implies that the two different elections are taking place separately, and certainly not once/simultaneously!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).

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