The 'One Nation, One Election' debate has rocked the political corridors after the Modi government constituted a committee headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind for the same on Friday (September 1). Speculations have been doing the rounds since yesterday when the government announced a special session of Parliament starting September 18 to 22, that 'One Nation, One Election' could be on the government's top agenda.
With the Opposition consolidating its presence and unity ahead of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled in 2024, the move was branded a "distraction" by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Five states will go to Assembly polls later this year including some of the major Hindi states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Telangana will also go to polls later this year.
With just months to go for the Assembly elections in the states and next year's general elections, the commencement of debate of 'One Nation, One Election' has found the centre-stage in the political sphere.
Latest reactions on 'One Nation, One Election'
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said, "Right now, a committee has been constituted. A report of the committee will come out which be discussed. The Parliament is mature, and discussions will take place, there is no need to get nervous. India is called the mother of democracy, there is evolution. I will discuss the agenda of the Special Session of Parliament”.
Former Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said that the government needs to make amendments to the Constitution and law for the proposal to be implemented.
"There is one difficulty in the present situation and that is to make amendments to the Constitution and law. It is the government's responsibility to make those amendments through the Parliament," he said.
Congress, however, slammed the government for appointing former President Ram Nath Kovind as the chairman of a committee.
"I am seeing this for the first time that a former President has been made chairman of a committee formed by the government. Former Chief Justice and former SC judges could have done it. They finished the dignity of the post of President as the inauguration (of the new Parliament building) was done by the PM instead of the President. Now by doing this, they are setting a wrong tradition," Pramod Tiwari said.
The political equations, since the previous consultations by the Law Commission in 2018 on the same issue, have changed like the flip of a coin in several states including Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir (now a Union Territory), Bihar and Punjab.
The political upheaval in the Opposition ranks in the last few months has altered the equations from the previous consultations to a great deal, with the coming together of over 25 parties to fight against the BJP and oust the saffron party in the next year's crucial Lok Sabha polls.
Taking a look at the stand of various parties in 2018 in regard to 'One Nation, One Election'.
Parties opposing the idea
According to the Law Commission draft released on August 30, 2018, Opposition parties including Congress, Trinamool Congress (AITC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) had opposed the proposal of simultaneous elections in the country.
Several of these parties are now a part of the grand Opposition bloc 'I.N.D.I.A' including Congress, Mamata Banerjee's TMC, MK Stalin's DMK, CPM, CPI and Arvind Kejriwal's AAP.
"If no other party is able to command the confidence of the House, only option left is to have fresh elections. Such an election cannot be held after long durations, for the sake of holding it simultaneously. The exercise undertaken by the Law Commission of India is unconstitutional, undemocratic and forbidden by law. Therefore, the proposal must be dropped," Congress said as quoted by the Commission's draft.
The TMC, which has been vocal against the BJP and PM Narendra Modi, had said that simultaneous elections could lead to an "Emergency-like situation".
"They believe that simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislatures would be contrary to the Constitutional Provisions and will not be feasible. The said procedure will be impractical and not feasible because there will be a drainage of public wealth. Elector has the right to elect a government for 5 years and the same cannot be curtailed with simultaneous elections. Simultaneous elections could even lead to an "Emergency-like" situation," the draft said.
The DMK had said that the idea of simultaneous elections goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution.
"Against simultaneous elections, as it goes against basic tenets of the Constitution. Procurement of EVMs and VVPATs for simultaneous elections will cost around Rs 10,000 crores which will be way more than the expenditure as incurred in the 2014 general elections (Rs 3,870 crores). The said proposal will not be economically efficient," the draft said.
The CPI claimed that 'One Nation, One Election' is merely a wish of PM Modi.
"Party claims that it is merely a wish of the Prime Minister which they intend to impose on the entire nation. Simultaneous elections will be unconstitutional. The proposal should be discussed only within the Parliament," the draft said.
The TDP, a former ally of the BJP and also a potential ally in the 2024 polls, had opposed the proposal stating that the simultaneous elections may be good but require detailed study and investigation.
"The proposal of simultaneous elections may be good but requires detailed study and investigation, and planning besides poll consensus. The move will hurt the basic structure of the Constitution, as there is no guarantee to the Indian politics and the multi-party system," it had said.
Kejriwal's AAP, which joined hands with the likes of Congress and the RJD recently, after previously dubbing them corrupt, said that the regional parties will have a disadvantage with the One Nation, One Election proposal.
"Regional parties will have a disadvantage as they will have less financial resources and it will be difficult for them to compete with National Parties," the AAP had said.
HD Kumaraswamy’s JDS, which is rumoured to be in touch with the BJP in Karnataka for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, had said that the regional issues "will be put on backseat" if the polls are held simultaneously.
Parties in favour
In a major surprise, the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and the KCR-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (then TRS) extended support to the proposal.
In today’s scenario, the Samajwadi Party is a part of the Opposition's grand alliance while the BRS is going solo so far.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which was a BJP ally in 2018, had supported the idea then. The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP had also backed the proposal.
The Shiv Sena (which was then undivided and an ally of the BJP) had also voiced its backing.
"The country is in continuous election mode owing to elections of some kind is taking place in least 5-7 states in a given calendar year. The government officials and paramilitary forces are diverted to perform election duties rather than the duties for which they are meant for. Initially, India witnessed simultaneous elections till 1967. The practice got disrupted thereafter," the Shiv Sena had then said.
Akhilesh's Samajwadi Party had said that the "simultaneous elections for Centre and State Legislative Assemblies should start from 2019 itself".
The Akali Dal, which broke away from the NDA following the farmers' protest in 2020, had said that simultaneous elections will help in forming a unanimous opinion about the political party of the voters‟ choice, on the basis of the party's manifesto.
"This will help in forming a strong State as well as the Central government," it had said.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) had voiced in favour but with certain apprehensions.
"The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly is concerned with the fact that their session should be allowed to complete 5 years. If the tenure is cut short the parties will not be able to complete their promises from the Election Manifesto. The 2019 elections should continue the same way and the merger of all the elections may take place in 2024," it had said.
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) initially stood in favour with certain reservations, however, changed its stance later.
The BRS (then TRS) backed the idea and said, "Each time 4-6 months of time is spent in conducting elections each time to Lok Sabha and State Assembly. Entire state and district level administration and security machinery is engaged with the elections twice in 5 years."
The BJD lauded the idea and said that it was first mooted by the party and also implemented in 2004.
"The idea of simultaneous elections was first mooted by BJD and also implemented by them in 2004 when they shortened the Assembly tenure by 1 year. The then Chief Minister Mr Naveen Patnaik took the unprecedented step of dissolving the Assembly, which helped in saving money, and also helped in the implementation of MCC for once only in 2004. Since then the elections to the Odisha Assembly have been held with the Centre," the draft said.
The YSRCP said, "If simultaneous elections are implemented, the same will help in keeping a check over the activities of political parties, where they try to lure voters which has a negative impact on the public interest."
However, it will be interesting to see how many and which of the political parties maintain their stand on the subject, given the changed political scenarios and equations in various states.
The Shiv Sena split up with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2019 to form a government with Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra. In July this year, NCP leader Ajit Pawar joined the Maharashtra government led by Eknath Shinde.