[Indepth] One Nation One Election – Pros and Cons

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The ‘One Nation, One Election’ initiative in India proposes the synchronization of elections for the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies to occur simultaneously. This concept, aimed at enhancing administrative efficiency and reducing the financial and logistical burden of separate elections, has sparked a significant debate. It involves complex constitutional amendments and has received mixed reactions from political parties, with concerns about its impact on democracy and federalism.

One Nation One Election upsc mind map

This topic of “[Indepth] One Nation One Election – Pros and Cons” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Background and Historical Perspective

  • Early years of simultaneous elections in India (1951-1967)
    • Between December 1951 and February 1952, independent India held its first elections, both to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies, marking the beginning of simultaneous elections.
    • This practice continued until the late 1960s, with elections to the Lok Sabha and various State assemblies held concurrently in 1952, 1957, 1962, and 1967.
    • The system of simultaneous elections was disrupted due to the premature dissolution of some state assemblies in 1968 and 1969, leading to a staggered election cycle.
  • Disruption of the cycle and reasons behind it
    • The disruption began in the late 1960s when unstable non-Congress state governments began to fall, leading to midterm elections and thus, a disruption in the pattern of joint elections.
    • The 1971 general elections, originally scheduled for 1972, were advanced by an entire year by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, marking a clean break from the earlier practice of simultaneous polls.
    • This decision was influenced by a desire to make the polls a referendum on her populist measures, effectively separating the national and state schedules.
  • Previous proposals and reports by the Election Commission and Law Commission
    • The idea to revert to simultaneous polls was suggested in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983 and later, the Law Commission report referred to it in 1999.
    • In 2018, the Law Commission submitted a draft report backing the idea of simultaneous polls, recommending changes to the electoral laws and constitutional provisions.
    • Various entities, including the EC, the Law Commission, and parliamentary committees, have explored the concept of ‘one nation, one election’ on several occasions in the past.

The Proposal for Simultaneous Elections

  • Explanation of ‘One Nation, One Election’ and its intended implementation
    • The proposal aims to synchronize the electoral process across India, allowing for Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies to be elected in a single, consolidated electoral event.
    • This would involve a significant overhaul of the current electoral calendar to align the various election cycles.
  • The central government’s rationale for advocating simultaneous polls
    • The government argues that simultaneous elections would lead to considerable savings on the cost incurred in conducting separate elections.
    • It is also believed that this would reduce the administrative burden on the Election Commission and ensure more efficient governance, as governments could focus on administration rather than perpetually preparing for the next election cycle.
    • Another key rationale is the reduction in the impact of the model code of conduct, which restricts government work during election periods, thereby ensuring uninterrupted policy implementation and governance.
  • Recommendations by the high-level committee led by former President Ram Nath Kovind
    • The committee recommended amendments to the Constitution and electoral laws to enable the transition to simultaneous elections.
    • It suggested the introduction of a mechanism to ensure that both Lok Sabha and State Assemblies have a fixed term of five years to facilitate synchronized elections.
    • The committee also proposed the idea of a “constructive vote of no-confidence” in the legislative bodies, meaning that a government can only be dissolved if there is a majority vote for a new government, to prevent premature dissolution of the assemblies or the Lok Sabha.

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Pros of Simultaneous Elections

  • Cost Reduction
    • Holding simultaneous elections could significantly reduce the overall cost of conducting separate elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
    • The government and political parties would incur lower expenditure, as the need for repeated mobilization of resources for multiple elections would be eliminated.
  • Administrative Efficiency
    • Simultaneous elections would free up administrative machinery and security forces from the repeated engagement in election duties, allowing them to focus on their primary responsibilities.
    • The Election Commission would be able to streamline its processes and focus on a single, nationwide election, potentially increasing the effectiveness of monitoring and conducting elections.
  • Policy Continuity and Governance
    • With elections occurring less frequently, governments could focus more on governance and policy implementation without the interruptions caused by the Model Code of Conduct during election periods.
    • The continuity of policies and programs would likely improve, as governments would not be in a constant state of preparation for the next election.
  • Social Cohesion
    • High-stake elections each year can lead to polarizing campaigns; simultaneous elections could help in reducing the pernicious role of regionalism, casteism, and communalism in mobilizing electorates.
    • A unified election could bring issues of national importance to the forefront, potentially fostering a sense of national unity.
  • Voter Participation
    • It is suggested that holding simultaneous elections could boost voter turnout, as it would be more convenient for voters to cast their ballots for multiple elections at once.
    • Voter fatigue might be reduced, as the public would not be called to the polls as frequently.
  • Reduction in Populist Measures
    • Frequent elections encourage political parties to prioritize short-term, populist measures; with simultaneous elections, there may be a greater commitment to long-term investment and policy stability.
  • National Security
    • The dense electoral cycle’s prolonged deployment of security forces for election duty poses concerns for national security; simultaneous elections would mitigate this issue.

Cons of Simultaneous Elections

  • Constitutional and Legal Challenges
    • Implementing simultaneous elections would necessitate significant constitutional amendments, including changes to Articles 83, 172, 174, and 356, which govern the duration and dissolution of the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
    • The process would also require altering the Representation of the People Act and other parliamentary procedures.
  • Impact on Federalism and Regional Issues
    • There is a concern that national issues might overshadow state-specific issues, potentially disadvantaging regional parties and affecting the federal structure of the country.
    • Regional parties fear they would struggle to compete with national parties in terms of election expenditure and election strategy.
  • Voter Behavior and Electoral Outcomes
    • A study by the IDFC Institute found that when elections are held simultaneously, there is a 77% chance that voters will choose the same party for both the state and central government, which may not reflect the true preference of voters for different levels of government.
  • Risk of Premature Elections
    • To maintain the cycle of simultaneous elections, state assemblies might be forced to dissolve prematurely, which could be seen as unconstitutional and disruptive to the democratic process.
  • Dilution of Accountability
    • With elections occurring less frequently, there may be fewer opportunities for voters to hold their elected representatives accountable, potentially leading to complacency among politicians.
  • Logistical and Operational Hurdles
    • Coordinating simultaneous elections across all states and union territories presents immense logistical challenges, requiring careful planning and resources.
    • The Election Commission would need a significantly larger number of electronic voting machines and additional polling staff and security personnel.
  • Influence of National Parties and Policies
    • Simultaneous elections may lead to a “wave” effect, where the outcome of national elections significantly influences state elections, potentially reducing the autonomy of state-level governance.
  • Reduction in Checks on Central Power
    • Frequent state elections serve as a check on the central government’s power, providing a platform for opposition parties to challenge the ruling party at the center. This check may be weakened with simultaneous elections.
  • Overemphasis on National Issues
    • Political discourse during simultaneous elections may be overwhelmingly centered on national issues, sidelining crucial regional issues and hampering the overall development of the states.
  • Voter Fatigue and Information Overload
    • Extended periods between elections may lead to voter fatigue and reduced engagement, as voters may become overwhelmed by the volume of information and campaigns over an extended period.

Political Parties’ Stance

  • Parties in favor: BJP and allies, other supporting parties
    • The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies support the idea, citing benefits such as reduced expenditure and increased governance efficiency.
    • They argue that simultaneous elections would lead to greater political stability and policy consistency.
  • Parties opposed: Congress, TMC, DMK, AAP, and their concerns
    • The Indian National Congress and other opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have expressed concerns.
    • These parties argue that simultaneous elections could favor the party in power at the center and erode the autonomy of states.
  • Regional parties’ concerns about national issues overshadowing local matters
    • Regional parties worry that the focus on national elections could overshadow local issues, which are crucial for regional governance and politics.
    • They fear that the narrative of national parties could dominate the electoral discourse, marginalizing regional priorities and concerns.
  • Necessary constitutional amendments and legal changes
    • The implementation of ‘One Nation, One Election’ would require significant amendments to the Constitution, including the introduction of new articles and changes to existing ones.
    • Amendments would be needed for Articles 83 and 172, which pertain to the duration of the Houses of Parliament and state legislatures, respectively.
    • The introduction of Article 82A is proposed to establish the process for transitioning to simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
    • Article 324A is suggested to empower Parliament to ensure that elections to municipalities and panchayats are held simultaneously with Lok Sabha and state assembly elections.
  • Impact on the duration of legislative bodies and electoral processes
    • The transition to simultaneous elections may require the curtailment or extension of the terms of existing state assemblies to align with the Lok Sabha election cycle.
    • A one-time transitory measure would be necessary to synchronize all elections, potentially resulting in some state assemblies having terms of less than five years.
    • The proposed Article 82A would result in the terms of all state assemblies constituted after a specified ‘appointed date’ ending with the expiry of the Lok Sabha’s term, thus setting the stage for simultaneous elections.
  • The concept of ‘constructive vote of no-confidence’ and its relevance
    • To address the issue of a hung Parliament or Assembly, the Kovind panel’s proposals suggest a mechanism for resolving situations where no single political party or alliance secures a majority.
    • The concept of a ‘constructive vote of no-confidence’ implies that a government can only be dissolved if there is a majority vote for a new government, which is intended to prevent premature dissolution of legislative bodies and maintain stability.
    • This concept is designed to ensure that a government remains in place unless there is a clear alternative, thereby supporting the continuity of governance and reducing the likelihood of frequent elections.

Logistical and Administrative Considerations

  • Preparation for simultaneous elections: EVMs, polling personnel, security
    • The Election Commission of India (ECI) would need to mobilize significantly more resources considering the increased scope of simultaneous elections.
    • Resources include polling officials for supervision, security personnel for safe and secure polls, and supply of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) including Control Units (CUs) and Balloting Units (BU) for each polling station.
    • Additional logistical needs encompass transportation and storage of poll-related materials, strong rooms for EVM storage until counting, and other necessary resources.
    • The ECI estimates that a total of 11.80 lakh polling stations would be required for Lok Sabha polls, and approximately Rs 10,000 crore would be needed every 15 years for new EVMs if simultaneous polls are held.
  • The role of the Election Commission and State Election Commissions
    • The ECI, in consultation with State Election Commissions (SECs), will plan and estimate in advance the deployment of polling personnel, security forces, EVMs, and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) to ensure free and fair elections.
    • The ECI will take over the process of creating electoral rolls, with SECs playing a consultative role, to streamline the voter registration process for all elections.
  • Development of a single electoral roll and Voter ID cards
    • The committee has recommended the creation of a single electoral roll for every territorial constituency for elections to the House of Parliament, state legislatures, municipalities, and panchayats.
    • This unified electoral roll would replace any electoral roll prepared earlier, thus eliminating redundancies and ensuring consistency across all levels of government.
    • Amendments to Article 325 of the Constitution are recommended to enable the ECI to prepare a single electoral roll and Electoral Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) in consultation with the SECs.
    • These amendments will require ratification by not less than one-half of the states.

Economic Implications

  • Analysis of the economic impact of frequent elections
    • Frequent elections are seen to negatively impact the economy and development, as they impose a substantial economic burden in terms of election management and create an atmosphere of uncertainty that can affect policy decisions.
    • The cycle of continuous elections leads to disruptions in policymaking and administration, causing uncertainty about government policies and affecting the working of the government as officials are often roped in for election duties.
    • Investment decisions by the private sector tend to slow down prior to elections, and the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct leads to delays in project implementation.
  • Views from industry bodies like CII on economic development and governance efficiency
    • The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) supports the concept of ‘One Nation, One Election’, arguing that it would enhance governance efficiency and foster economic development.
    • CII suggests that streamlining the electoral process through simultaneous elections would reduce the project implementation delays and could result in cost savings of approximately half the total expenses incurred by the Central and State governments in administering elections.
    • The industry body emphasizes that asynchronous multiple elections lead to frequent disruption in policymaking and administration, which in turn affects economic growth and the quality of public expenditure.
    • CII believes that there are two options for implementing simultaneous elections: a single five-year cycle or a two-stage simultaneous election with a gap of at least 2.5 years between the Lok Sabha elections and the state elections in the interim period.

Public Opinion and Civil Society

  • Public responses to the proposal and their implications
    • A high-level committee on ‘One Nation One Election’ reported that out of 21,558 public responses received, more than 80% (17,342) support the idea of holding simultaneous polls in India, indicating a considerable public endorsement for the concept.
    • The public’s support is seen as a reflection of the desire for reduced election-related disruptions and a more focused governance model, highlighting the potential for increased administrative efficiency and cost savings.
    • However, opposition from approximately 20% of the respondents underscores concerns about the proposal’s impact on the federal structure, the democratic process, and the potential overshadowing of local issues by national politics.
  • Role of civil society and think tanks in the debate on simultaneous elections
    • Civil society organizations (CSOs) and think tanks have played a critical role in the debate, providing research, analysis, and forums for discussion on the implications of simultaneous elections.
    • The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) expressed concerns that simultaneous elections could artificially alter the terms of elected assemblies, impacting the parliamentary democratic system and potentially leading to a unitary structure of governance.
    • AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi, representing a critical voice from civil society, argued against the proposal, emphasizing that elections are fundamental to democracy and should not be compromised for administrative convenience or economic viability.
    • Former Chief Election Commissioners and legal experts consulted by the committee contributed to the debate by highlighting logistical, constitutional, and practical challenges associated with implementing simultaneous elections.
    • The involvement of apex business organizations like CII in the discussions brought an economic perspective to the debate, advocating for the economic benefits of simultaneous elections due to the adverse effects of asynchronous elections on economic growth and social harmony.
    • Civil society’s engagement in the debate reflects a broad spectrum of opinions, from strong support based on potential governance and economic benefits to serious concerns about the impact on India’s democratic and federal structure.

International Comparisons

Examples of other countries with simultaneous elections

CountryDescription of Simultaneous ElectionsElectoral System
SwedenGeneral elections for the Riksdag (national parliament), regional (county councils), and municipal councils occur on the same day every four years, usually in September.Proportional electoral system
South AfricaNational and provincial legislatures are elected simultaneously every five years, with separate ballots for national and provincial votes.Proportional representation (PR)
BelgiumFederal Parliament elections are held every five years, concurrently with European elections, which also impact regional elections.Mixed electoral system
IndonesiaSince 2019, simultaneous elections for the President, Vice President, and members of both national and regional legislative bodies are held on the same day.Mixed-member proportional
GermanyWhile not entirely simultaneous, Germany has a constructive vote of no-confidence, which is relevant to the discussion of simultaneous elections in India.Mixed-member proportional
PhilippinesConducts simultaneous elections for various positions, including the presidency, vice-presidency, and legislative seats.Mixed electoral system

Lessons learned and applicability to the Indian context

  • Voter Turnout and Engagement
    • Countries with simultaneous elections often see increased voter turnout due to the convenience of voting for multiple levels of government at once, which could be beneficial for India.
    • However, there is also the risk of voter fatigue or information overload, which could potentially decrease the quality of voter engagement.
  • Electoral System Compatibility
    • The proportional representation systems in countries like Sweden and South Africa facilitate simultaneous elections, but India’s first-past-the-post system may present unique challenges.
  • Impact on Smaller Parties
    • There is a concern that simultaneous elections could disadvantage smaller regional parties, as seen in some international contexts where national issues overshadow local ones.
  • Administrative Efficiency
    • Simultaneous elections can streamline administrative processes and reduce the frequency of mobilizing resources, which is a point of consideration for India.
  • Cost Savings
    • The potential for cost savings is significant, as seen in countries that hold simultaneous elections, which is a compelling argument for India given the high cost of its frequent elections.
  • Political Stability
    • The constructive vote of no-confidence in Germany, which prevents government collapse without a viable alternative, is a concept India is considering to maintain stability with simultaneous elections.
  • Federal Structure Considerations
    • India must consider the impact on its federal structure, as simultaneous elections could centralize power and affect the balance between national and state governance, unlike in unitary states.
  • Cultural and Political Differences
    • The diversity and size of India compared to other countries with simultaneous elections mean that lessons learned must be adapted to the Indian context, taking into account regional variations and political dynamics.

Way Forward

Steps towards achieving ‘One Nation, One Election’

  • Constitutional and Legislative Amendments
    • Amend Articles 83 and 172 of the Constitution to adjust the terms of the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, respectively, to enable their synchronization.
    • Introduce new constitutional provisions, such as Article 324A for simultaneous elections to Panchayats and Municipalities, and amend Article 325 for a single electoral roll.
    • Pass new legislation or amend existing laws, like the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to accommodate the logistical and legal requirements of simultaneous elections.
  • Logistical Preparation and Infrastructure Development
    • The Election Commission, in consultation with State Election Commissions, must prepare for the procurement of additional EVMs and VVPATs, and ensure adequate training for polling personnel and security forces.
    • Develop and implement a single electoral roll and unified Voter ID system to streamline the voting process across all levels of government.
  • Public Awareness and Education
    • Launch nationwide campaigns to educate the public on the benefits and changes associated with simultaneous elections, aiming to build public support and understanding.
  • Pilot Projects and Phased Implementation
    • Consider conducting pilot projects in select states or regions to assess the practical challenges and impacts of simultaneous elections before a full-scale national rollout.
    • Implement simultaneous elections in phases, starting with synchronizing Lok Sabha and state assembly elections, followed by local body elections.

Potential timeline and phases for implementation

  • Short-term (1-2 years)
    • Formation of a consensus among major political parties and initiation of constitutional amendments.
    • Detailed planning and initial procurement of necessary logistical resources like EVMs and VVPATs.
  • Medium-term (3-5 years)
    • Implementation of pilot projects in selected states or regions to evaluate the feasibility and impact of simultaneous elections.
    • Nationwide rollout of a single electoral roll and unified Voter ID system.
  • Long-term (5-10 years)
    • Full implementation of simultaneous elections across all levels of government, following successful pilot projects and adjustments based on feedback.
    • Continuous evaluation and refinement of the electoral process to address any emerging challenges or inefficiencies.

The role of consensus-building among political parties and stakeholders

  • Engagement and Dialogue
    • Organize forums, workshops, and discussions involving political parties, civil society organizations, and electoral experts to discuss the proposal and address concerns.
    • The high-level committee led by former President Ram Nath Kovind has already initiated this process by consulting political parties and stakeholders, indicating a foundational step towards building consensus.
  • Addressing Opposition Concerns
    • Work towards addressing the concerns of opposition parties and regional parties, particularly regarding the potential overshadowing of local issues and the impact on federalism.
    • Propose safeguards and mechanisms to ensure that local and regional issues remain a priority in national and state elections.
  • Inclusive Decision-Making
    • Ensure that the process of moving towards simultaneous elections is inclusive, taking into account the views and suggestions of all stakeholders, including opposition parties, civil society, and the public.
    • The consensus-building process must be transparent and based on the principle of achieving the greatest good for the democratic process and governance efficiency in India.

The proposal for ‘One Nation, One Election’ in India aims to synchronize national and state elections to enhance administrative efficiency, reduce costs, and minimize disruptions to governance. While it enjoys significant support for its potential benefits, it also faces challenges including constitutional amendments, logistical hurdles, and concerns over its impact on federalism and democracy. Achieving this requires a consensus among political parties, meticulous planning, and phased implementation, considering the diverse and complex nature of India’s electoral democracy.

Practice Question

Critically analyze the concept of ‘One Nation, One Election’ in the context of India. Discuss its potential benefits, challenges, and the constitutional amendments required for its implementation. (250 words)

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