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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 4 January 27, 2024

‘One Nation, One Election’ is a subversive idea based on delusions of monarchical grandeur | Suhit K Sen

Saturday 27 January 2024


17 January 2024

Simultaneous elections can’t possibly work without committing extreme violence to the Constitution.

The committee tasked with examining the proposal for ‘One Nation, One Election’ — in lockstep with the theme of one nation, one everything, one leader — issued notices on January 5 seeking public suggestions by January 15.

The notice was published in major newspapers, but seemed to have flown under the radar, being picked up nationwide over the next few days. However, there was a fatal snag to begin with: the email ID provided in the notice was incorrect, apart from the fact that 10 days is emphatically too short a period for the public to formulate and send responses.
Proponents could argue that the idea has been floating around since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, so, there’s been enough time to formulate responses. However, the timeline suggests that the regime is going for force majeure.

A concrete step towards forcing this pet scheme down people’s throats was the appointment of the ‘High-Level Committee on One Nation, One Election’ under former President Ram Nath Kovind on September 1. It held two meetings, on September 23 and October 25, with the latter sitting being informed that letters had been sent to six national, 33 state and seven unregistered but recognised political parties, seeking suggestions.

Before all this, the 21st Law Commission headed by Justice B S Chauhan had categorically said in its draft report of August 18, 2018, in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, that simultaneous elections could not be held within the existing framework of the Constitution. Apart from constitutional amendments, the Representation of the People Act 1951, and the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha and assemblies would have to be changed.

The commission suggested that the constitutional amendment be ratified by 50 per cent of the states, as prescribed in special cases, apart from being passed by both Houses of Parliament following the rules stipulated in Article 368, i.e. a simple majority of the total strength of the Houses and two-thirds majority of those present and voting.

It did, however, note that simultaneous elections would save public money; reduce the burden on the bureaucracy and security forces; and ensure ‘timely’ implementation of policies by ensuring that the administration was engaged in promoting development rather than holding elections. On this, more later.

We have been informed that the 22nd Law Commission headed by Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi has presented its views to the Kovind committee, but these appear not to have been made public.

Of the parties invited to make suggestions on simultaneous elections, the Trinamool Congress responded unambiguously on January 11, pithily and accurately describing it as undemocratic and anti-federal, as did the Left.
With all due disrespect to the 21st Law Commission’s risible views, simultaneous elections can’t possibly work without committing extreme violence to the Constitution, because it wouldn’t be enough to just institute it, it would be necessary to maintain it, which would mean putting in place a system of fixed-term legislatures, including Parliament. Thus, if a government lost the confidence of a legislature it would have to be kept in power, or replaced by one that could be similarly unrepresentative.

As to the arguments about public savings and administrative efficiency, the first point surely would be, especially to a statutory body tasked with maintaining the superstructure of laws we are governed under, that economy does not trump democracy, based on popular representation and accountability.

Two, freeing the administrative apparatus from the responsibility of conducting periodic elections is unlikely to elevate India’s bureaucracy to empyrean heights of efficiency. Remember, between 1946, when the interim government headed by the Congress was formed after the elections held under the Government of India Act 1935 and the de facto transfer of power, and the fourth general elections of 1967, there was simultaneous polling in all of India, except for the assembly elections in Kerala in 1960. Anyone willing to make the case for over two decades of unbridled efficiency?

We’ve been there before. That’s just one reason why we must agree with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when she says that this ‘design to subvert the Indian constitutional arrangements is aimed at converting the polity … into a presidential system’.

Not so much presidential, as monarchical, given the kind of divine dispensation to represent Indians claimed by Modi on January 12 in connection with his Ram temple role — a blatant violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

(Author: Suhit K Sen is author of ‘The Paradox of Populism: The Indira Gandhi Years, 1966-1977’)

[The above article from Deccan Herald is reproduced here for educational and non-commercial use]

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