India has cemented its position on an international stage as one of the largest democracies that at the same time is diverse and bustling with culture. India is a vibrant democracy with elections holding a special position in everyone’s schedule. Elections in India are a huge thing and are treated as such. Elections are a constitutional affair with the constitutional body in the likes of the Election Commission of India watching over the elections. Established with its powers under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, the commission is responsible for overlooking the largest elections in India to state council elections. The concept of one nation one election comes from the fact that each state and union territories have assemblies of legislatures that require elections for members to be elected.
This means that in India, in a given period of time, an election is either going on or is being prepared for. It is easier understood by giving a recent example of the Lok Sabha election of 2019, the recent state election in 2020 in the state of Bihar, and the upcoming state election of Tamil Nadu in 2021. It is easy to understand that a country that is federally divided into numerous states has numerous elections too. But what would happen if the need for these elections was neglected by the fact that India would conduct just one election?
Understanding the Concept – One Nation, One Election
To put it into perspective, the first 4 Lok Sabha elections in India, that is, from 1952 to 1967 were based on this concept. Elections for the state legislature took place simultaneously while the Lok Sabha elections went on. So it is not a new concept and instead is one of the first methods of the election that was devised by an Independent India.
The current election scheme that is being followed is the one we have adopted and have consistently relied on. Under the current system, we have 5 ‘types’ of elections. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha elections, the state legislative assembly election, state legislative council election, village panchayat, and municipal elections. The 5th kind of election is a by-election whereby through death, disqualification, or resignation a constituent elected member is re-elected if the predecessor suffers from any of the above.
Under the concept of one nation one election, we would rather witness one election rather than 3-4 different elections year after year. This is however a significant shift from what the current practice is. Despite being tested before in the 1950s-60s, the concept has gained negative support as it has been termed unconstitutional.
The argument for the notion shall be dealt with later, but it is important to address why even now the policy of one nation and one election has not been implemented. The question that more often than not is answered by most, if not all critiques is that the theory in itself might not be flawed but the application of such a scheme will inevitably lead to a horrendous violation of constitutional basics, one which the electoral system of India was founded upon.
As has been stated numerous times by the highest judicial authority, that is, the Supreme Court, the basic structure of the constitution is unamendable. This meant that the fact that India is a quasi-federal state and the concept of one nation and one election will force at least disparity to occur during or after the elections. This is keeping in mind that the elections between 1952-1967 forced the hand of the election commission to ultimately hold elections separately.
The problem observed during that time was the dissolution of the assembly. Simply by the dissolution of the assembly, the effect of the election be reversed, meaning that the results of the election would mean nothing, and presidential rule maybe be imposed in such states. This again would be necessary in order to effectively implement the one nation one election policy. Without the dissolution of the respective state, assemblies will negate legitimate elections that are held almost every year in between general elections. Keeping in mind that state elections will be synchronized with Lok Sabha Elections, as was the case in the 1950s and ’60s, this would effectively mean that the rights of the party constitutionally elected in a state and the members of the assembly too will be forced to reconstitute and stand for election again.
What happens when the state legislation is dissolved prematurely? Either presidential rule is imposed under Article 356 of the Constitution or a government with no confidence in the assembly and being in minority may govern a state. While these are issues that can be contested through amendments, pose a significant threat before such a policy is implemented.
Numerous articles in the constitutions will have to be amended if this policy is to be implemented. If certain legal positions held in Keshavananda Bharti (1973) and S.R Bommai (1994) are ignored. To be precise the legal position of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution cannot be changed, then Article 83 pertaining to the tenure of the house of people and council of states will need to be amended in parlance with Article 172, which states the tenure of the state legislature. These articles will need to be amended to avoid conflicts in cases of dissolution and to ensure that the federal system is not abandoned after the elections.
Article 85 and Article 174 of the Indian Constitution deal with the Dissolution of respective houses and legislative assemblies. These Articles will need to be amended to make them co-dependent. The reason these articles will need to be amended is very simple if India ought to have one nation one election, the duration of the respective houses and assemblies will need to be in parlance with each other to avoid problems of dissolution prematurely resulting in loss of confidence from the public and similarly avoiding conflicts with the system of one nation one election.
Adverse Effects of One Nation, One Election
One of the most advocated effects will be that the central government in case of dissolution will hold the power of intruding upon functions and affairs of the state through the promulgation of an emergency under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution.
The other effect would be curtailing the constitutional terms of the parties in the state. Parties elected will have to lose their powers to comply with the scheme which is again a huge violation of fundamental rights. Where National elections attract the major players of the politics debating over agendas regarding national matters of importance, state elections provide an excellent platform for smaller parties to showcase their agendas. These smaller parties stand to lose a lot as state agendas and their voices will be dwarfed by national parties and national interest.
There is a huge potential of malfeasance in the concept as a single election will bring out a lot of problems with one person one vote. Despite having just one vote, a voter in India can effectively cast votes twice because there are state and national level elections. This in itself gives the people a huge degree of control over parties in states. Restricting voting rights over 5 years would not sit well with many of us.
Feasibility and Advantages
Since the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, PM Narendra Modi has pushed and promoted the idea for One Nation and One election. The advantages of such an election system are far and few in modern times but they range from reducing expenses that go into elections every year, reduce the logistical burden on the Election commission, parties would become more committed to implementing schemes as continuous elections and change of governments leads to all talk and no work, which is observable throughout a year. Having a single election will make development either happen or parties being criticized even more than now since there would be clear-cut no excuses over the transition and handing over of the government. Elections every year more or less lead to disruption of life and huge exploitation of tax money. It is not a hidden fact and it has long since become a norm for parties to spend extravagant monies during the election. Just one election can effectively reduce this expense.
As far as advantages go these are about it. But what about the feasibility of such an election? The idea behind pushing is noble at least on paper and it is easy to see why a national party with huge support may promote such a system
Implementation of One Nation, One Election
Implementation would require a major overhaul of election laws. The Election commission and the 170th law commission in 1983 and 1999 recommended this system of election. The election laws of the country will need to be strengthened to the point where Anti-defection and dissolution are dealt with an iron hand. The current condition of these laws has made it easy for members to switch sides in assembly and subsequently force a no-confidence motion. The destabilization of parties at the state level will disrupt the functioning of the state and the center will probably get a free hand in meddling with the affairs of the state.
The very complex procedure of having to conduct elections over and over again each year is taxing both physically and economically for the Election commission. Subsequently, former Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy has stated that even the single election might be taxing but the advantages prevail over repeated elections.
Apart from these factors, the major factor is having majority support across all states for such a system to exist. Such a system can only exist if there is a strong sense of unity among different political parties. Without a common consensus, this system fails even on paper. Parties all around will have to agree to concede to give up their position in the election regardless of winning a fair election.
Now, whether such a system is suitable for India? If executed with utmost precision and diligence, it could forever revolutionize elections everywhere for a democracy. In a country with such a huge voter turnout, such a system might just help controlling corruption and other matters incidental to it. Expenses and logistics might be saved. In a country that more often than not is plagued with concerns of dealing with sensitive topics such as poverty and lack of economic growth, the transition in itself might be costly but the result might help in promoting parties to spend less on election as there would be just one to spend.
Again, these are not hard and fast rules that will be followed. These are concerns that have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Without proper implementation, this scheme has an undertone of destroying our democracy. We will lose our federal character with constant perverse intervention from the national party in power in a state affair, constant defection leading to dissolution or unstable governments at the state are just some of the major disadvantages. The important deciding factor however is the constitutional amendment that will need to be made to facilitate such an implementation. Is such an amendment possible? Yes, but not at the cost of affecting the basic structure. If the amendments are made failsafe against defection and dissolution, one nation one election is something that can be thought about, but without such amendments in place, it is a far-fetched dream.