One nation, one election against basic structure, panel should be dissolved: Kharge

Congress chief says he is amused to hear the argument that holding simultaneous elections will result in financial savings

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge (photo: IANS)
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge (photo: IANS)


The Congress on Friday, 19 January, strongly opposed the "undemocratic" idea of holding simultaneous elections in the country and said it goes against the guarantees of federalism and the basic structure of the Constitution.

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge also demanded that the idea be abandoned and the high-powered committee formed to study it be dissolved.

In a letter to the secretary of the committee on one nation, one election, he requested former president Ram Nath Kovind, who heads the panel, "not to allow his persona and the office of the former president of India to be abused by the Union government to subvert the constitution and parliamentary democracy in this country".

"The Indian National Congress is strongly opposed to the very idea of 'One Nation, One Election'. For the sake of maintaining a thriving and a robust democracy, it is imperative that the entire idea must be abandoned and the high-powered committee dissolved," Kharge said in his letter to Niten Chandra, the secretary of the committee.

His letter came in response to Chandra's letter on October 18 whereby he had invited suggestions for consideration of the committee. He said the committee seems to have "already made up its mind and seeking a consultation seems to be an eye wash".

"The government, parliament and ECI should work together to ensure people's mandate is respected rather than divert people's attention by talking about undemocratic ideas like simultaneous elections," Kharge said.

He said the composition of the committee is "biased" as it was formed without giving substantial representation to the Opposition parties that head various state governments that would be affected by the recommendations of this committee.

"When the committee is headed by no less than the former president of India, it is distressing when even common voters feel the consultations of the committee are likely to be a pretence since minds have already been made up. Firm views in support of the proposal have already been expressed in public and a dispassionate analysis of pros and cons is not being attempted in a serious and systematic manner," the Congress chief said in his response.

He said that in the last 10 years the only instances where the chief ministers have lost the confidence of the house have been when one particular party has abused the government machinery at its disposal and subverted the anti-defection law to "steal" people's mandate.

"There is no place for the concept of simultaneous elections in a country that has adopted a Parliamentary system of government. Such forms of simultaneous elections that are being floated by the government go against the guarantees of federalism contained in the Constitution," Kharge asserted.

He said the government and this committee should have been honest in stating at the outset that what they are attempting goes against the basic structure of the Constitution and will require substantial changes to the basic structure to implement.

"The holding of simultaneous elections would require the dissolution of several legislative assemblies which are still halfway (or less) through their terms. This would be a betrayal of the electorate in those states," the Congress chief claimed.

He said the chief minister or the prime minister holds office for as long as he or she enjoys the confidence of the house and if a chief minister loses confidence of the house and no other party is able to form a government.

But the Niti Aayog report says the state should be put under President's Rule till fresh elections can be synchronized, according to Kharge. "This would be a travesty of democracy".

Kharge said he was amused to hear the argument that holding simultaneous elections will result in financial savings. "The argument that cost of conducting elections are extremely high seems baseless."

He said the expenses on polls are less than 0.02 per cent of the total Union budget for the preceding five years. Noting that expenses for assembly elections may also be similar percentage of their state budgets, he said, "We feel the people will be willing to consider this small amount as the cost of free and fair elections to uphold democracy."

He said expenditure on 2014 elections was Rs 3,870 crore, which the committee claims is high. "If the committee, the government and ECI are serious about the expenditure made on elections, it would be more appropriate if they could make the funding process more transparent, especially in the matter of electoral bonds. This would truly empower the voter and increase voter awareness," he said.

He also said that the committee is relying on the Niti Aayog report, which is neither a constitutional nor a statutory body and the high level committee should not have referred to it. "This reinforces our concern that the committee seems to have already made up its mind and seeking a consultation seems to be an eyewash".

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