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A Trick Too Obvious? - Pramod Kumar - The Sunday Indian
 
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Friday, October 20, 2017
 
 

DISSENTING VIEW

A Trick Too Obvious?

 

By proposing to conduct the General Elections and Assembly Polls simultaneously, the Modi Government has let a cat loose among the pigeons. While admitting to the merit of the idea, the opposition is wary of this initiative, considering what BJP tried to do in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Pramod Kumar delves deeper.
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: October 7, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : AIADMK | Congress | Communist Party of India | Lok Sabha Elections | Anant Kumar | Minister of Parliamentary Affairs |
 

The hush-hush way in which the Central Government is going about its proposal to conduct General Elections and Assembly Elections simultaneously, has perturbed the opposition and regional parties alike. There is a prevailing fear among the parties that it is a trick to wrest power from them. It is not for nothing that murmurs of opposition have started to appear. While Trinamool Congress explicitly opposed the move, even AIADMK has made it categorically clear that all the existing governments must be allowed to complete their terms; although it conceded that the proposal to conduct simultaneous elections is worthy of consideration.

The interesting aspect of this debate is that except for Congress, other parties believe that such a scenario is constitutionally ideal. However, they all quickly add that it is not practically feasible. The constitutional experts believe that the law requires existing governments to complete their terms. And that fiddling with it would be tantamount to fiddling with the Constitution, not to mention undesired changes in the democratic fabric of this country.

But more than anything else, everyone is questioning the motive behind such a proposal. They fear that BJP is trying to ride on the “Modi-Wave” and capture power throughout the country.

The Party quickly steps in to clarify its stand. Says Anant Kumar, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, “The only motive behind such an initiative is that because of fractured and staggered elections, it is difficult to implement developmental projects. This new proposal, if implemented, will spur development. That is why almost all the political parties have supported this move.”However, his confidence is not matched by those in the other parties. Says Atul Kumar Anjan, National Secretary of Communist Party of India, “While the proposal has its merit, it is practically impossible to be implemented. It was a norm till the 2nd Lok Sabha elections, but then implementing became tough and things went haywire. Today, when regional parties rule the roost, such a proposal sounds suspicious to say the least.” However, there are others who are noncommittal. Take for example JD (U)’s Sharad Yadav. Talking to TSI, he says, “The proposal sounds good at its face value. But how this will be implemented is going to be a headache for the government. Let the government come up with the proposal. We’ll discuss it and express our opinion.”

As far as constitutional feasibility is concerned, almost all the allies in NDA are for this proposal. Samajwadi Party is also game for it. Its leader Naresh Agarwal says, “There is no doubt that the Model Code of Conduct is a big hindrance in the implementation of schemes. The proposal will do away with this. It will also save lots of money, no doubt. However, I am suspicious of this government’s agenda.”

Among the allies, Shiv Sena has also welcomed this, but again, with considerable suspicion. The Party’s deputy leader in Lok Sabha, Chandrakant Khare, says, “This is a serious proposal. This is an issue of political stability. But the question will arise about what will those state governments do whose terms will be truncated by this move? The resultant scenario will be such that either the state governments will work like a rubber stamp or will slid into anarchy. It will alter the Centre-State relations forever. We will try to fathom the motive.”

On the other side is the Congress Party and those regional parties who have the same ideology. In Congress, the matter comes under the purview of its Working Committee. Deputy Leader of Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, was not available for comment. Three other senior leaders also refused to speak on the matter. However, Randeep Surjewala said, “This is a serious issue. But we need to know the Government’s intention behind such a move. Although I remember L K Advani proposing such a thing years ago and Congress Party had then rejected the proposal.”

It is difficult to make out what the government actually wants. Is it serious about the proposal or is it just a political gimmick? If it is serious about the proposal, how far has it gone on the proposal?

“The intention of the Prime Minister is to save time and money of this nation. This will spur growth as well. We are transparent in our intentions,” adds Anant Kumar.

A peep inside the process is given by ex-EC H S Bramha. “I got a call from Nripendra Mishra, Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, in 2015, whereby he expressed the PM’s desire to save time, money and resources by going for the simultaneous elections. He had asked the Election Commission to do its homework and prepare a background-paper on this topic. We prepared this and sent the report to the government and a Standing Committee linked to the Law Ministry.”

A Parliamentary Standing Committee had in its report on the Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies observed that simultaneous polls would reduce: (i) the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections; (ii) the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time; and (iii) impact on delivery of essential services and (iv) burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time.

The committee had also recommended that to conduct simultaneous polls, “elections to some Legislative Assemblies could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha” and “elections to the remaining legislative assemblies could be held with the end of Lok Sabha’s term.”

It had also suggested a cycle for this, stating that “the proposed first phase of assembly elections could be held in November, 2016. Elections to all state assemblies whose terms end within six months to one year before or after the appointed election date can be clubbed together. Similarly, the second phase of elections can be held in 2019 with the General Elections."

CEC made the observation that this government will have to amend the Constitution to either curtail or extend the term of some of the state assemblies to enable the EC to draw up a common poll schedule. Such an exercise would also require large scale purchase of electronic voting machines (EVMS) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. According to EC, it would need Rs 9,284.15 crore to procure the additional EVEMS and VVPATS. Moreover, the machines have to be replaced every 15 years, which would again entail more expenses. In this estimation, the EC did not discount in the burden of investment required for heavy deployment of police force, officials and hiring of additional staff for the two phase election nationwide.

 

"It is purely a political gimmick!"

Naresh Agrawal, Leader, Samajwadi Party
 

What is your Party’s take on the government’s idea to hold General and Assembly elections simultaneously?

The idea sounds good. In the given situation, the nation will save a lot of money and manpower that the national exchequer has to bear. If General and State Assembly elections are held simultaneously, it will make it easier for the people as well.

Is it desirable in the prevailing political scenario?

As I said, it sounds good theoretically but it is not possible practically. Prior to 1967 this was the case. The cycle was disturbed just after 1967-68.Now the situation has changed. I am asking, will Mamata Banerjee resign? Or for that matter, why would any Chief Minister resign?

Do you think that the ruling party has shown its intention to implement its political agenda, which was promised in its election manifesto in 2014?

It is purely a political gimmick. BJP had made this election promise in the previous elections as well when L K Advani mooted this idea. They are just repeating themselves.

What should be the ideal situation in such a scenario?

Let the system run in a democratic way. Practicality trumps ideal situation. If such a scenario is enforced, you might see a rebellion inside BJP itself.

What will be your party’s stand if government pushes on with its intention through the constitutional amendment?

Let’s see in what form the government brings this in the Parliament. It will all depend on the nature of the proposal.

 


There appears to be some confusion within the Congress Party as well. While the majority of its leaders consider the proposal undemocratic and frivolous even, one of its MPs, E.M Sudarsana Natchiappan, who is the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Issues, is not dismissive. He opines, “There is no need for amending the Constitution. If there is consensus among political parties to have a two-phase election, it can be done over a 10-15-year period. In the interim, what we are suggesting is that the Assembly elections, coming up in one year, be conducted together. What we are suggesting is that the President has got the power to extend the period of Assemblies by up to one year to bring about this uniformity. Similarly, preponing of elections can be done by the concerned chief ministers and political parties in the States.”

“Later, we can have elections at mid-term of the Parliament. All the states besides Jammu and Kashmir (which has elections every six years) and Bihar (which went to polls recently) can be brought into this scheme right now,” he further added.

If we agree with the idea hypothetically, there will be problems in adjusting the residual time period of the existing state assemblies which are currently not coterminous with the Lok Sabha.

It could mean that the next Legislative Assembly in Tamil Nadu may have a tenure only from 2016 to 2019, while Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, etc may have tenures from 2017 to 2019, and Bihar from 2015 to 2019. These aberrations are inevitable if a policy of simultaneous elections is adopted.

Beyond these assumptions, Constitutional provisions are very clear in the matter. Article 83(2) provides for a term of five years for the House of People (Lok Sabha), from the date of its first sitting, unless dissolved earlier. Similar provisions under Article 172 (1) provide for a five-year tenure for state legislative Assemblies from the date of its first sitting. Advocate Vijay Singh says, “The mandatory term has to be completed first, very often what the state governments do is that they dissolve the Assembly before the term ends and they conduct elections. it was evident in the case of Andhra Pradesh, where, between 2008-2013, there were 60 by-elections held on flimsy grounds, where the same candidate resigned and was re-elected after a few months. It is the prerogative of the Assembly to decide when to call an election. Legally they can do it. But in doing it for conduct of simultaneous elections, they would be misusing the Constitution.”

Noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani has an interesting take on this. “What can we say about BJP’s intention? They wear the veneer of good intention, no doubt. But EC has itself conceded in one of its reports that the scenario might confuse ordinary voters and they will vote for the Party ruling at the Centre.” Similar sentiments have been shared by Constitutional experts like Indira Jaisingh as well.

Everything said and done, the BJP-led government has at least initiated a debate by mooting such a proposal. Different parties have already started debating this subject. After the positive recommendation from the Law Ministry, the government will create a conducive environment for the debate. If other parties agree to this proposal, it will be a big victory for the government. If not, they can at least still claim that they tried.   

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017