American political scientist Robert A. Dahl visualised a more mature and sophisticated form of democracy called polyarchy. It is a democratic political ecology in which political outcomes are enacted through competitive, if unequal, interest groups. In such an environment, power is invested in multiple people and groups. It is an effective antidote to autocratic and authoritarian tendencies. Even though conceptualised from a western perspective, polyarchy holds much aspirational value for developing world democracies like India where the Hubris syndrome is flourishing among the ruling elite amid the authoritarian populist surge. But unfortunately, India, with its present majoritarian dispensation, is moving in reverse direction to polyarchy and power is being concentrated in a cabal.
Prime Minister Modi is adept in sugar-coating his pernicious authoritarian agenda with mellowing slogans. The latest instance is ‘One nation, one election’. He has been doggedly pushing the idea of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies ever since his first innings as the Prime Minister. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has recently announced the formation of a committee to prepare a blueprint for synchronised elections. It is seemingly the first constitutional priority of the Modi Sarkar 2.0. The recent four-hour all-party meeting that has been convened by the Prime Minister is the first firm step towards this agenda. Addressing the joint-session of Parliament after the constitution of 17th Lok Sabha, President Ram Kovind exhorted the Parliament to support the idea of ‘One nation, one election’ as it would accelerate development of the nation.
The million Dollar question for the concerned citizen is whether the proposed synchronised election would torpedo the pristine design of Indian Constitution and its ideals of political pluralism and unique federalism. “The accumulation of all powers in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” - this Madisonian axiom is proverbial in political philosophy. Whenever political power is concentrated in a few, liberty and dignity of the citizen turn into a sitting duck. Montesquieu proposed the separation of political power among legislature, executive and judiciary to save the citizenry from tyranny. The founding fathers of US Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington, devised Federalism to avoid tyranny, to allow more participation in politics and to use the states as "laboratories" for new ideas and programmes. Federalism has been the cornerstone of Madisonian Democratic Order along with bicameralism and separation of powers.
Justice Louis Brandeis of the American Supreme Court, in his dissenting judgment in Myers v. United States (1926), remarkably opined, “the doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The purpose was not to avoid friction but, by means of the inevitable friction incident to the distribution of the governmental powers among three departments, to save the people from autocracy.” These sagacious words aptly paint Federalism as a bulwark against autocracy and arbitriness and a shield of citizen’s liberty and dignity.
The unique efficacy of Federalism in India, the rainbow nation of diversities, has been that it preserves associational autonomy of sub-nationalities without compromising the much needed national unity and integrity. Ethnic and linguistic minorities all over the world like Tamils in Sri Lanka and Madhesis in Nepal, persistently stand for federalism mainly thanks to its rare ability to preserve their identity and autonomy within in the framework of national polity.
Professor KT Shah, the Bohemian member of the Constituent Assembly, had proposed the inclusion of the term ‘federal’ in Article 1 of the Constitution. But it was turned down. A written constitution as the basis of polity is the primary feature of federal system. The Constitution expressly provided for the distribution of power among the Union and the states which is general feature of federal constitutions. The primacy and supremacy of the Constitution is other federal hue of Indian’s suprema lex. There is an independent Supreme Court to arbitrate the disputes between the Union and the states. The Council of States, resembling American Senate, represents states in the Union Government. Some vital portions of the Constitution could be amended only with the approval of the majority of states. All these provisions underline the federal complexion of Indian Constitution.
The emergency provisions, appointment of governors and the All India Services in Indian Constitution are the elements contradicting with the federal principle. India has a unique type of federalism called co-operative federalism. In Union of India v. Sankal Chand Himatlal Sheth (1977), the Supreme Court of India clarified that India has a federal or quasi-federal polity.
But the political ideology of the present ruling dispensation has always been opposed to federalism. When the Motilal Nehru Committee (1928), the first indigenous venture for framing a constitution for India, proposed a federal system for India, the Hindu Mahasabha vehemently opposed it and advocated for a unitary system. MS Golwalkar, in a memorandum sent to the National Integration Council in 1961, opined: “today’s federal form of government not only gives birth to, but also nourishes the feelings of, separatism; in a way it refuses to recognise the fact of one nation and destroys it. It must be completely uprooted, the constitution purified and a unitary form of government …established”
In Bunch of Thoughts, Golwalkar further demanded: “the most important and effective step will be to bury deep, for good, all talk of federal structure of country’s constitution, to sweep away the existence of all autonomous or semi-autonomous states within the one state viz., Bharat, and proclaim ‘one country, one state, one legislature, one executive’ with no trace of fragmental, regional, sectarian, linguistic or other types of pride being given scope for playing havoc within integrated harmony. Let the Constitution be re-examined and re-drafted, so as to establish this unitary form of government.”. (Quoted by Shamsul Islam in his Undoing India the RSS Way).
The idea of ‘one nation, one election’ of Modi, is a stealthy short cut to Golwalkar’s dream of ‘one country, one state, one legislature, one executive’. It would demolish the federal structure and pluralist polity of India. In simultaneous elections, the national issues would eclipse the state issues. Under the Indian Constitution, the Union government and State governments have distinct spheres of action and their performance should be submitted for distinct audits by the people. Democratic governments are surviving on people’s will and elections are the best appliance to sense the pulse of popular will. Then why should we shy away from frequent elections?
Simultaneous election is a quixotic idea with much practical discordance. “How will “one nation, one election” work in case of premature dissolution of the Lok Sabha, for instance, as happened in late 1990s when the House was dissolved long before its term of five years was over? In such an eventuality, would we also dissolve all State Assemblies? Similarly, what happens when one of the State Assemblies is dissolved? Will the entire country go to polls again,” asks SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India.
Constitutionalism is always keen to avoid the centralisation of political power; but the India’s present ruling party’s ideology stands for concentration of power-social, political and economic-in few elites. This ideology does not reconcile with the soul of constitution. The idea of simultaneous elections is seemingly designed to accelerate the centripetal movement of political power which clearly runs against the gist of Indian Constitution.