‘One Nation, One Election’ Explained. What Is It And How Can It Work?

A high-level committee led by former President Ram Nath Kovind has submitted its report on the government’s ‘One Nation, One Election‘ push – which proposes holding Lok Sabha and Assembly polls simultaneously.

The panel – set up in September last year – has since studied “best practices from other countries”, consulted 39 political parties, economists, and the Election Commission of India. The panel backs the idea, but calls for a legally sustainable mechanism that can break and re-align existing electoral cycles.

“The committee is of unanimous opinion that simultaneous polls should be held,” the report, submitted to President Droupadi Murmu, said, noting that Lok Sabha and Assembly polls could be held together with local body elections (also synchronised) 100 days later.

READ | “Unanimous… Need Simultaneous Polls”: NDTV Accesses Report

The ‘One Nation, One Election’ proposal was part of the BJP’s manifesto in 2019, but has drawn heavy criticism from the opposition, who have red-flagged constitutional issues.

What Is ‘One Nation, One Election’?

Simply put, it means all Indians will vote in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections – to pick central and state representatives – in the same year, if not at the same time. 

At present, there are a few that vote for a new state government at the same time as the country selects a new union government. These few are Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha, who are scheduled to vote at the same time as the April/May Lok Sabha election.

Maharashtra and Haryana will vote later this year, as will Jharkhand, while the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir must hold its first Assembly election in six years before September 30, in line with the recent Supreme Court order on restoration of statehood.

The rest follow a non-synced five-year cycle; Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Telangana, for example, were among those voting at different times last year.

Unsurprisingly, there are several challenges to shuffling and syncing electoral cycles, ranging from logistical and financial to conceptual, constitutional, legal, and even practical, given the size of the country and vast topographical and cultural differences between regions.

Why Is Government Pushing ‘One Nation, One Election’?

Last year, before the Ram Nath Kovind-led panel was announced, Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal outlined the government’s rationale, and listed some of the possible hurdles.

Mr Meghwal told Parliament simultaneous elections represent financial savings, since it cuts down on deployment of poll officials and security forces several times each year, and reduces costs incurred by the public exchequer and political parties on their campaigns.

READ | Weeks Before ‘One Nation, One Election’ Push, Centre Lists Pros, Cons

He also pointed out asynchronous polls meant the Code of Conduct remained in force frequently, which affects roll-out of welfare schemes, whether by the centre or a state.

The government also hopes a one-shot election will improve voter turnouts, which, at present, vary significantly from state to state and even for the general election.

How Can ‘One Nation, One Election’ Work?

Not without an amendment to the Constitution and that amendment being ratified by the governments of all states and union territories, as well as, possibly, major political parties. 

Legal experts have warned that failure to do so – by amending five Articles – will leave the proposal open to attack on charges of violating India’s federal structure. 

READ | Law Panel May Propose Simultaneous Polls In 2029

These are Article 83 (term of Parliament), Article 85 (dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President), Article 172 (duration of state legislatures), and Article 174 (dissolution of state legislatures), as well as Article 356 (imposition of President’s Rule).

These are key because one of the big challenges is what to do if a state, or even the central government, fails a no-confidence motion or is otherwise dissolved before its term ends.

To order all other states to hold fresh elections is impossible.

Poll Panel’s 2015 Report

Nine years ago the ECI also submitted a feasibility report on the ‘One Nation, One Election’ idea, in which it suggested that no-confidence motions include nomination of a new Chief Minister, or Prime Minister, to take over should the incumbent lose. The new leader must then immediately face a test.

And in the case of an early dissolution, only a short-term election – to choose a government for the remainder of the term – should be conducted.

READ | What Election Commission’s 2015 Report On Simultaneous Polls Said

Various such measures were suggested, including extending or shortening terms to help sync electoral cycles. Overall, the weight of these prompted criticism from the opposition.

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been among the most vocal; in January she called the proposal “a design to subvert the basic structure of the Constitution” and create a system to allow “autocracy (in) a democratic garb to enter the national public arena”.

READ | “2 Problems”: Mamata Banerjee Rejects ‘One Nation, One Election’

And last month her Tamil Nadu counterpart, MK Stalin, opposed it as a “threat to democratic decentralisation”. “It is impractical, not enshrined in Constitution of India,” he said.

The Aam Aadmi Party has also struck down the idea; AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal said it would damage the idea of parliamentary democracy and the basic structure of the Constitution.

The Congress has also slammed it as “undemocratic”, with party chief Mallikarjun Kharge providing a rebuttal that included challenging the government’s rationale on savings.

READ | “Undemocratic, Abandon Idea”: Kharge On One Nation, One Poll

However, not all opposition parties have objected. In Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, and the local Congress unit, have called on the government to being the ‘One Nation, One Election’ from the union territory.

READ | “Start One Nation, One Election From Kashmir”, Say J&K Parties

In all this back and forth, there is one point – simultaneous polls were the norm in India till 1967, but only four such were held. This was disrupted after the premature dissolution of some state legislatures.

Challenges To ‘One Nation, One Election’

Apart from syncing electoral cycles with minimum disruption to governance (and ensuring all political parties are onboard), there is still no real clarity on how to deal with breaks due to dissolution of Houses, President’s Rule, or even a hung Assembly or Parliament.

NDTV Explains | ‘One Nation, One Election’. What Are Pros And Cons?

Regional parties have also pointed out their limited resources means they may not be able to spotlight local issues to voters, as effectively as they might, in the face of better-funded parties trying to grab attention for the Lok Sabha election.

READ | Rs 10,000 Crore Every 15 Years – Cost Of One Nation, One Election

Another area of concern is the recurring cost of procuring EVMS, or electronic voting machines. This, the poll panel has said, will be nearly Rs 10,000 crore every 15 years.

What Does Public Say?

The ‘One Nation, One Election’ panel received nearly 21,000 suggestions from the public, of which over 81 per cent were in favour, news agency PTI said in January.

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