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One nation, one poll

One nation, one poll
Even before recovering from some strong and scathing comments on the loopholes of the much-publicised Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Centre seems to be playing out another political game on the 'distinct' simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies. Responding to the Centre's specific question on the preparedness for the 'synchronised' polls, the Chief Election Commissioner said that the Commission would be logistically equipped to hold simultaneous polls by the middle of next year, precisely in September 2018. The simultaneous elections, however, can never take place merely by the government's decision, in this connection. Instead, after clearing the legal obstacles on the way – it needs a consensus among all political parties. Imagine if the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Goa – where Assembly elections took place this year – had asked for dissolving their state assemblies and prefer to seek out fresh mandate? Similarly, what would happen to Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh – heading for Assembly elections this year? The EC's response has not only led to speculation of synchronised polls but also of early Parliamentary polls, whose term will expire in May 2019. Even though there are no signs of the government planning on taking the risk of going to the people months ahead of completing its term in office and seeking a fresh mandate in the early Lok Sabha polls; the opposition parties are not going to support it under any circumstance. Interestingly, while the ruling party prefers to maintain its silence as their popularity is on a receding trend right now, the Opposition parties are advocating the legal feasibility of the simultaneous polls. For the Opposition, Lok Sabha and State Assembly polls together are neither feasible nor democratic. They claim that it would require a constitutional amendment to the provisions of Article 356 – which allows the Centre to dismiss that State government – only if there is a collapse of law and order in a particular State. The opposition has also sought an all-party meeting on the issue before it is taken forward. Simultaneous polls, however, appear to be good for governance, as it would provide the government and the administration a clear window of five years to deliver, without the threat of a period of a code of conduct that would restrain the government's policy-making and announcements. However, the reasons cited in favour of the proposal are not very compelling and convincing. But, it can never be ruled out that the expenditure on frequent elections is very high and a poor country like India cannot afford it. Too many elections taking place in different parts of the country are claimed to be disruptive, negatively affecting governance. On the other hand, as federalism is the key of the Indian Constitution, it envisions free and independent political development of the Centre and the states, and the imposition of a uniform electoral pattern on the entire country could violate that idea. Governments are also denied the freedom to go to the people for a fresh mandate on important issues. The million-dollar question is that in case the central government loses its majority in the Parliament, can it compel all the state governments to go for a fresh mandate? Notably, there is no provision of President's rule at the Centre. Though it would subsequently bleak the prospects for smaller and regional parties as it would mess up the national and regional issues, it can also go the other way i.e. the unpopular Centre may face dire consequences in the states too. Though the high cost of electioneering in India has always been an issue of concern, yet, for cutting the cost, the fundamental foundations of a democracy cannot be sacrificed. Increasing election expenditure, problems of political funding and the constraints imposed by the model code of conduct are significant problems. But holding synchronised elections is no solution for a susceptible lot of voters. In a democracy like India, the people's unencumbered right to elect a government is of paramount importance. It appears that the debate on simultaneous polls could give some sort of relief to the Centre as the Modi government has been pushing for joint parliamentary and assembly polls, on the grounds that it would save time and money, and free political parties from the cycle of frequent elections that distract the practice of governance. But, is the government really ready to take any chance with this 'one nation, one poll' agenda, especially realising the fate its 'one nation, one tax' slogan met?

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