Everything you need to know about ‘One-Nation-One-election’

With the Ram Nath Kovind Committee handing over its report to President Murmu on Thursday, the union govt moved a step closer to holding simultaneous elections for the parliament and state assemblies

Representative image of voting (Photo: National Herald Archives)
Representative image of voting (Photo: National Herald Archives)

AJ Prabal

With as many as five constitutional amendments required before ‘simultaneous polls’ can be held besides the need to evolve a consensus among non-BJP-ruled states and the political parties, the Kovind Committee report is yet another red herring timed before the general election.

The Kovind Committee, as anticipated, has recommended that simultaneous elections are needed in national interest. Its voluminous report has specified the following road map, according to media reports:

(1) As soon as Lok Sabha 2024 is constituted, the major constitutional amendments to enable Simultaneous Elections 2029 to be carried out.

(2) Lok Sabha and Assembly elections to be first synchronised from 2029.

(3) Later, in 100 days, all ULBs and RLBs across India to have elections together.

(4) All state assembly elections between 2024 to 2029 will be only for a restricted period till 2029 (not full 5 years).

(5) Single electoral roll to be made finally, by ECI and State Election Commission coordination. (Presently, SECs have their own rolls for ULBs and RLBs)

(6) Any loss of confidence (fall of govt.) will need a fresh election, but only for a restricted period (before next cycle of 5 years is triggered).

The Kovind Committee was set up in September, 2023 and held consultations with stakeholders without taking the people into confidence about the concerns raised. Its website in English and Hindi failed to reach out to a vast section of the Indian population, who remain ignorant and uninformed about the urgency and the objections to the scheme.

It is also strange, coming from this government, to justify the plan on the ground of strengthening democracy, improving governance and cutting down costs. Election to the J & K Assembly has not taken place for more than five years and less money was spent by the Election Commission in the last five years on holding elections since 2019 than what the government has spent on remodelling the ‘central vista’ in New Delhi.

While the Election Commission is believed to have spent Rs five thousand Crore on holding the 2019 general election, the central vista’ remodelling budget was Rs 20,000 crore.

The idea of reverting to simultaneous polls is not new and was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999.

  • The recent push came ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the BJP manifesto

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of “One nation, one election” in 2016

  • The Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017.

  • President Ram Nath Kovind weighed in and spoke in favour of the plan in his address to Parliament in 2018

  • The Law Commission submitted a draft report to the government on August 30, 2018, endorsing the proposal

  • The Prime Minister held a four-hour-long meeting of NDA allies in 2019 to push for it

  • In September, 2023 the union government formed the Ram Nath Kovind committee to look into the feasibility of simultaneous polls to State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha

The primary argument in favour of simultaneous polls is that it would reduce costs in conducting separate elections and will enable the ruling parties to focus on governance instead of being constantly in election mode. It was also argued by the Law Commission that simultaneous polls will help boost voter turnout.

Those opposing simultaneous polls point out that the Supreme Court in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994), declared that the states have an independent constitutional existence. India being a union of states, they argue, simultaneous polls cannot be imposed on them. Building a consensus among the people in each state, explaining the pros and cons in their own languages, would be required before taking a drastic step like this.

They also point out that simultaneous elections, once in five years, would reduce the government’s and people’s representatives’ accountability to the people. Now the political parties and political representatives have to seek the approval of the people at regular intervals, every few years and people are able to raise their new concerns and ask for explanations and accountability. Repeated elections keep legislators on their toes and increases accountability but with simultaneous polls, people would lose that opportunity.

The opponents also point to practical difficulties when President’s rule will have to be imposed on several states in the interim period before elections can be synchronised. This would be a blow to democracy and federalism.

Strangely, the Election Commission, a constitutional body endowed with the autonomy to take independent decisions regarding elections, has been quiet barring stating that it would be able to conduct simultaneous polls when asked to do so.

Holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies would require, besides five constitutional amendments, a large number of additional electronic voting machines (EVMs) and VVPAT units.

The five amendments in the Constitution would entail changes to Article 83 relating to the duration of Houses of Parliament, Article 85 relating to the dissolution of the Lok Sabha by the President, Article 172 relating to the duration of the State legislatures, Article 174 relating to dissolution of the State legislatures, and Article 356 relating to the imposition of President’s Rule in States.

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Published: 14 Mar 2024, 12:52 PM