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Is ‘One Nation, One Election’ possible?

TCA Ramanujam/TCA Sangeetha | Updated on December 18, 2020 Published on December 18, 2020

While it will result in huge savings in expenditure, it cannot be achieved without draconian changes to our Constitution

The Election Commission is one agency in India that works round the clock, throughout the year. The Panchayat, District Board, State Assemblies, Legislative Council, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, President, Vice-President all require supervision by the Election Commission of India. Enumeration of votes, verification of voters’ list and delimitation of constituencies take up almost all the time of the Commission.

The country has adopted a quasi-federal set-up in our Constitution. India is neither unitary like Britain nor fully federal like the US. Members are elected for the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assembly.

Purity of the election process requires strict vigil on the part of the Election Commission. How does the EC go about it when the tenure of these elected bodies is fixed at five years, and elections have to be held at least every year for some State Assembly or the other?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been repeatedly emphasising on ‘One Nation, One Election’ as a necessity for development. There is an election in India almost every month — Madhya Pradesh , Manipur and Bihar, among other States, had elections recently — which involves a lot of money. Modi has asked the presiding officers of elected bodies to ponder over the idea of having one election and one voters’ list.

After the passing away of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s political spectrum turned murky. Elected representatives became victims of greed for money and power. Assured of a fixed tenure by getting elected, they started bargaining for power and pelf. Crossing over parties became the norm.

Elected chief ministers were unseated by no-confidence motions. MLAs had no scruples over switching loyalties. India’s contribution to the Constitutional dictionary is the phrase ‘Aaya Rams and Gaya Rams’.

The anti-defection law is special to India. It has, however, failed in its mission. Split and merger gave room for conflict between the Speaker’s jurisdiction and the court’s role. The prime cause for the instability of elected governments must be traced to the decision of the party in power at the Centre to dismiss State governments run by opposition parties.

At one stage, nine State governments were dissolved at one stroke under Article 356 of the Constitution. The practice would have continued unabated but for the Supreme Court ruling the Bommai case. Destabilisation of elected State governments is shamelessly resorted to by all political parties. Elected representatives enjoy ‘resort’ politics — remember Koovathoor, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Jaipur?

Is there a remedy?

The Prime Minister is right in pointing out that frequent elections hampered development due to the huge expenditure involved. Ours is a quasi-federal structure. In England, the king reigns but does not govern. In the US, the President both reigns and governs. The Indian President neither governs nor reigns. The Governor in India is a tool in the hand of the Union Government.

In the US, the State Governor, like the President, is elected directly. He is not vulnerable to the whims of the federal government. We chose to emulate the British cabinet system. According to political scientist Herman Finer, the Cabinet in the UK is controlled but not stultified, threatened but not executed, questioned but not mistrusted; politically partisan but not personally malicious, restrained as much as by the spirit of responsible power as by its institutions and sanctions, and Janus-like, it looks at once to the people and to the Lords.

Under the Indian system, a minority government always fears execution at any time and most governments, especially at the State level, have shown a weakness for being both politically and personally malicious. Morality is sacrificed at the altar of expediency. The Charan Singh government was overthrown within four months. Last year, the Fadnavis government had to quit in three days. Do we have alternatives?

Russian President Vladimir Putin altered the law to enable himself to be the President of Russia till 2036. China went through the one candidate election. “And one by one, the 2,956 party-chosen delegates of the National People’s Congress cast their vote for the leader of their party in an election that had no candidate other than Xi Jinping. Xi won the elections with 99.86 per cent of the votes. It was the most perfectly organised election.” ( The Hindu, November 27, 2020)

Can we dream of such changes in our Constitution?

What will happen to the anti-CAA protests, the farmers stir and the jallikattu imbroglio ? We in India cannot afford a Tiananmen Square.

We may be proud of such achievements like the Golden Quadrilateral, Digital India, One Nation One Ration Card, etc. A Tamil comedian asks, ‘Why not One Nation One Charger’. ‘One Nation, One Poll’ and one voters’ list can never be achieved without draconian changes in our Constitution.

Ramanujam is a former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, and Sangeetha is a practising advocate of the Madras High Court. The views are personal

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Published on December 18, 2020
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