For some time now, wherever Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes, he talks about the idea of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures.
It stands to reason that this idea will thrill Modi fans, and make those who don't care for him, feel that he is raising the issue just to cash in on the fact that he is more popular than any other politician. Though the contest will be for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha seats, such simultaneous elections could, in terms of campaign, turn out to be almost like a presidential election in America. The most popular candidate, a person with magic or magnetic personality, can take all—the majority in the Lok Sabha elections as well as the legislatures, for his party. Now that the fortunes of the BJP is on the rise, it is possible that there are only lotuses and lotuses across the country. It can be a “Congress-mukt Bharat” until the Grand Old Party rises from the hibernation it appears to be in.
But there is more to the idea of simultaneous polls than what is visible through the Modi or BJP prism. Prominent academicians like Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai have observed that “India is perennially in an election mode”. Every year, 5-7 state assembly elections are held. And then there are the by-elections, and elections to local bodies right down to the panchayat polls.
Between March 2014 and May 2016, elections were held to 15 state legislatures. In fact, newly independent India did have simultaneous elections in 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967. The cycle was disrupted when some state legislatures were dismissed.
Now, the logic behind simultaneous elections is that the Model Code of Conduct imposed by the Election Commission of India puts the entire development programme and governance on a standstill. According to Niti Aayog, this happens for at least four months a year. Any governance effort can be construed to be inducement to voters in poll-bound states.
Other factors in favour of simultaneous elections is the cost saving, the movement of security forces, the disruption of normal life, reduction in time period when politicians can, in the course of their campaign, instigate voters along caste and community lines.
And above all, elections round the year tends to keep political parties constantly thinking in terms of electoral gains.
But, small regional parties believe that there is a clear demarcation between Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls. There is a difference in the issues involved. On the different timing of elections rests the federal structure of Indian polity, guided by voter behaviour that would be different when voting for Lok Sabha, and very different when voting for Vidhan Sabha.
Independent thinkers say that while elections create short-term jobs, there is nothing wrong in being in election mode perpetually. This keeps the politicians on their toes, they reason.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley thinks simultaneous elections will bring a sharp focus to the debate, and step up its quality. It is time others gave the subject a deep thought, for one thing we pride ourselves is the strength of our democracy. The way elections are held can alter this strength, whichever way.