Do we really need simultaneous elections?
I read this somewhere in my youth: Zinda kaumen paanch saal intzaar nahin karti (Live communities do not wait for five years). Back then, India was approaching the 25th anniversary of its independence and Ram Manohar Lohia, the proponent of this idea, believed that the Congress, a victim of dynastic rule, was wasting the nation’s time.
Lohia and his followers were not alone. The fires of dissatisfaction were reaching other sections of society too. The seeds of rebellion were sowed in Naxalbari, resulting in what later came to known as the Naxalite movement. Since then, advocates of the bloody Maoist revolution, born out of the womb of Naxalism, have been fighting a losing battle against the state (any state) to usher in a revolution through the barrel of the gun. Around the same time, the Dalits, backward classes, and all oppressed and exploited communities have tried to escape the clutches of poverty.
The formation of a non-Congress government in eight states in 1967 was the by-product of this tussle. In this period, there were many occasions when the Centre and states disagreed on ideological lines but they fought the nation’s internal and external threats as one. Despite domestic conflicts, India was able to divide Pakistan into two. All parties did their bit to fight the Maoist rebellion. To douse the fires of terrorism in the Northeast and Punjab, not just national but even regional parties played an equal part. It is a tale of a nation turning into a sovereign state.
But why have I chosen today to recount all this? Let me explain.
Speculation is rife in a nation progressing towards its diamond jubilee that we should get freedom from elections which are held every few months. President Ram Nath Kovind gave this idea his stamp of approval by mentioning it during his address to Parliament. Before this, the prime minister, while speaking to a news channel, expressed a similar desire. When the interviewer asked him, “How will you manage to do it?” Modi replied: “Not just me alone, we will do it by taking everybody along.” Clearly, the government has cast the die for simultaneous elections.
But is this change necessary?
Let us first consider those who are in its favour. The government believes simultaneous elections can help save precious time and resources spent when polls are held every few months. Governments in the Centre and the states can assume power with a vision for five years so that the wheels of development can turn quickly. It so happens that elections are due in eight states this year. Elections to the Lok Sabha are slated to be held in the first half of next year. Soon after, the festival of democracy is likely to be celebrated in another seven states. Clearly, with some negotiation and persuasion, before the end of 2018, early elections can be organised for the Lok Sabha and assemblies in 15-16 states.
Those who oppose this idea believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh favour a Presidential form of governance and want to inch closer to it through this excuse. Simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and assemblies are just the first step, they argue. They remind you that all these questions were discussed when the Constitution came into force, but the creators of the Constitution went in for the Westminster model after great deliberation. Over the past 70 years the model has dispelled all doubts and question marks. It is the ideal model for a country where the dialect changes every few miles.
Opposition parties also believe that if the BJP succeeds in getting the proposal implemented, the party, which has been winning elections in one state after another, may manage to wrest new states apart from retaining power at the Centre. However, there are many examples of simultaneous elections where the voters elected different candidates or political formations at the Centre and states.
Consider this carefully. Over the past 50 years, even as voters tested new horizons to examine the worth of their vote, those who assumed power have set new records in corruption. As a result, three former chief ministers are in jail on charges of corruption. Nobody could have imagined that Lohia’s cry for change would meet such a sad fate. Shouldn’t such people be charged with the infanticide of the dreams of communities?
I wouldn’t hesitate to say this: irrespective of when and how elections are conducted, if they don’t facilitate the election of suitable candidates, our dreams will continue to be shattered. The fault lies in the elected representatives, and those who elect them -- not in the method of choosing them.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan