Poser to Kovind committee: Nation not tired of IPL matches is tired of elections?
In a scathing op-ed in the Indian Express, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa clinically destroys the grounds advanced for ‘one nation, one election’
Ashok Lavasa should have taken over as the chief election commissioner in September 2023.
However, he resigned in 2019 and moved to the Asian Development Bank, possibly the first and the only election commissioner to have resigned to date.
Complaints about Prime Minister Narendra Modi violating the Model Code of Conduct had been submitted to the Election Commission during the general election in 2019. Ashok Lavasa found merit in the complaints and was reportedly in favour of issuing a warning, if not of outright censure for the prime minister.
The other two election commissioners, including the then-CEC, did not agree. By majority decision, the complaints were dismissed. Ashok Lavasa insisted that his dissenting note should be recorded and filed. The request was rejected.
This, coupled with harassment in the form of income tax notices, inquiries and selective leaks to the media, it is speculated, decided him to take up the assignment at the ADB.
A retired IAS officer, Lavasa has intimate knowledge of the functioning of the Election Commission and how elections are conducted. His posers on the ‘One Nation, One Election’ bogey are unlikely to be answered by the Ram Nath Kovind-led committee or the Law Commission, both all set to submit reports favouring ‘one election’.
But his arguments are irrefutable.
1. MASSIVE EXPENDITURE ON ELECTIONS? In the op-ed piece, Lavasa points out that in 2019, the government spent Rs 9,000 crore to hold the general election. Even if one assumes that the same amount was spent in five years to hold assembly elections in the states, the expense per voter comes to Rs 200 in five years, or 10 paise per day, far less than what people pay for their mobile phone connection.
The real issue, he writes, is the colossal amount of money spent by the political parties, rather than the government. While officially the parties admitted to having spent Rs 2,994 crore on their campaigns in 2019, unofficially they are believed to have spent as much as Rs 50,000 crore—the bulk of it by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. How will ‘one election’ help in addressing this issue, questions Lavasa.
2. NO DATA OR ANALYSIS: No data is available on the actual expenditure in elections, no breakup or analysis is found on how much money will actually be saved by holding ‘one election’. In the absence of data and empirical evidence, the expenditure and savings thereupon remain mere estimates based on mostly unsound assumptions.
3. DIVERSION OF SECURITY FORCES & EMPLOYEES: In the course of five years, security forces and government employees may get diverted for election duty for 60 days or 120 days at best. This is deemed to be essential duty and again, no data or evidence is there to suggest that these diversions have hindered the work of the government.
In any case, in a country where schools and offices are regularly shut down for the G20 summit, heavy rains, etc., how valid is this excuse?
4. HOW CAN ELECTION IN TAMIL NADU IMPACT WORK IN HARYANA? Questioning the argument offered in favour of ‘one election’, Lavasa asks how polling in one state can conceivably affect the government’s work in another? An especially valid argument because the Model Code of Conduct prevents stoppage of routine work, ongoing work or emergency work.
5. CENTRALISATION OF POLITICS: The real problem, Lavasa writes, is centralisation of politics, which is not allowing democracy to take roots in the states. With the insistence of the ruling party at the Centre on running election campaigns in the states and deploying union ministers, not local leaders, in the states to campaign, work at the Centre may get affected by too many elections, yes. But then the Constitution did not envisage such centralisation of politics. ‘One election’, he writes, will further help this process of centralisation.
6. ELECTORAL REFORMS? There are far more serious electoral reforms that should engage the attention of the government, the Election Commission and the Law Commission than the bogey of ‘one election’.
Lavasa concludes by writing that a mechanical scheduling of elections is not going to solve those problems.