Simultaneous poll debate
The nation is livid with the prospect of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in its favour during one of his recent interviews to the media. President Ram Nath Kovind also mentioned about the need for simultaneous elections during his address to the Budget session of the Parliament. BJP president Amit Shah said in another interview that if General Elections are held now, the BJP will win more seats than it did in the 2014 elections, giving further credence to the anticipation that the Lok Sabha elections may be held earlier than its due date during the middle of next year. However, in another interview given more recently, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has ruled out the prospect of holding general elections later this year along with Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. "Till the time the Constitution is changed, and there is consensus on the issues, the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections will not overlap," he said. "And, going by the reaction the issue evoked, it seems people are not in favour of any such move," he added. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who runs a coalition government with the help of the BJP, has termed PM Modi's idea of holding simultaneous elections as not "feasible". The CPI and NCP have also termed the idea as "not feasible". West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee termed the move "anti-democratic and unconstitutional". AAP leader Ashutosh has also spoken against the move in an article published in a leading newspaper. However, The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and AIADMK have supported the idea of holding Assembly and Lok Sabha elections together. The major arguments in favour of holding simultaneous elections include the cutting down on the expenditure incurred on holding the elections periodically. If the elections are held together, it will offer the advantage of continuity to various plans and projects. As the country witnesses state assembly elections taking place around the year, the Centre, along with the states concerned, have to follow the model code of conduct that forbids the launch of new development schemes that may in some measure influence the voters' preferences and choices while casting their votes. This hampers the continuity of various schemes launched by the Centre for the poll-bound states. The Election Commission, however, has informed the Centre that there is a range of constitutional amendments that must be done before it can hold simultaneous elections to state assemblies and the Lok Sabha. Amendments need to be brought in Article 83, which deals with the duration of the Houses of Parliament, Article 85 (dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President), Article 172 (duration of state legislatures), Article 174 (dissolution of state assemblies) and Article 356 (on President's Rule).
The EC has also told the government that to hold simultaneous elections it would require additional Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines, which would cost Rs 9,284.15 crore, and would remain idle after the elections for the next five years, if India opts for simultaneous polls. If there are economic and logistical benefits of holding the state Assembly and Lok Sabha elections together, there are many weak points as well of the hypothesis. First of all, the strength of the Indian democracy lies in the organic development of democratic concepts and institutions. When state assemblies first dissolved prematurely, necessitating reelections, it was an organic democratic process that withstood such tremors and upheavals within the system. Today, state Assembly elections take place around the year, which not only produces new leadership but also catalyses and strengthens the democratic process in the entire country. The recent Assembly elections in Gujarat and the by-poll results in West Bengal and Rajasthan have clearly shown that the BJP, which is in power in a majority of states and at the Centre, cannot afford to become complacent. They also offer optimism to young leaders who are raring to go when there is an opportunity. The frequent Assembly elections, in contrast to a monopoly of a government over a fixed five-year term, act to remind all the stakeholders that elections are for real. The Indian democracy is priceless and cannot be measured in terms of money that is spent to keep it alive and kicking.