Elections, being regularly held for more than 60 years, have been one of independent India’s major successes. But some gaps still remain and those need to be plugged. One of those is the unhealthy practice of a candidate contesting from two constituencies. Of course, the law was amended in 1996, prohibiting a person from contesting from more than two seats. But now the time has come to push the envelope to restrict a candidate to one constituency only. Logically there is no reason why it should not be so because just as a voter has one vote and can vote in only one constituency, the same reasoning should apply to the candidates as well.
Surprisingly, it is high-profile personalities who contest from more than one seat. In 1980 Indira Gandhi fought from Medak and Rae Bareli, in 1991 LK Advani from Gandhinagar and New Delhi, in 1999 Sonia Gandhi from Amethi and Bellary, and in 2014 Narendra Modi from Vadodara and Varanasi. Mr Advani’s extremely narrow victory in New Delhi over Rajesh Khanna of the Congress in 1991 became a contentious affair, with the latter refusing to give in. This perhaps caused Mr Advani to give up his New Delhi seat, which he had won in 1989 also, and retain Gandhinagar, from where he contested on each subsequent occasion. However, in some cases contesting from multiple constituencies helped.
Though the Gandhis, apart from Mr Advani, won in both the constituencies they fought in, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, though not so high-profile in 1957, contested from three seats and won one, Balarampur, while losing the other two, Lucknow and Mathura. A candidate fighting from two places cannot have his or her mind focused on both. And, once a big candidate gives up his or her constituency there is bound to be some heartburn among the electorate. There have been cases when polling in the next election after the winner has vacated the seat has been a tepid affair with voters aggressively staying out of the poll process. This is because they might have thought their constituency had been ‘lowered in people’s perception’.
Over time the process of electioneering has evolved through successive changes in legislation, such as the anti-defection law, which does not allow a legislator to walk over from the party on whose ticket she or he has been elected to another party without losing membership in the assembly concerned or Parliament. This measure has worked wonders for the Indian polity. It is now time to get moving on a ‘one candidate-one constituency’ rule, in the same way some parties have a ‘one person-one post’ rule.