Symposium on “One Nation, One Election”

India Foundation in association with the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library organised a Symposium on ‘One Nation, One Election’ at Teen Murti Bhawan, New Delhi. This was organized on 26thNovember, 2016 on the eve of the Constitution Day.‘One nation – one election’ is a proposed electoral reform to hold simultaneous elections in the entire country to the LokSabha, State Legislative Assemblies and the local bodies.

The inaugural session of the symposium was addressed by Suresh Prabhu, Union Minister for Railways and Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India. The plenary session was addressed by Dr. A. Surya Prakash, Chairman, Prasar Bharati; Bhupender Yadav, National General Secretary, BJP; Bhatruhari Mahtab, MP (BJD); Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express; and P.S. Narasimha, Additional Solicitor General. Post-lunch session was addressed by Dr. P. Puneeth, Associate Professor, JNU; Mr. Gilles Verniers, Associate Professor, Ashoka University among others and it was chaired by Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

Speaking in the inaugural session, Suresh Prabhu remembered how initially India could hold simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas and how the cycle was broken in the late 1960s. He referred to the U.S., where elections across the country happen on a single day. He also said that India is always on an election mode and this electioneering is affecting the country’s governance. He also referred to L.K.  Advani’s proposal of suggesting the alternative while introducing no-confidence motion on the line of practice which exists in a few countries. He said that simultaneous election is a serious issue to deliberate upon.

Dr. S.Y. Quraishi reminded about the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which mentioned four reasons reiterating the need for simultaneous elections – (i) the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections; (ii) the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time; (iii) impact on delivery of essential services and (iv) burden of crucial manpower that is deployed during election time. He further added two more reasons – (v) caste and communal polarization peeks during elections and (vi) the practice of promising freebies on the eve of elections.  He said that the root cause of all corruption is “electoral corruption”, which would be effectively minimized by simultaneous elections. He also listed counter points against simultaneous elections saying that elections make politicians more accountable and that some temporary jobs are created during elections.

Dr. A. Surya Prakash said that development halts because of long duration of elections and that it has adverse impact on governance due to long tenure and massive expense. He also opined that the important step towards simultaneous elections is to gain political consensus, which was very difficult at the moment. In his opinion, regional parties across the country are skeptical about national parties pursuing its national agenda through simultaneous elections.

Bhupender Yadav stated that Election is only a means and not an objective of national development. Hesuggested adoption of fixed electoral timetables. He said that the election spending could be reduced when India goes for simultaneous elections at all levels. He also referred to the British examples of setting up electoral timetable in 2011.

BhartruhariMahtabsaid that the states like Orissa, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Telangana proved that the notion that simultaneous elections would adversely affect the chances of regional parties was wrong.

Prabhu Chawla said that he was not in favour of simultaneous election as people will not get a second opportunity to make amends as they will have to wait for another five years. According to him, simultaneous election can be done only when 48 regional parties agree which was not easy.

P.S. Narasimha opined that as a matter of principle simultaneous elections is right but for its implementation there would be problems. He doubted the power of Parliament to restrict the tenure of state legislatures.

Dr. P.Puneeth said that the concept of simultaneous elections is a utopian concept and cannot be synchronized. According to him, the suggestion of NITI Aayog for two-phase elections was the most workable idea. Prof. Gilles Verniers felt that bringing in simultaneous elections would be very difficult without infringing the democratic process.

Shri Shakti Sinha referred to instances where voters voted differently in Centre and State though elections were held simultaneously. He stressed on the need to work out on a system which best reflects the electoral process. He stated that India had been in a process of experimenting things and a platform needs to be created to materialise the concept of one nation one election.