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Vol XXIX No. 7, July 16-31, 2019

The Implications of One Nation, One Poll

by A Special Correspondent

Leaving aside the debate on the political and constitutional implications of the One Nation One Poll idea, synchronising 32 State assembly elections with that of the Lok Sabha in 2024, in such a manner that the combined cycle is kept rolling in the future, is an interesting exercise in itself. It calls for the transition from the current situation of multiple elections occurring at different times to be smooth, and have a minimal impact on the duration of office conferred on the State governments by the electorate.

There are four main issues that govern the final decision of accepting or rejecting the idea of One Poll – its advantages, its bearing on the federal balance, its impact on the common voter’s understanding of the distinction between the State and Centre seeking votes simultaneously and finally, its feasibility. The desirability of One Poll is left to constitutional pundits and political parties to argue out. It is the feasibility that is an interesting puzzle and the focus of this piece.

Some quarters tend to dismiss the idea of One Poll outright on the ground that it is complex and not feasible. This note indulges in some speculative thinking on the feasibility of One Poll, which should be considered before debating its merits and demerits. If found infeasible, the One Poll idea need not be pursued, saving time and energy. If it is found feasible, it is worthwhile evaluating the merits, demerits and deeper implications of One Poll. The illustrative proposal is as follows, which is not necessarily the ideal or only solution.

A framework is necessary within which to explore the feasibility of One Poll.

State elections should fall in line with the Lok Sabha election, not vice versa. Lok Sabha election years are, by and large, predictable. Therefore, it qualifies to be the reference point for State Assemblies to synchronise with.
The adjustment must take place over a full 5-year cycle for its completion.

It is a one-time adjustment of the term of assemblies to initiate the combined cycle. Future General Election Dates (GED) are 2024, 2029, 2034 and so on. Currently, the GED 2024 can be the reference point for adjusting the duration of State Assemblies, as practically, the entire cycle of 5 years is still ahead. Thereafter, both State and Central elections become due together every 5 years.

State Assemblies can be held in four possible situations depending on the remaining duration for the next Lok Sabha election. They are as follows, with the recommended synchronising “adjustment” for each.

Situation A: When the current term of office extends beyond GED 2024 – The term will be terminated during GED 2024.

Situation B: When the present term of office expires before GED 2024, with more than 2 years still left for GED 2024 – An election will be held for a specified term of office of the newly elected government to expire at GED 2024.

Situation C: When the present term of office expires before GED 2024, with less than 2 years still left for GED 2024 – The term of office of the ruling government can be extended till GED 2024 or, if the remaining duration is only a few months, President’s Rule can be proclaimed.

Situation D: When the present term of office expires in sync with GED 2024 – It is in sync with the General Election. No special action is needed.

By following the above rules, all State elections will have aligned with the One Poll in GED 2024, and the combined elections will take place every 5 years thereafter. By-elections for vacancies will be as usual and will not affect or be affected by the synchronisation plan. But certain unavoidable contingencies would, even if occasionally, occur. Would these disturb the initial situational settings listed above, and take us back to the chaotic multiplicity of elections almost throughout the year?

There could be one or more of four such contingencies.

One, a State Government falls for want of confidence of the House and an alternative government is formed from among the members of the same House. This does not disturb the initial settings.

Two, the State government falls without alternative government formation. The resultant situation is analogous to Situation B and action is taken accordingly. Or, it could be like Situation C, in which case, instead of extending the term of a government that has lost confidence, President’s Rule is imposed for the remaining period till GED 2024. This also does not disturb the initial settings.

Three, the Central government prematurely falls with alternative government formation from among members of the same House. This will not change GED or the way State governments synchronise with the GED. This also does not disturb the initial settings.

Four, Central Government falls with no possibility of alternative government formation from among members of the same House. This is the only occurrence that will call for review and re-setting of all the assembly durations with reference to the new GED. For example: If, due to the fall of the Central Government, the Lok Sabha election is forced in 2021 itself instead of 2024, the next election after 5 years will be 2026. State Assemblies will now be adjusted to correspond with the new GED in 2026, according to the norms spelt out earlier in this note, for the four Situations.

How often does this fourth type of contingency occur? Is it frequent enough to render the One Poll idea too complex to undertake? In 70 years, we should have had 14 Parliaments but we had 16, indicating that such a glitch has happened twice in 70 years, that is, once in 35 years. Thus, the premature fall of governments do not cause any major threat to the continuance of the combined cycle.

Does this plan negate the voice of the People? When the term is ended prematurely, it is to replace it with another elected government; and when it is extended, it is only that of an elected government enjoying the confidence of the House. President’s Rule is confined to short periods and that too only when the government falls, leaving a vacuum. Thus, it is seen that the “adjustments” – meant only to initiate the cycle and not to be a permanent device – ensure the continuity of the people’s voice in every situation.

Would there be political bias in making the “adjustments”? To provide against it, the power could be vested in a constitutionally instituted body similar to the GST Council, representing all the States and the Centre, with the same kind of voting rights and stature.

Summing up, One Poll is feasible and can be maintained successfully. The premature fall of governments does not disturb the initial settings. Only the premature fall of the Central Government, and that too with no possibility for an alternate formation, would call for the state schedules to be reset according to the change in GED 2024. Thus, infeasibility cannot be the reason for rejecting the idea of One Poll. If the decision to go ahead with One Nation One Poll is taken by April 2021, it may be possible to make it a reality for 2024. If 2024 is missed, it must wait till 2029.

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