Simultaneous Elections: An Attack on Democracy

India has the distinction of being the largest representative democracy of the world. Understanding the plural character of Indian society, the liberal stalwarts of independent India took a lot of pain to create a political system based on parliamentary democracy. Such a democracy can indeed function only upon the faith that elections are free and fair, and are effective instruments of ascertaining popular will. Constitutionally and legally, articulation of mass opinion through different political ideologies has found space in our system. But today, we see the NDA administration’s tendency to rig and manipulate the long legacy of democracy.

The periodic elections actually provide citizens right to judge both central and state governments. This right can be derived from certain constitutional provisions. Article 83(2) provides for a term of five years for the House of People (Lok Sabha), from the date of its first sitting, unless dissolved earlier. Similar provisions under Article 172 (1) provides for a five-year tenure for state Legislative Assemblies from the date of its first sitting. It is also the prerogative of the assembly to decide when to call an election. But by cutting at the root of democracy, impairing political rights of citizens and distorting the federal principles in Centre-State relations, the authoritarian Modi administration proposed a totally extraneous step to hold simultaneous elections to Parliament and state assemblies.

At present, NDA has clearly failed to ensure nation’s security. Moreover, under them, India is witnessing a record 40 percent increase in farmers crisis, deep denial of employments, denial of freedom, wide spread scams, declining GDP rates etc. In the midst of such burning scenario, such an impractical and unworkable idea like simultaneous elections can lead to a situation where the necessary balance in Indian democracy, given the diversity of the country, is lost.

The agenda behind the proposal seems attractive. Save cost. Give leaders time to perform. But the fact is that staggered elections act as a continuous check on the central and state governments. Any move to a simultaneous election seeks to rob citizens of the power to use the power of the ballot to stop an authoritarian ruler.

There are other arguments of practicality. For eg if an assembly or even the Lok Sabha is not able to form a government, how will fresh elections be held? Or will the govt so formed with non-matching interests limp along as a lame duck govt. In either case, the citizen will suffer.

Consolidation of power through change in electoral processes to change the very character of democracy and voting behaviour are one among the Modi led government’s strategies to sideline principles of a plural democracy, mute the voices of opposition, and get a favourable election mandate. Such a move will be disastrous to the federal character of the country which gets reflected in the separation of subjects under the categorisations of Union list, State List, and Concurrent List. The push for simultaneous polls to sync both state and Lok Sabha reflects BJP’s fears of electoral defeat in the upcoming elections. This move could also help the poorly performed BJP ruling states to hide their policy failures to overcome the election hurdles. Most importantly, simultaneous elections at central and state level would hamper policy-making process at both levels which cause policy paralysis.