One nation, one poll: If it ain't broke, don't fix it

By Amulya Ganguli. Dated: 6/26/2019 10:30:33 AM

PM Modi's latest 'big idea' is riddled with holes

The problem with the BJP's initiatives is that they almost invariably arouse suspicion about the party's motive. Although the prime minister has said more than once that he may make mistakes, but will not do anything with an unworthy intention ("badherada"), misgivings remain, especially among what has come to be known as the Khan Market (KM) gang, about what the party really intends to do under the cover of a seemingly innocuous move.
Arun Jaitley may regard the KM gang as "compulsive contrarians" while others in the saffron brotherhood may blame their Westernized background for their opposition to virtually whatever the BJP suggests. But one reason for their contrariness is that these denizens of Lutyens' Delhi are yet to accord the BJP the stamp of legitimacy.
To them, the BJP remains the quintessential outsider, which has occupied the rarified heights of the Raisina Hills by engineering a mistake by the electorate by playing the nationalistic/jingoistic/communal card. Hence, the boycott by the Congress and some other major opposition parties of the meeting called by the prime minister to discuss the one nation, one poll idea.
Although a committee has been set up to examine the BJP's latest brainchild, it is unlikely that its report will be accepted by the KM gang as they are bound to regard it as a sarkari document intended to please the powers-that-be.
The BJP has based its case on the argument that elections spread virtually throughout the year are proving to be enormously expensive. If they can be clubbed together, as was the practice in the first few years after 1947, not only will expenses be reduced, but governance will improve because the parties will not be constrained by the model code of conduct.
There is little doubt that the proponents of holding the parliamentary, assembly and even local body elections together have a point. But they overlook the fact that the process of elections has taken a new shape and form since 1967 when the rise of the regional parties and the decline of the Congress led to the formation of several non-Congress state governments.
However, since they were not very stable, state assembly elections had to be held within two years of 1967, as in West Bengal, and the split in the Congress also led to the parliamentary polls to be brought forward to 1971.
Since then, the parliamentary and assembly elections have steadily gone out of sync with the result that almost every year sees one or two assembly elections.
It is obvious that to bring them all in line to synchronize with the parliamentary polls will require a major electoral "engineering", including constitutional amendments since the tenures of some assemblies will have to be cut short while those of some others extended.
But there will be practical difficulties after the "one size fits all" concept comes into force. For instance, what will happen if a state government falls? It has been suggested that the German model of disallowing a no-confidence motion unless the proposers can present an alternative arrangement be introduced.
But will the idea work in a country of fickle political loyalties where a ruling party can evade a dismissal, or its opponents can cobble together an alternative, by hook or crook? And what if the central government falls? The same problems would have arisen if an earlier proposal about fixed five-year terms were introduced.
The question arises, therefore, whether a palpably disruptive, one nation, one poll exercise is necessary. There is a saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". True, the present system of the country being almost constantly in an election mode is expensive and requires the movement of thousands of central police and paramilitary forces from one poll-bound to state to another in view of the threat of violence in some areas.
However, at the same time, the almost continuous rounds of elections have been hailed as a festival of democracy and are a source of considerable excitement and entertainment.
Besides, almost all contests, even those at the municipal and student union levels, are scrutinized for indications of the popular mood. Putting a stop to all that will bring the silence of the graveyard down on the country.
But these are not the only reasons why the opposition and sections of the media are against the introduction of simultaneous elections.
Their view is that the idea of one nation, one poll will tend to favour the BJP because it can use its enormous resources, control over the media and the star power of charismatic orators like Narendra Modi to overwhelm the regional parties with their inadequate funds and dearth of effective speakers.
Besides, the BJP's by now familiar patriotic pitch will put into shade the humdrum agendas of the local parties about caste affiliations and poor infrastructure.
The sidelining of the regional parties is expected to lead to the fulfilment of the BJP's dream of ruling India from panchayats to parliament, as mentioned by Amit Shah. It will also be a blow to the nation's fabled diversity and undermine the federal concept.
—(IPA Service)

 

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