One Nation One Election – A need? Or an assault on India’s Democracy and Federalism?
In the late December of 2020, several senior leaders of the Ruling Party took some time off to attend an online workshop cum webinar on the theme of an idea called “One Nation, One Election[i]. This premise of one nation, one election is one that has been put forward a number of times by several leaders of the ruling party on several occasions[ii].
Our Prime Minister himself has pitched forward this idea on multiple occasions[iii]. This proposition on the surface may seem very clear and innocent but if ever enforced, will be guilty of bringing a direct attack on the democratic and moreover, fundamental federal values of our Country.
The continuous push for this idea by the leaders and workers of certain political parties is because of a deep-rooted political aspect at play which in a way can deeply undermine the existing political environment of our country.
A Deeper look into History
Before we dive deeper into the notions of this, a clear understanding of what exactly is the concept and idea behind “One nation, one election” is needed. For starters, one nation-one election simply means the simultaneous conducting of elections both to the Union Parliament and State Assemblies of all the states all across the country at the same time. Sounds rather strange?
You would be surprised to know that in post-independent India, the first two General elections of 1952 & 1957 were held simultaneously with the state assembly elections thereby creating a cycle of elections[iv]. This cycle of simultaneous elections was broken in Kerala in 1959 when the Central Government dissolved the ruling Communist led state government of Kerala by invoking Article 356 of the Constitution[v].
In the following periods, defections and counter defections in various state assemblies across the country led to the dissolution of many assemblies thereby effectively ruining the cycle of elections to the point where we are at today. So the notion of one nation-one election is not new in the Indian context.
A Renewed Interest towards the idea
So why is there a renewed push towards simultaneous elections today? The advocates of simultaneous election have various reasons and justifications for their support towards this theory. The main cause of their support is the argument of the continuous state of elections and they are not wrong here.
Since 1967, India has been in a continuous election mode and in any given year, there is an election happening in at least one part of the country. An election also invites extreme expenditure and financial spending for the government.
The Government of India ends up spending upwards of 300Cr Rupees for every election that it is forced to conduct and in 2019, ended up spending almost 9,000Cr Rupees to conduct the General elections in what has been dubbed as the most expensive election ever[vi].
The argument is that instead of having to spend such exorbitant amounts of money every year, it makes more sense to conduct all elections simultaneously and this fact is supported by the Election Commission of India which is also of the opinion that simultaneous elections are much more cost-effective.
Another point of view is that the ruling governments will engage more in governance and policy if they are not always under the constant duress of elections and simultaneous elections will help increase voter turnout as well. Certain thinkers have also associated the ideas of unity and fairness and have gone on to state that it is imperative that One Nation should be united by one single election. The arguments in favour go on in this fashion.
Is it Detrimental to the Nation?
The biggest drawback of the concept of “One Nation, One Election’ is the open attack it does on the Constitution. While today there may be a lot of political thinkers and leaders who openly blow trumpets for the notion of simultaneous elections, the political and constitutional aftereffects of such a scheme is extremely worrisome.
India’s Constitution encompasses some very fundamental and basic structures. Parliamentary democracy and Federalism are two among them. Any parliamentary government remains in power only on the basis of elections and is thereby time-bound in nature.
The government gets its right to rule over the people from the people and thereby it’s a peoples’ right to have elections irrespective of how much they may cost to conduct or whether or not they are in sync and unison with other elections. India’s constitution also advocates a Federal structure whereby India is a union of several states that have come together to form a single nation.
The power and authority of state governments is derived from this very Federal character of the Constitution and not at the pleasure of the Union government and thereby remain in power as per the tenure of the State assembly and not according to the whims and fancies of the Centre.
Perhaps, the biggest drawback and blatant abuse of the constitutional policies is the serious political after-effects this scheme can create. As we stand today, the biggest political issue we face as a nation is the lack of a strong opposition. In any Democracy, we know the importance of a strong and able opposition that can accurately question the ruling government and become a voice of the common people.
Today, the biggest political threat to the National ruling party is the various regional parties active in India. The Indian National Congress, the chief opposition has driven itself to almost being irrelevant in the national and regional political scene, but the same can’t be said about these regional parties.
The regional parties have come to become powerhouses of influence & authority and command the respect and support of the masses thereby posing themselves as the biggest threat to the current ruling regime. Now the question arises as to how simultaneous elections can be used against these regional parties?
Simply put, simultaneous elections force the ordinary voter to choose between National problems and Regional problems and according to a study conducted by Praveen Chakravarthy, a Political analyst and the Chairman of the Data Analytics Department, when posed between National and Regional concerns, there is a 70 % chance that the common voter will give preference to the National concerns over the regional thereby leaving the regional concerns unheard[vii].
Further, studies have shown that the voters who vote for one political party at the national level are more likely to vote for the same party at the regional level as well. With most regional parties having little to no significant presence in the national level and the existing national level opposition parties all in near shambles, it is clear that the ones who stand to gain immensely from this whole exercise are the same persons who are pushing forward this notion of “One nation, one election” i.e. the Bharatiya Janata Party.
One Nation, One Election means nothing but the death of regional parties and the further destruction of National level opposition parties. It also puts us common folk, at a position where we have to choose between the Nation and the state, totally against the intended provisions of the Constitution and against the principles of Federalism.
Our Constitution makers incorporated a Federal structure because they understood the idea of India as a union of states where both the Nation and the State, are equally important.
Is there a cause of concern?
Well as much as the notion of simultaneous elections poses itself as a major cause of concern and threat to our Constitution and Democracy, for now, we can rest easy. This is because while this idea of “One nation, one election” seems possible, it’s not very probable.
The Election Commission of India has stated that if an exercise such as this is to be undertaken, it will need the complete cooperation & sanction of all major political players of the Country, and seeing how detrimental this could be towards the aspirations & ambitions of regional political parties, it seems highly unlikely that they may agree to be a part of this.
Another aspect is the Judicial and legal validity of the same. The idea undermines the Constitutional principles of Federalism and it is to be seen how our Judiciary will attempt to interpret this. So for now, the idea of “One Nation, One Election” will remain what it is, a mere campaign slogan.
Having discussed the underlying political agenda and the serious damage it is capable of doing to the Constitution, it is safe to say that “One nation, one election” is not a need but rather an open attack on the democratic and Federalist values of our Country and for now will remain a topic of debate and discussion in webinars and online workshops.