Why India needs one-time polls

Abhijit Majumder
Abhijit MajumderFeb 26, 2017 | 12:16

Why India needs one-time polls

By the time voters in UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur get inked and the EVMs regurgitate the party symbols punched into them, an estimated Rs 1,000-1,500 crore would be wiped off the state exchequer. About a lakh central forces personnel would be guarding this process for more than a month. A number of schemes will have to wait till the dangling sword of the model code goes back to the scabbard.


And after the dust settles, it will rise again. In just about nine months, when Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh go to the polls. And the draining of funds and human resources happens all over again.

The country is likely to witness elections for two to five state Assemblies every six months till 2021, except between January and December 2020.

Just the 2014 Lok Sabha elections drained Rs 3,870 crore of taxpayers’ money, up from Rs 1,115 crore in 2009. Nearly 10 million polling officials were involved. Bihar Assembly polls in 2015 cost about Rs 300 crore.

The case for holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies is very strong. Both the PM and the President have underlined it, and being in the throes of a full-blown election season is a good time to deliberate on it.

The Niti Aayog report by Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai titled ‘Analysis of Simultaneous Election: The What, Why and How’ quite exhaustively explores the contours of the issue.

It argues, “As is the case with long-term structural reforms, implementing this measure would also cause some short-term pain. However, this would be a stepping stone towards improved governance and a larger initiation of electoral reforms - a desperately needed measure to re-boot the Indian polity.”


There are three chief concerns about holding simultaneous elections. First is the operational difficulty of conducting such a massive, one-time countrywide exercise.

But the elections to the Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously between 1951 till 1967. Then the cycle got disrupted when some Assemblies and the fourth Lok Sabha itself got prematurely dissolved. The extra resources one needs are incremental.

The case for holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies is very strong. (Photo: India Today)

The second worry is how to synchronise existing cycles of Assemblies and the Lok Sabha and what if these get dissolved prematurely in the future.

The Niti Aayog report suggests simultaneous elections in two-phases. Phase I could be in sync with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Phase II could be mid-way in the term of the Lok Sabha around 2021 October-November. “Thereafter, it is envisaged to conduct elections every 2.5 years in the country once the entire electoral cycles of the Lok Sabha and all state Assemblies are synchronised by December 2021,” it says.

If dissolution of the Lok Sabha or a state Assembly is unavoidable and the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long, the President or governor could carry out the administration with the aid and advice of a council of ministers to be appointed by him or her.


“If the remainder of the term is long, fresh election may be held and the term of the House should be for the rest of the original term,” the report suggests.

But the potent political argument against simultaneous elections, raised by the Congress, NCP, TMC, AIMIM and CPI, among others, is that it would give unfair advantage to national parties and marginalised regional voices will be throttled.

There is no conclusive study to believe that. In 2014, for instance, the BJD swept simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly in Odisha despite the Modi wave. Even if there is some truth in it, the benefits completely outweigh the problem.

In fact, simultaneous elections will force regional parties to think a little more about national interest than function cynically from their pigeonholes. It is hard to believe, but a Lalu Prasad may be forced to think above caste and about development. Or Mamata Banerjee may weigh her appeasement politics against citizens’ national security concerns.

On the other hand, national parties may be forced to pay more heed to regional issues to win the confidence of specific, smaller voter groups. A highly local tribal conflict in the North East or plight of Tamil Nadu’s fishermen, if not addressed, may mar a national party’s prospects in both the state and the Centre.

Much will depend on how deftly the Centre handles the fears and insecurities of political stakeholders and works out the nitty-gritty of implementation. The idea is powerful, the time is ripe. It needs a good midwife.

Last updated: February 27, 2017 | 16:36
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