The tenures of half of the state assemblies need to be curtailed by 3 to 15 months and the rest extended by up to a year to enable simultaneous state and Lok Sabha elections, the government’s policy think tank has said in a report.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a strong advocate of simultaneous elections, but most political parties aren’t enthused by the idea.
The Niti Aayog’s discussion paper, ‘Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The What, Why and How’, bats for simultaneous elections stating that frequent polls change the focus of policy making because “short-sighted populist” and “politically safe” measures are accorded higher priority over difficult structural reforms.
The Election Commission is holding consultations with all parties to try to build a consensus on the issue. The poll panel had earlier drawn attention to logistical challenges and frequent destabilisation of elected governments.
Instead of holding elections in two to five states every year, the report has proposed elections in two cycles with an interregnum of 30 months: 14 states to go to polls along with that of the Lok Sabha in one phase (in April-May 2019) and the remaining states in the next cycle two-and-a-half years later (in October-November 2021).
The Niti Aayog has suggested curtailment and extension of the terms of state assemblies so that the first synchronised elections could take place in 2019.
The paper’s authors -- Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai -- had also prepared the note on the merger of the railway and general budgets, leading to the end of the 92-year-old tradition of presenting a separate budget for the public sector behemoth.
Opposition critical of the idea
The Congress said the idea was against the basic concept of parliamentary democracy. “It is illegal and illogical. We have a federal structure where the state mandate and central mandate are two separate issues,” said party spokesperson Ajoy Kumar.
“There are many issues related to the idea, such as term of a House, confidence of the House and the tenure of the President’s rule. These need wider consultations and broader consensus.”
He accused Modi of wanting to keep the country is a “perennial state of confusion”.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Dilip Pandey was also critical of the idea.
“Constitutionally, the government cannot curtail the power of the voters of a state to enjoy the full term of the government they have chosen. This is an issue that needs consultations but the Modi government does not believe in dialogue.”
Given that simultaneous elections will require several amendments in existing laws, the NDA government is unlikely to push the idea without a political consensus.
The Niti Aayog paper quoted a parliamentary panel’s report pegging the cost of simultaneous elections at Rs 4,500 crore. The cost of conducting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections alone was Rs 3,870.
As for a government losing its majority before the completion of its term—an issue that was responsible for the beginning of staggered elections in 1967—the Aayog paper refers to an EC recommendation to argue that any ‘no-confidence motion’ moved against the government in office should also necessarily include a further ‘confidence motion’ in favour of a government to be headed by an individual as the future chief minister or the Prime Minister and voting should take place for the two motions together.
If the dissolution of, say, the Lok Sabha cannot be avoided, the President aided by a council of ministers appointed by him/her, could administer for the remaining term or if the term is longer, then fresh election may be held, suggests the paper.
Former CEC SY Quraishi, speaking at a seminar on ‘One nation, one election’ on Saturday, said a motion of confidence to rule out mid-term polls would mean asking a runner-up to run the government and the move could be legally challenged.