Why Centre must give up the idea of simultaneous polls to Parliament and assemblies

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New Delhi:

The proposal for simultaneous elections to Parliament and state assemblies seems unworkable for now with the general elections 2019 looming large over the horizon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vociferously pushing for the proposal, but with both the Election Commission and Law Commission pointing out the practical difficulties in the short run, there is no way the plan can be pushed through in the limited time available.

Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat had recently indicated that in terms of preparatory work, the maximum that could be possible was elections in four states simultaneous with parliamentary elections. But with each passing day, even that limited goal is seeming to be more and more insurmountable.

Now, the Law Commission has also confirmed that the proposal cannot go through within the existing framework of the Constitution. Appealing for further discussions and examination of the matter, Justice (Retd) Balbir Singh Chauhan, chairman of the commission said in a newspaper interview that a “healthy and sustainable debate” was called for on the issue.

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The Law Commission’s term is at an end and it is inconceivable that the proposal can move forward in such a short time with a new Law Commission taking up the responsibility which would have much homework to do afresh.

The outgoing Law Commission has made it clear that it is leaving the issue to be deliberated upon by its successor. Given the current state of relations between the Treasury benches and the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, there is little possibility of the proposal leading to a constitutional amendment to effect the desired changes.

The proposal itself sounds good in principle and seems worth pursuing but getting past the legislative hurdles would be an onerous task, especially with the NDA not having a majority in the Upper House.

CEC Rawat made it clear while on a visit to Aurangabad in Maharashtra recently that lawmakers would have to make a law for simultaneous elections and then it would require at least a year to bring in such a law. He said the Election Commission has been working since February last to prepare for the 2019 general elections.

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The Congress, Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, DMK, Telugu Desam, the Left parties and the Janata Dal (S) have opposed the proposal for simultaneous polls. While the Opposition is outnumbered in the Lok Sabha where the BJP and its allies hold sway, in the Rajya Sabha it’s a different story with the anti-BJP forces calling the shots.

Protagonists of the simultaneous polls idea argue that if the country is always in a state of elections, it negatively impacts the development of the states and the nation.

In 2015, a parliamentary standing committee examined the issue — and endorsed the suggestion. The Election Commission also supported this in principle subject to political consensus. Exorbitant costs and prolonged disruption of development activities are the two main reasons cited to disfavour simultaneous polls.

Another reason is that during elections communalism, casteism, corruption and crony capitalism are at their peak. Frequent elections mean there is no respite from these evils at all. Constitutional experts believe the proposal could be motivated by political considerations, as when simultaneous elections are held voters tend to vote for the same party. Incidentally, a recent article by researchers from IDFC Institute, a Mumbai-based think tank, had also noted this trend.

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There are some genuine apprehensions expressed by many politicians which would need to be addressed. Indeed, with both the EC and the Law Commission agreeing in principle that the idea itself is desirable but some issues in implementation deserve to be sorted out, there is no reason the Centre should not give up on the idea for now.

There is a sizeable Opposition section that opposes things just for the sake of it. While those can be discounted, there ought to be due sensitivity to genuine calls for due deliberation. The creases need to be ironed out before any legislative finality is achieved.

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