President Kovind, PM Modi press for simultaneous elections

President Ram Nath Kovind said frequent polls were a burden on human resources and hampered development work due to promulgation of the model code of conduct.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2018 18:22 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times
President Ram Nath Kovind,Prime Minister Narendra Modi,Lok Sabha election
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of Parliament’s Budget Session on Monday.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

President Ram Nath Kovind backed the idea of simultaneous Lok Sabha and state elections in his speech marking the beginning of the budget session of parliament, repeating an idea that has found increasing currency in recent times and which has been advocated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The President said frequent polls were a burden on human resources and hampered development work due to promulgation of the model code of conduct.

“…a sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue,” Kovind said in his joint address to the two Houses of Parliament.

Modi too asked leaders of the National Democratic Alliance to works towards creating an environment in favour of simultaneous polls, the representative of a party allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party said after a meeting of the ruling alliance which was held in the evening. Modi said leaders could start a debate and help create a positive atmosphere, this person added. A continuous cycle of elections across the country harmed development works and cost a lot of money, the person reported the Prime Minister as saying.

Monday’s remarks by the President and Prime Minister added to speculation that the government could bring forward the Lok Sabha election, due in May 2019, to late 2018 and time it with elections in some key states. Four states — Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram — will go to the polls in December. And at least three state elections are due a few months after the Lok Sabha elections. Most of the states due for elections over the next one-and-a-half years are ruled by the BJP-led NDA, and changing poll schedule would not be difficult, a BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

“Kuchh hai bhi toh main thode hi bata doonga (If there is something, will I tell you?). It doesn’t work like that,” BJP president Amit Shah said in an interview last week in response to a question to the effect.

The idea isn’t new. “One nation one election” has been discussed for many years, with the Law Commission making the suggestion for the first time in 1999.

A standing committee of Parliament flagged the cost of conducting elections and the impact of a continuous wave of elections on development in a 2015 report while making the case for simultaneous polls. The change would save public money and end policy paralysis because of the model code of conduct that parties have to follow once an election is announced and which prevents the government from taking any decision that can potentially influence voters. The report pegged the cost of Lok Sabha and state assembly elections at Rs 4,500 crore.

In his speech, the President also listed a raft of schemes undertaken by the Modi government for the welfare of women and poor — two constituencies the ruling BJP has tried to cultivate after storming to power in 2014.

The President’s address is a policy statement of the government, which prepares the speech.

Kovind also spoke at length about the government’s commitment towards the welfare of farmers, who are battling distress over shrinking profits. “My government is committed to doubling of farmers’ income by 2022,” he added.

Kovind also pushed for the passage of the triple talaq bill, saying for decades the “dignity of Muslim women has remained captive to political cost-benefit”.

The Lok Sabha passed the bill that seeks to criminalise the Islamic practice of instant divorce during the winter session but the legislation is stuck in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling alliance is in a minority.

First Published: Jan 29, 2018 21:37 IST