A letter to President Pranab Mukherjee on simultaneous elections

With the President repeating the need for holding simultaneous general and assembly elections, a public debate has become inevitable. Is it a good idea? Not really, says a retired bureaucrat

Photo by Shahbaz Khan/PTI
Photo by Shahbaz Khan/PTI
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NH Web Desk

Dear Mr President,


Allow me to forgo formalities and come to the point. I didn't like what you said to the Nation on the eve of Republic Day about the desirability of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. I didn't like it one bit and when you repeated it today at your address to the joint session of Parliament, your pronouncements on this and demonetisation left me profoundly disturbed and worried.


Sir, this is what you had said in your address to the nation on January 25: “The time is also ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after independence when elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held simultaneously. It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties.”


Your Prime Minister has also been persistent in raising this issue, arguing that simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies would save public funds and allow Governments more time to govern. From the perspective of the political elite and the establishment, this seems to make sense. Just one big riot, just one surgical strike, just one media blitz or just one Rath Yatra will achieve the same results across the country instead of getting bogged down with pesky, local issues.


Land leased to industry in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, mining rights in Jharkhand, depredation of forests and mountains in the hill states, drugs in Punjab or pellet guns in Kashmir need no longer become election issues. Inconveniences of democracy, here a hostile Government, there a popular uprising, need no longer bother politicians.



Photo by Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Indians were marked with indelible ink similar to the election system after standing in queue to exchange their old 500 and 1,000 notes, after these were demonetised on November 8, 2016

Your Government, sir, has already ushered in unprecedented centralisation of power. The Union Finance Minister has also mooted a ‘Joint Tax Bureaucracy’ of the states and the Centre—such a convenient concept, sir, for federal command and control of the economy, and so in tune with the already-swallowed bait of the pernicious GST. The states do not even realise how they have been ceding ground to the Centre.


There's just the pesky question of a few Constitutional amendments—but if the Upper House becomes too troublesome, we can have simultaneous elections to the Rajya Sabha too. Or, do away with the redundant Rajya Sabha altogether—it’s just a question of another Constitutional amendment—not too hard when the ruling party has a brute majority in the lower house after three decades. And, sir, you have been so obliging with ordinances that a few more ordinances should be a breeze.

Your Prime Minister has also been persistent in raising this issue, arguing that simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies would save public funds and allow Governments more time to govern. From the perspective of the political elite and the establishment, this seems to make sense. Just one big riot, just one surgical strike, just one media blitz or just one Rath Yatra will achieve the same results across the country instead of getting bogged down with pesky, local issues.

Pardon me, sir, for sharing my thoughts. What crossed my mind as I listened to you is that some people might suspect you are hopeful of a second term as President.


I hope I am wrong. Perhaps you can still stop accelerating the descent of India into utter chaos and fascism. You have observed from a vantage point far too many electoral frays not to know why simultaneous elections are dangerous for India's pluralistic, diverse democracy and can pave the way to a fascist takeover of its polity.

The damage from demonetisation, sir, is done

You have also worked long enough in the Planning and Finance Ministries to know what a disaster demonetisation is. I find it difficult, sir, to believe that with your experience and erudition and your access to expert opinion, you are oblivious to the forces which are pushing India further and faster towards perdition—balkanisation, bankruptcy, famines, riots and starvation.


To refresh your memory, this is what you said on Demonetisation: “Demonetisation, while immobilising black money and fighting corruption, may have led to temporary slowdown of economic activity. As more and more transactions become cashless, it will improve the transparency of the economy.”


No, sir. Demonetisation is not good for the country, not in the way it was carried out by the PMO and the Reserve Bank of India. You cannot be oblivious to the conspiracy theories which are afloat on how Demonetisation was designed to help big, corporate bodies wipe off their unpaid loans that would have otherwise broken the back of India's banks and destroyed its banking system in a much more obvious and transparent way. If you had to dwell on Demonetisation, one would have expected you to reassure people that big corporate bodies would not get away with their loans. If your Government, sir, was serious about fighting black money, it would not have refused to disclose the names of the defaulters who have borrowed from banks and have failed to pay back. Isn’t there a strong case of blacklisting them?

Perhaps you can still stop accelerating the descent of India into utter chaos and fascism. You have observed from a vantage point far too many electoral frays not to know why simultaneous elections are dangerous for India’s pluralistic, diverse democracy and can pave the way to a fascist takeover of its polity.

Several experts believe, sir, that Demonetisation will actually facilitate fresh advances by banks to the same coterie. Many of us citizens and voters also believe that Demonetisation had the political purpose of rendering useless the cash set aside by other parties to do what political parties do best, namely to influence votes and ensure loyalty.


Many of us, sir, have no doubt that restrictions on withdrawing our own money from banks will be eased after the assembly elections get over in the five states. That is one more reason, sir, why your bland promotion of a ‘cashless’ economy in your address carried little conviction with us.


But then we the people are but powerless pawns, easily manipulated by emotive religious or caste issues, faux nationalism and carrots of a brighter future. In a world where MNCs are more powerful than Governments, you may consider all this as passé. It is perhaps naïve to even mention such trivialities.


There are many connivers who will use your words as catalysts. Many naive citizens will believe innocently that since the suggestion has come from the highest office of the land, they must be good for the country. But the damage, sir, is done.


Despairingly,


An Unvarnished Indian


(The writer is a retired IAS officer who wants to remain anonymous).

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