The Central Government has called for a special session of Parliament to be held between the 18th and 22nd of September, as announced by Central Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi on Thursday. He stated that during this special session, there would be five meetings. There is speculation that the government might introduce a bill on “One Nation, One Election” during this special session.
Prior to this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had brought up the idea of “One Nation, One Election” on the occasion of the 73rd Independence Day in 2019. He emphasized the need for the continuous process of unification of the country. PM Modi also touched upon this topic while addressing the concluding session of the 80th All India Presiding Officers’ Conference of Parliament, indicating its importance.
What is the Debate on ‘One Nation, One Election’?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi first mentioned the concept of “One Nation, One Election” on Independence Day in 2019, and since then, it has been a recurring topic of discussion, especially within the BJP. The idea is based on the notion that parliamentary and state assembly elections in the country should be held simultaneously. Currently, Lok Sabha (national) elections and state assembly elections are held at different intervals, with Lok Sabha elections happening every five years, as mandated by the Indian Constitution. The terms of different state legislative assemblies, however, end at different times, leading to staggered state assembly elections.
However, there are a few states in India, such as Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim, where assembly elections are already held simultaneously with Lok Sabha elections. In contrast, states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram will have their assembly elections before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The Reason Behind the ‘One Nation, One Election’ Debate
The debate on “One Nation, One Election” began in earnest in 2018 following a report by the Election Commission. The report highlighted financial reasons for the concept. According to the Election Commission’s report, the expenditure for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent state assembly elections was approximately equal. Additionally, the report suggested that if elections were held simultaneously, the cost would be shared in a 50:50 ratio between the central government and the respective state governments.
In its draft report, the Election Commission had conveyed to the government that after 1967, the process of holding simultaneous elections had become difficult. The report noted that in the early years of independence, one party dominated the country’s political landscape, and regional parties were weak. Over time, the balance shifted, and regional parties gained strength in many states. This, along with the use of Article 356 of the Constitution, contributed to the difficulty of conducting simultaneous elections. Now, the political landscape has changed, with numerous regional parties holding power in several states.
Uniform Expenditure for Lok Sabha and State Assembly Elections
According to the Election Commission, the expenditure for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections amounted to INR 35,86,27,00,000 (approximately 35.86 billion), whereas the expenditure for the Haryana State Assembly elections that followed in 2014 was INR 33,72,00,000 (approximately 33.72 billion). This is in contrast to the Lok Sabha elections, which cost INR 29,00,00,000 (approximately 29 billion). In Jharkhand, the State Assembly elections cost INR 86,00,00,000 (approximately 86 billion), while the Lok Sabha elections cost INR 89,47,00,000 (approximately 89.47 billion). Madhya Pradesh saw an expenditure of INR 1,31,00,00,000 (approximately 1.31 trillion) for the State Assembly elections and INR 1,99,00,00,000 (approximately 1.99 trillion) for the Lok Sabha elections. Similarly, in Delhi, the State Assembly elections cost INR 98,76,00,000 (approximately 98.76 billion), while the Lok Sabha elections cost INR 34,50,00,000 (approximately 34.50 billion).
Challenges for the Election Commission with Frequent Elections
In its report, the Election Commission highlighted that if simultaneous elections were held in 2019, approximately 10 lakh polling booths and around 13 lakh ballot units, 9.4 lakh control units, and roughly 12.3 lakh VVPAT machines would be required. The cost of one electronic voting machine (EVM) is approximately INR 33,200. The Election Commission estimated that conducting elections simultaneously would cost INR 4,555 crore for EVMs alone in 2019.
Furthermore, the maximum lifespan of an EVM is 15 years. The Election Commission stated that conducting simultaneous elections again in 2024 would cost INR 17,510 crore, increasing to INR 18,192 crore in 2019 prices. If simultaneous elections are held in 2034, the cost of acquiring new EVMs would be INR 14,000 crore.
History of Simultaneous Elections in India
After gaining independence, the first simultaneous elections for both the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies were held in 1951-52. Subsequently, simultaneous elections took place in 1957, 1962, and 1967. However, after the 1968-69 elections, the practice of simultaneous elections was discontinued due to various reasons.
The idea of “One Nation, One Election” is not a new concept, as it was initially introduced in 1960 when non-Congress parties started forming state governments. This concept was applied to states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, and Haryana. However, the trend changed after the split in the Congress party in 1969 and the 1971 war with Pakistan. Since then, the dates for state assembly elections and general elections have rarely coincided, leading to separate elections.
In a webinar organized by BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia, former Supreme Court Justice A.K. Sikri mentioned, “The idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ is not new. The first four general elections after independence were conducted simultaneously. The concept of ‘One Nation, One Election’ was initiated between 1952 and 1967, but it was discontinued due to the strengthening of states’ identities and regionalism.”
Parag P. Tripathi, senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General of India, also commented during the same webinar, stating, “Elections are integral to democracy and are a means of democratic governance. The idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ ran from 1952 to 1967. The diversity and cooperative federalism in India make it a better option for dealing with half and half, cooperative separatism.”
How Will This Proposal Be Enacted?
Former Secretary of the Rajya Sabha, Desh Deepak Sharma, explained in an interview that a process would be needed to enact this proposal, involving constitutional amendments and the consent of states. If the bills passed in Parliament earlier did not pose any issues for the government, then this proposal should not either. However, a challenge arises in the form of dissolving state legislatures before implementing it. It is not necessary to curtail the terms of the Members of the Legislative Councils, but additional time may be given to states whose terms are not yet complete.
Now, the question arises about how the dissolution of state legislatures will happen. There are two answers to this. First, Article 356 of the Constitution could be invoked in the states through the President. Second, the respective state governments themselves may request this.
What Is the Election Commission’s Stance on This?
Last year in November, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar made a significant statement regarding conducting Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha (state assembly) elections simultaneously. He mentioned that the Election Commission could indeed conduct both these elections at the same time. According to Rajiv Kumar, this subject does not fall within the purview of the Election Commission. He clarified that while there are many hurdles and complexities involved, it is something that legislative bodies must decide. He emphasized that if it were to be done, the government has been informed administratively that the Election Commission can handle it.
What Does the Government Say About One Nation, One Election?
On this matter, the government provided its first response on Friday. Pralhad Joshi, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, stated that a committee has been formed to examine this issue. The committee will submit its report, which will be discussed. Joshi also expressed confidence in the maturity of Parliament and the discussion that will take place, emphasizing that there is no need to be anxious. He said that India is known as the mother of democracy and has progressed. He intends to discuss the agenda of the special sessions of Parliament.
Officials also informed the PTI agency that to conduct simultaneous elections, a minimum of five constitutional amendments would be required. These would include amendments related to the tenure of the Houses of Parliament (Article 83), dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President (Article 85), tenure of State Legislative Councils (Article 172), abolition of Legislative Councils in States (Article 174), and imposition of President’s Rule in States (Article 356).
In addition to this, it’s crucial to consider the federal uniqueness of the Constitution, and the consent of all political parties is necessary. It is also imperative to obtain the agreement of all state governments.