Simultaneous Elections – A Good Call?


Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again stressed that the elections of Lok Sabha and all State assemblies should be held together. For the last two years, he has been putting forth his support for this amendment in the election system. On the occasion of Constitution Day on 26th of November, he called upon to start a debate on this issue. The debate is already in progression informally. However, with such a critical issue at hand, launching the debate formally should be given a priority.

There is nothing wrong in holding Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections together. In fact, they used to take place simultaneously till 1967. The first General Elections in post- Independent India were held in 1951-52, where elections for Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held together. For the next three terms, our country witnessed simultaneous elections.

Following this however, the Indian polity took a new turn. The elections of 1967 resulted in several hung assemblies in the states. Consequently, governments could be formed only after some of the parties entered into alliance. These alliances were not stable and many states witnessed the midterm elections giving a blow to the system of conducting simultaneous elections. In the Lok Sabha, Congress had an absolute majority, but it was forced to split mid-term and elections had to be conducted in 1971, a year before the scheduled elections. Since ideally the term of an Assembly and Lok Sabha spans for five years, the discrepancy between the sudden mid-term splits of the state and central governments made it impossible to conduct elections simultaneously without disrupting a term, or elongating it unnecessarily. Thus, simultaneous elections were rendered obsolete.

The Prime Minister now seeks to restore the original arrangements made by founding fathers of our Constitution. There are strong arguments in its favour. First of all, it will save election expenditures. A big amount is spent on election not only by the Election Commission (which is paid by government treasury) but also by political parties and other candidates. If all election take place simultaneously, it would be much more economical for both the Election Commission as well as the competing political parties. Secondly, disparate election create logistical difficulties. According to the model code of conduct observed during elections, neither state governments nor the centre can take policy decisions to prevent the public voters from swaying, and voting for ruling parties. Given this, with 29 states in the country, we witness State Assembly elections of a group of states in an interval of every 6-8 months. This stalls the center from making any policy decisions for a major portion of their term, leading to policy paralysis.

Thirdly, this system of having year-round in at least one part of the country becomes an unnecessary consumption of valuable time. Ministers from th parliament, and even the Prime Minister himself, have to devote a large amount of time campaigning for . In fact, it is largely evident that ministers place added priority to election campaigning over giving time to their ministries. The Prime Minister too has spent a large amount of time going state-to-state to campaign for the party.

While simultaneous elections have strong reasons for support, implementation is a whole other aspect that needs to be given consideration. For one thing, it must be kept in mind that the Constitution prescribes a five year term for any government, whether on the state or central level. None of the state assemblies would agree to it without being given this five-year term. Thus, the Central government cannot impose on a State to hold premature , given our present Constitutional provisions. One important aspect to be considered is the fact that the prescribed provisions of the constitution have to be amended to go ahead and hold assembly elections simultaneously with central . For such an amendment to occur, the presence of a consensus should emerge among all major political parties.

-Contributed by Kriti Prasad

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