Simultaneous Polls: A Cure or A Curse ?

(Kuradi Chandrasekhara Kalkura)

 

Addressing the Joint Session of the Parliament on  January 29, 2018  President of India  Ramanath Kovind: “Citizens alive to the state of governance in the country are concerned about the frequent elections in one part of the country or another, which adversely impact the economy and development. Frequent elections not only impose a huge burden on human resources but also impede the development process due to the promulgation of the model code of conduct. Therefore, a sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue.” The whole nation shares the First Citizen’s agony and ecstasy. BJP is raising the issue time and again on various forums.

We are not a “United States, ”  but “Union of States;” termed by Constitutional experts as ‘Quasi-federal’. And we have adopted ‘Parliamentary Democracy.’  It need not be reiterated that both are basic structures of the Constitution. They cannot be altered to suit the whims and fancies of the political parties, big or small. Though the life of the State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha are equal, five years, they are not co-terminus. It can be said like this in the Shakespearean Language:

 

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear;

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come. “

(Shakespeare in Julius Caesar Act II, Scene 2,).

Same is the fate of the Indian Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies

The very essence of the Parliamentary Democracy is the courage of the Ruling Party to dissolve the House and seek a fresh mandate.  Though the term of both the Assemblies and the Lok Sabha are five years, they are prone to be dissolved earlier for more than one reason. Nine political parties, may be splinter groups, have rightly “opposed the proposal for simultaneous polls,” to the State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha. Among the National Parties, only the Leftists, JD(U) and the Muslim League have attended the meeting convened by the Law Commission, on July, 7 and 8, 2018. Both the BJP and the Congress had abstained.  This is unbecoming of their National Stature. BJP is harping on it. The issue is a dominant one. It requires a National Dialogue; not a mere Legislative enactment. Before any drastic action, either way is taken. All possible Pros and cons must be discussed threadbare. Opposition to the demand for simultaneous polls as “Unrealistic and not feasible in the present situation”  is one of the few sensible objections the opposition has raised.

It is argued that the Election Code hampers developmental activities, electioneering involves huge expenditure, attention and time of the administrative machinery is diverted.  From the date of the proclamation till the last polling day, it is hardly sixty days. Executive can continue the developmental activities already started. New projects and activities cannot be launched.  There are so many wasteful expenditures, subject to widespread, righteous criticism viz. periodical, out of proportion, increase of the pay and allowances of the ministers, members of the Legislatures and Parliament, and life time pension for those Parliamentarians and Legislators who served for more than four years. It is estimated that each minute of a session of a House costs dozens of  crores. Interruption and disruptions are not curtailed. Pranav Jain in a signed article in THE HANS INDIA, Feb., 2, 2018 has nicely put it: “Saving money over protecting the very ethos of democracy betrays a fundamental misunderstanding and privileges pecuniary concern over democratic principles. If saving public money is of concern, the government would do well to deal with leaky public welfare schemes.”

There are many Constitutional hurdles for simultaneous polls.  When a Ministry is voted out in a State or when the Constitutional machinery brakes down  in any state, there are more than one options before the Governor of the State.  He is obliged to explore the possibilities of forming an alternative Govt. If it is not possible, he recommends the State to be brought under the President’s rule. Either the Assembly can be kept under suspended animation and explore the possibility of forming another Govt in the near future or dissolve the Assembly and go for a fresh mandate within six months. It may happen on many occasions, even a few days after the formation of the Ministry. When the Assembly is dissolved, it cannot wait for the remaining period of five years to be completed.  In a similar situation at the Centre, the President has only two options; explore the possibilities of an alternative Govt or dissolve the Lok Sabha and go in for a fresh poll.

If the Lok Sabha is dissolved, there is no provision to promulgate the President’s Rule. Only immediate alternative is a fresh mandate from the people. In the meanwhile, the President cannot take over the reins of administration. “There shall be a Council of Ministers; to aide and advice the President.” In general terms it is called, ‘Interim Government.’  Elections have to be conducted within six months. When the Constitutional Machinery fails in a State, the President’s rule is imposed. i.e Centre administers the State through the Governor. Again elections to elect a new assembly shall be held within six months.

It is not merely hypothetical, but in practice also, during the last 68 years of the functioning of the Constitution, State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha were dissolved within months of their elections.  Mid term polls were held. In such circumstances, leave alone the Constitutional mandate,  is it viable or wise to dissolve all the other Assemblies and the Lok Sabha and go for the Elections; or else, keep the State under the President’s rule for years.

Till the fourth Lok Sabha elections in 1967 elections were being held as per schedule; almost simultaneously.  Indira Gandhi was being tossed by the Congress Syndicate on the one hand and on the other, blackmailed by the Communists. She announced: “I have unshakable faith in the power of the people”, dissolved the Lok Sabha in 1971, an year ahead of schedule and sought the peoples’ mandate. As the memory of the Bangla Desh War, Victory over Pakistan was fresh in the minds and hearts of the people, ‘Indiramma’ won the elections hands down. However in 1976 through a Constitutional Amendment the life of the Fifth Lok Sabha was extended by an year and the Emergency excesses have thrown Indira out of power.

On Oct. 1, 2003, there was an attempt on the life of the then Andhra  CM Chandrababu Naidu by the Naxallites at the Tirumal Hills. Though the Assembly had about a year’s life, he advised the Governor to dissolve the Assembly and sought fresh mandate from the People.  At the Centre Vajpayee also opted to dissolve the Lok Sabha. However the expectation turned turtle. Both have lost power.

In 1989 there were simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and in some states like A.P. and Karnataka. With the support of the BJP, V.P.Sngh formed the Ministry at the Centre. Dissatisfied with the Ayodhya Policy of V.P.Singh, L.K.Advani, the BJP President started a marathon Ratha Yatra to the holy city. With his arrest in Bihar, BJP suspended its support to the Govt.  VP  Singh was voted down within an year of forming the Govt.   Although Chandra Shekhar had a mere 64 MPs, Rajiv Gandhi, the leader of the Opposition agreed to support him on the floor of the House. So he was sworn in as Prime Minister and won a confidence motion.  Within a few months Gandhi withdrew support. Chandrasekhar tried his best to get support till the last minute but failed. The Ministry faced an infantile mortality. Fresh Mid-term elections were inevitable to the Lok Sabha in 1991, within two years of the 1989 elections.

Quite often it is the same case with many states also. In 1991, no State Legislative Assembly was due for elections. Since Parliament had to be formed within six months, could all the Assemblies be dissolved? Can the Centre, unilaterallly dissolve all Assemblies, irrespective of their life, which enjoy the confidence of the people. There is no sanction from the Constitution; hence undemocratic. To warrant such a situation ie  holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies , requires any number of amendments to various provisions of the Constitution; many  of them “Basic Structures”, which cannot be.

There are many Constitutional hurdles. When the ‘Constitutional Machinery breakes down in any State, President’s Rule is imposed with two options: Either ‘dissolve the Assembly’ and go to the polls within six months or ‘Keep the Assembly under suspended animation’ and revive the Government after the situation improves. There is no such provision in the Centre. Either an alternative Government has to be formed or the Lok Sabha has to be dissolved and mid-term poll is held to the Lok Sabha.  The term of the newly elected Assembly and the Lok Lok Sabha may not coincide. Unless and otherwise the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister, for cogent reasons opt, it is against the principles of the Democracy to dissolve an elected body before the expiry of the term. The Governor or the President has no option.  The Constitutional mandate of not taking more than six months gap between two sessions of the Parliament/Assembly also have to be kept in mind.

 

Just a back flash:  Elections to the Assembly were held in Andhra Region in 1952 in the Composite Madras State. Andhra state was formed in 1953. Prakasam Ministry fell in 1954, Assembly dissolved and the President’s Rule imposed. By- Elections were held in 1955.  Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1956. Elections in the Telangana region were due in 1957.  The term of life of the members of the Andhra Region was extended by more than an year till the next general elections in 1962. Without going into the details, later elections to the A.P.Assembly were held  in 1967, 1972, 1978, 1983, 1985, 1989, 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014. And after 1971 Elections to the Parliament along with the rest of the country, in A.P. were held in 1977, 1983, 1984, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014.

It is the same case with many other states. The life of the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies are generally five years. But they are succumbed to commit suicide or being murdered or die a natural death earlier. Constitutional Amendments cannot alter the “Basic Structures” of the Constitution. Even if it is done, the law makers of the day may not be able to foresee the future possibilities.  It may be foolish to expect them the present Parliamentarians to scale the heights of the 299 Framers of the Constitution; Visionaries par excellent.

Remedy suggested  i.e  holding simultaneous elections to the State Assemblies and Lok Sabha is more harmful than the malady. In a Parliamentary Democracy, it is the prerogative of the Majority Govt, in effect the P. M. or the C.M. to dissolve the House and go to the people seeking fresh mandate. Simultaneous scheme will shake the very foundations of the system.    The situation is totally different in the Presidential Type of Govt like the USA. The destiny of the Houses of Representatives in the States and the Federal are sealed. Failure of the Govt  i.e. Governor or the President as the case may be, has no bearing on the  House. But in India, Parliamentary Democracy, a Damocles Sword in the form of  ‘Want of/No Confidence’ is hanging on the neck of the States’ Assemblies and the Lok Sabha.

To bring in parity, it may require any number amendments, altering the very nature of the Constitution, which may not be in conformity with the ‘Procedures established by law’.  Better the discussions are held as early as possible and a final decision is taken at the earliest. Now that the Ball is in the court of the Law Commission, a fair referee. We expect a fair verdict. Let the political parties engage in a fair play. Is the BJP appealing for Advaitha Philosophy:  I am unable to bear the birth and death, again and again. Oh God kindly save me from this cycle. (punarapi  jananam, punarapi maranam/ Punarapi janai jathare shayanam/ Iha samsaare bahudustaare/ Krupayaa paare pahii muraare: Adi Sankaracharya, Bhaja Govindam)

పునరపి జననం పునరపి మరణం/ పునరపి జననీ జఠరే శయనం/ ఇహ సంసారే బహుదుస్తారే/ కృపయా పారే పాహి మురారే

పుడుతూ, మరణిస్తూ, మళ్ళీ మళ్ళీ తల్లి గర్భంలో పుడుతూ, పుడుతూ దుస్తరమైన ఈ సంసారాన్ని దాటటం సాధ్యం కాకున్నది. మురారీ దయతో నన్ను రక్షించు.

(Kuradi Chandrasekhara Kalkura is a political commentator. He can be contacted at <kalkurakurnool@gmail.com>)

Recent Posts

Popular Post