Electoral reforms are crucial to enable governments to deliver and fast-track progress by ensuring that the wheels of administration move at a fast clip and do not get bogged down by prolonged elections.
Successive governments have been working towards making the conduct of elections free, fair and relatively seamless. As a result, electoral malpractices like rigging, booth capturing, impersonation and the use of money power have been curbed to a large extent.
However, one of the most worrying threats to our democracy is the brazen distribution of money by candidates to voters. A method has to be evolved to tackle this growing menace.
The lure of money can at times tip the balance in favour of a candidate who gets an unfair advantage vis-a-vis more able opponents with fewer monetary resources.
One of the crucial reforms that needs all-party consensus is the proposal to hold simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Frequent elections, as we see today, disrupt governance by bringing development to a standstill. It is not only these, but elections to municipalities, panchayats or even cooperative keep the political parties and politicians occupied.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently flagged the issue of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies and wanted the Election Commission to look into the feasibility of synchronising them. The main reason for this is that holding frequent elections imposes an onerous burden on the country’s exchequer.
However some people have raised doubts about this proposal. It cannot be anybody’s case that development will not suffer if frequent elections have to be held.
One of the negative fallouts of frequent elections is that political parties will always look for short-term gains through populist schemes rather than coming up with long-term, development-oriented programmes.
On countless occasions, the laying of foundation stones for important projects or even calling tenders have to be put off when the Model Code of Conduct comes into force. Similarly, no new schemes are announced and transfers are put on hold. On the face of it, these decisions might appear to be routine, but the virtual suspension of administration hampers development.
Former deputy prime minister and veteran BJP leader, LK Advani had once pointed out that for those running the government, this vast country of ours with its huge population “is in a perpetual election mode”. He had also observed how impending elections even in a remote corner of the country influences decision-making in New Delhi.
Advani had also met President Pranab Mukherjee and the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh and made a suggestion that both Lok Sabha and state assemblies should have fixed tenures and that there should be no midway dissolution of these institutions.
While simultaneous elections were held for Lok Sabha and state assemblies from 1952 to 1967, this process was disrupted from 1971 when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and advanced the elections, which were scheduled to be held in 1972 along with state assemblies. This set in motion a long cycle of holding separate elections.
Regarding doubts on the feasibility of having fixed tenures for Lok Sabha and Assemblies in the context of a ruling party losing its majority in the House, I feel that after the no-confidence motion, a confidence motion should also be allowed. That is to express faith in an alternative dispensation to ensure that there is no breakdown in governance.
Simultaneous elections would also help in keeping down expenditure for both the government and the political parties. It would make political parties come out with distinct strategies for addressing national and local issues, making it easier for the voter to choose suitable candidates.
The switch will also help leaders to devote time and energy towards good governance and development instead of bothering too much about electoral strategies.
It will be a huge task in terms of numbers and logistics. But there would not be a need to deploy security and election personnel time and again. Similarly, the need for duplication would be avoided when it comes to transporting polling material, EVMs and setting up polling booths, if the elections are held simultaneously.
My suggestion is to have a fixed timeline and wrap up all elections to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies, municipalities and panchayats within a month. Besides, the law should be amended to ensure that nobody has the right to postpone elections except under extraordinary circumstances like a threat to national security or an unprecedented natural calamity.
Holding elections at the grass-roots level should not be left to the whims and fancies of state governments. There have been numerous instances in states when municipal and panchayat elections were not held on one pretext or the other for several years. If democracy has to flourish, this kind of situation should not be allowed.
M Venkaiah Naidu is Union minister for urban development and information and broadcasting
The views expressed are personal