Analysis

One Bharat, One Democracy

Elections are the festival of democracy. Bharat has a noisy democracy in which elections are celebrated with a lot of fervor. However, having too many festivals all year round is not a good experience. Unbridled excess of anything is bad for the system as it drowns everything else. A nation must live beyond the elections and must govern. Till 1967, state assembly and Lok Sabha elections were held simultaneously in Bharat. Now, we have an interesting medley of elections every year with allegations that every executive decision is tainted with electoral considerations. On the other hand, judicial decisions and processes at the highest level of judiciary are also allegedly influenced by electoral considerations.

We have seen the detrimental effect of too many elections when in one state (Punjab) the security of the Prime Minister was tempered with and justified with impunity because the state was ruled by an opposition party. We also witnessed another state (West Bengal) where the Prime Minister and the home minister of the nation were called outsiders during election time. If the Prime Minister of the democratic nation is being dubbed as an outsider in a state of the Indian Union what would be the fate of ordinary citizens. Every year, all the executive decisions come to a screeching halt as soon as the model code of conduct is promulgated, and state assembly elections are announced. Allegations are traded freely, and seizure of black money is a routine occurrence during frequent elections.

Transactions of black money and contraband are routinely done again with acrimonious accusations. The Prime Minister has already talked about one nation one election slogan that has been criticized by the opposition parties as anti-constitution. A developing country like Bharat cannot afford to delay the development and progress on grounds of frequent and wasteful election cycles every year. All the players and stakeholders in the process, including executive, legislative branch, and judiciary along with the election Commission of India, a statuary body must come to a sane and common-sense decision to avoid this democratic excess which is harming the nation. It is sure that all the opposition parties will criticize such an effort as anti-constitution. Such frequent elections are also a security risk because of short-term electoral advantages force the political parties to transport illegal/black money and alcohol across state lines to bribe the voters. Foreign actors try to interfere in the nation’s internal issues every year using social media, print media and cyber-attacks. With predictable regularity, divisive issues are brought into limelight deliberately whether it is religious and communal divisions, caste census, regional and linguistic divide or any such other polarizing items.

In the Supreme Court’s latest decision on the legality of the revocation of article 370, the honorable court ordered that the statehood be restored ASAP and elections be held for the legislative assembly of Jammu & Kashmir by September 30th, 2024, which is currently under President’s rule. This call for elections was something that the executive branch of the government, including the Election Commission of India had to decide. The Lok Sabha elections are already due in May 2024. A cursory look at the website of the ECI suggests that legislative assembly elections are due in the following states: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odissa, and Sikkim. Furthermore, elections are due in Maharashtra and Haryana in October 2024, both BJP governed states. Elections are also due in Jharkhand in December 2024, which is governed by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, and its allies led by Hemant Soren. In the Union Territory of NCR Delhi, assembly elections are due in February 2025 whereas in Bihar the elections are due in October of 2025.

 A case can be made for preponing the Lok Sabha elections to March or April 2024 to coincide with the four state assembly elections. Furthermore, both Haryana and Maharashtra are BJP ruled states.  It would be easy for the BJP to dissolve the assemblies in those two states prematurely to have simultaneous elections. Certainly, the lieutenant governor of NCR Delhi can dissolve the Delhi NCR assembly 10 months ahead of the schedule to have simultaneous elections with the Lok Sabha elections. Such an eventuality will see at least seven state assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha elections. Both Jharkhand and Bihar governments will resist early elections. If these two state assemblies are dissolved prematurely, we could see nine state assembly elections along with Lok Sabha elections. Both Assam and Puducherry have their assembly elections due in 2026.  A resurgent BJP could call for premature elections in these two states almost two years in advance to have simultaneous elections. 

Gradually, it may be possible, once again, to have state elections in sync with the Lok Sabha elections as was the tradition till 1967. A spate of coalition SVD (Samyukta Vidhayak Dal) governments came to power in 1967 with defeat of the Congress. These governments were inherently unstable needing mid-term elections. As the Congress party was getting weaker nationally and split several times, it took the easy way out under Indira Gandhi’s leadership for contesting state elections separately and did not make effort for simultaneous national elections. It was easier for the center to pour resources into a single state, one at a time, to win the state legislative elections. It was also easier to focus on the local caste and religious consideration in making electoral promises and candidate selection.

While there may be a need for constitutional amendment to have simultaneous national and state elections, some creative use of discretion at the hands of ruling party can bring most of the states in line with the Lok Sabha elections. There is a need for comprehensive electoral reforms in Bharat including election funding. Greater transparency in election bonds will be welcome also. There will not be any unanimity for such comprehensive reforms in the short-term because of the self-serving agenda of caste-based, dynastic and regional political parties. The nation cannot wait for these comprehensive reforms to change the system. Incremental and piecemeal steps must be taken meanwhile to take away the negative ills in the democratic system. Long-term and sustained efforts are needed for electoral reform in Bharat. Such reforms will require time and a stable government at the center with two-third majorities in both houses to enact such electoral reforms. However, the need of the hour is to stop this repetitive drama every year state by state rehashing the same issues. The nation needs to govern itself. A democratic Bharat must continue to rise and also have one election every five years!
 

Image (c) istock.com

12-Dec-2023

More by :  Dr. A. Adityanjee

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