Everyone loves the two words, ‘One Nation’. You start any argument with them, and you’ll have people eating out of your hands: ‘One Nation, One Flag’. ‘One Nation, One Tax’. ‘One Nation, One Slap’. ‘One Nation, One Toilet’. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it sounds.
With ‘One Nation’ prefixing anything, you rustle up enthusiasm of the level that combines ‘One Ring to rule them all’ of The Lord of the Rings and ‘All for one, one for all’ of The Three Musketeers. Eve polygamists, love it.
So, when hard-selling the idea of holding simultaneous parliamentary elections and state assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was obviously going to always brand it as ‘One Nation, One Election’, not as any fuzzy-wuzzy ‘Ek titli, anek titliyan’ (One butterfly, many butterflies) kind of national unity with-pluralism of the 1980s Films Division propaganda.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s indeed a pain for political parties — never mind for the Election Commission —having separate Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections across states around the year. And yes, crores of rupees can be saved, the same way that holding a mass wedding, instead of separate weddings, saves money, time, energy, for all parties, guests included.
One also hears about the great bane of governments not being able to focus on their actual job — governance — because their minds are constantly focused on elections, twelve months a year. After all, before 1967 — the last time state and national elections were held simultaneously, with Congress losing eight of the 16 states, and a few months later, also losing UP after Charan Singh left the party with a posse of MLAs to head a non-Congress government — every government in the states and the Centre apparently worked like a dream. (Note: I am being ironic.) The man considered as the prime mover of the revival of simultaneous elections in India is LK Advani.
He first raised the issue in 1995 stating that parties should join hands as the delinking of Lok Sabha and state assembly polls has “not been good either for the health of democracy or that of the administration”. In 2010, as BJP parliamentary party chairman, he even blogged “I found both [Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee] receptive to a proposal I have been advocating for quite some time: fixed-term legislatures and simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls. The upshot would be: no uncertainty about the date of the five-yearly Lok Sabha and assembly elections,” adding that “most European democracies have such an arrangement”.
Quite so. Swedes, for instance, voted in the national, regional and municipal elections on September 9 last year. Germany is another country whose name has been bandied about.
Since the Weimar Republic had revolving-door administrations — which made the National Front-United Front governments of 1980s-1990s India seem super stable in comparison — post-World War 2, Germany opted for simultaneous federal (national) and federated state (assembly) elections. (Pre-World War 2, two state elections left the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) as the largest party in parliament, which led to nationally elected Paul von Hindenberg being replaced as chancellor by NSDAP leader Adolf Hitler in 1933, who did away with state assemblies (lantage) altogether.)
While the European model of holding simultaneous elections may seem as enticing for India as the presence of riverside cafes and cycle lanes, it comes with a clause that India may not yet be politically ready for: a constructive vote of no-confidence.
Here, whether in India or in Indore, we are familiar with the no-confidence motion. Governments at the Centre and states have had the rug pulled from under their feet — most famously on April 17, 1999 when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government succumbed to a no-confidence motion vote when its NDA ally AIADMK withdrew support on J Jayalalithaa’s orders. Fresh polls were called, India lame-ducked for six months, after which Vajpayee’s BJP-led NDA was reinstalled in October.
In the German/European system of a constructive no-confidence vote (also in Israel and Lesotho), such kind of rug-pulling can’t happen — unless there is a majority consensus on the successor of the rug-pulled head of government. So, government continues its business of governing —even as a minority government — while the leader of the government is sought to be changed.
Is India willing to opt for such a ‘presidential’ system? And if so, are parties ready to delink party leaders from parties — beyond the manner by which, say, Lalu Yadav was replaced by Rabri Devi in 2000 as Bihar CM? Because if not, we may have lame-duck governments with Opposition parties waiting for fresh elections to come ’round the mountain (read: for months, even years). And for what? Just to sync national with state elections, rather than to govern or represent the people.
Keeping politicians on their electoral toes via polls is actually as distracting for governance as listening to listeners’ requests is distracting for a radio jockey playing listeners’ requests. For a country that’s really a union-nation of ‘countries’, keeping the sushi belt of elections running is the least worst option if you have the best for representative democracy — rather than chartered democrountancy — in mind.