I remember listening to a witty comment made by someone long-time back on how elections work in any democracy, “The only thing that we learn from new elections is that we learned nothing from old elections”.
To an extent that is true; people vote to hope for a change and often end up living under similar circumstances for another five more years. Governments may change, leaders may come and go, but the life of an average Indian voter won’t change. It is something that will happen forever, as long as there is democracy in India. However, the government now plans to bring changes to the way elections are being conducted in the country; the source for the change is the recent law commission report submitted by the Law Commission of India Chairman retired Justice B.S Chauhan. The report is now open for open discussion, with opinions invited from various stakeholders including political parties and the general public.
History of Elections in India
India is one of the few countries in the world where free and fair elections take place periodically, thanks to an independent Election Commission and a political culture that keeps itself away from the electoral process. Following the independence from the centuries-old colonial rule, India went through the first election in 1951. Since the country was in its infant stage, there were no pre-existing administrative setups nor governments at many levels. Thus, starting in 1951 and till 1967, simultaneous elections were held to both the parliament as well as various State legislative assemblies.
However, certain assemblies were dissolved in 1967 and 1968, followed by the dissolution of the parliament in the coming year. This lead to a series of cyclical elections happening in the country, almost every year, either in the form of a general election or in the form of a by-election.
Why Do We Need Simultaneous Elections in the Country?
For the several supporters, the concept of simultaneous elections is more like a combo pack, which includes several benefits at one go. Many argue in favor of simultaneous elections due to the fact that simultaneous elections help in reducing the costs associated with the elections to a large extent. In fact, India spends about Rs 4,000 Cr every year in conducting elections. And this doesn’t include the amount spent by the politicians and parties for election campaigns and promotions. One of the main reasons why such a mammoth amount is spent is because elections happen every year.
Another advantage of organizing simultaneous elections is concerning the code of conduct and its impact on welfare schemes and nation’s economy. When election dates are declared, the model code of conduct comes into effect, meaning, the government machinery no longer can act independently. This affects the policy-making process and also retards the economic growth. The impact is huge, even if the model code of conduct is in place for few weeks. Along with this comes the busy bureaucracy that will be deployed for the smooth organization of elections. On the days closer to the elections, even the grass root government employees like government teachers and grade III officers will have to discharge themselves from their official duties to take part in organizing the elections. Such disruptions in the administration have been hurting the polity as well as the economy over the years. It has also been pointed out that frequent elections not only disrupt the administration but also brings democracy to a standstill.
Can Simultaneous Elections be ever made a Reality?
Although simultaneous elections occured in the country until 1967, it must be also remembered that the Indian polity then was still immature and followed a dominant party system. Often, Congress won elections at both Centre and State and there was little scope for governments losing majority before the completion of their tenure. However, India today is a mixture of a large number of regional parties, which in many instances, are far more influential and powerful than their national counterparts. This means that simultaneous elections may not work today the way it did before 1967. If the government plans to implement the simultaneous elections, there must be also reforms done with the laws pertaining to moving a no-confidence motion as well as the future of the States which ends up not having a government before the five-year cycle.
Simultaneous elections are in fact a revolutionary step towards reducing the costs attached to the elections and bringing in further stability to the polity. However, it is also a Pandora’s box, which if not opened carefully, may release a series of problems that can muddle up the stability of India’s political domain.
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