One Nation, One Election: Examining the Controversial Proposal

The Modi government’s initiative to establish a high-level committee to explore the possibility of holding simultaneous elections in India has sparked a significant political debate. This proposal, often referred to as “One Nation, One Election,” aims to synchronize Lok Sabha (national) and Assembly (state) elections. However, it has encountered resistance and concerns from opposition parties regarding constitutional challenges and its impact on federalism. In this analysis, we delve into the background, objectives, and implications of this contentious proposal.

Background and Political Context

The Surprise Announcement

The controversy surrounding the One Nation, One Election proposal gained momentum when the central government announced a five-day special session of Parliament between September 18 and September 22. This move raised suspicions among the opposition, suggesting that it might be an attempt to table the controversial One Nation, One Election Bill.

The Formation of a High-Level Committee

In response to these concerns, the government established a high-level committee (HLC) under the leadership of former President Ram Nath Kovind. The HLC’s primary task is to assess the feasibility of conducting simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, Municipalities, and Panchayats. This committee also has the authority to recommend amendments to the Constitution and other relevant laws.

Opposition’s Reaction

Opposition parties swiftly voiced their concerns, with some viewing this move as a “conspiracy” to postpone elections in the country. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury declined to be part of the HLC, calling the entire exercise an “eyewash.” Veteran Congress leader K.C. Venugopal accused the government of attempting to sabotage India’s parliamentary democracy.

Objectives of the High-Level Committee

The HLC has a broad range of responsibilities and objectives, including:

  1. Examining Feasibility: Assessing the practicality of holding simultaneous elections, taking into account existing constitutional and statutory provisions.
  2. Amendments to Laws: Recommending specific amendments to the Constitution and various electoral laws required to facilitate simultaneous elections.
  3. Ratification by States: Evaluating whether the proposed constitutional amendments would necessitate ratification by the States.
  4. Addressing Scenarios: Analyzing and suggesting solutions for situations such as a hung House, adoption of a no-confidence motion, or defection during simultaneous elections.
  5. Synchronization Framework: Developing a framework for synchronizing elections, including defining phases and timeframes for conducting simultaneous polls.
  6. Ensuring Continuity: Recommending safeguards to ensure the continuity of the cycle of simultaneous elections.
  7. Logistics and Manpower: Examining the logistical and manpower requirements, including Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), for conducting simultaneous elections.
  8. Single Electoral Roll: Exploring the modalities of using a single electoral roll and electoral identity cards for voter identification in various elections.
Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units at the EVM warehouse in Vellore. The HLC will examine the logistics and manpower required, including EVMs, VVPATs, etc., for holding such simultaneous elections. | Photo Credit: Venkatachalapathy C

Legal and Constitutional Challenges

The proposal for One Nation, One Election faces significant legal and constitutional challenges:

  1. Constitutional Amendments: Implementing this proposal would require at least five Constitutional Amendments in Articles 83, 85, 172, 174, and 356. This process would necessitate ratification by a substantial number of States, which may not be easily achieved.
  2. Dissolution of State Assemblies: Coordinating Lok Sabha and Assembly elections would require dissolving all existing State Assemblies, which have varying tenures. This poses logistical and political challenges, especially when some Assemblies are only midway through their terms.
  3. Federalism: Critics argue that One Nation, One Election could infringe upon the federal structure of the Constitution, as it might involve the Union government imposing its will on the States, which could lead to constitutional conflicts.
  4. Practicality: Many question the practicality of conducting simultaneous elections, given India’s diverse and complex political landscape. The potential for unclear mandates could result in frequent fresh elections, defeating the purpose of stability.

Political Controversy

The One Nation, One Election proposal is mired in political controversy:

  1. Party Divisions: Political parties are divided on this issue. While some BJP-ruled States support the idea, opposition parties see it as an attempt to undermine diversity and favor national parties over regional ones.
  2. Presidential System Concerns: Critics argue that the proposal might be a move to shift from a Parliamentary to a Presidential system of governance.
  3. Federalism and Stability: There are concerns that State politics influencing national elections could lead to unstable governments, contrary to federalism’s principles.
  4. Opposition Unity: Opposition parties view the proposal as a response to their growing unity, suggesting that the ruling NDA government is “rattled” and “scared” by this development.

In conclusion, the One Nation, One Election proposal in India remains a highly contentious and complex issue. While proponents argue for efficiency, cost reduction, and stable governance, critics emphasize the potential infringements on federalism and the practical challenges of its implementation. The legal and constitutional hurdles, along with opposition from multiple parties, make the path to achieving simultaneous elections in India a challenging one.

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