Should India Adopt One Nation One Election?

The case for holding simultaneous elections in the diverse, federal Indian polity is weak.
Mainly there are 4 reasons cited in favour of One Nation One Election:

  • massive expenditure
  • diversion of security and civil staff from primary duties
  • impact on governance due to the model code of conduct, and
  • disruption to normal public life.

The Cost Factor:

As per Election Commission it costs ₹27 per voter per year to keep India an electoral democracy. Surely, this is not a large price to pay for the pride of being the world’s largest and most vibrant electoral democracy. The notion that elections are prohibitively expensive is false and misleading.

Code of conduct and polls:

The model code of conduct for elections was agreed to by political parties in 1979, and prohibits the ruling party from incurring capital expenditure for certain projects after elections are announced. If India is indeed embarking on a path of “cooperative federalism”, then more such projects will be undertaken by each State and not by the Centre. That way election in one State should not hinder the governance in the rest of States. The solution is to reform the code and not the electoral cycle.
Governance paralysis due to State elections is a mere alibi. The real reason is that the two national parties are excessively dependent on their national leaders’ campaigns in State elections. Depending on their national leaders is the problem and the prerogative of the national parties. It is not the fault of the electoral system.

Diversion of security and civil staff

Surely, a disruption to public life twice in five years is not a binding constraint in the larger interests of interim accountability. The right of a voter to exercise her choice twice in a span of five years and hold governments accountable is much more important than just casting her vote once and having no option to express her opinion for the next five years. These two reasons are very weak when measured against the costs of limiting electoral opportunities for citizens.

Voter behaviour

Various researches show that simultaneous elections do have an impact on voter behaviour. There is clear empirical evidence that most Indian voters tend to choose the same party when elections are held simultaneously to both Centre and State, with the relationship diminishing as elections are held farther away.

Political autonomy

Further, simultaneous elections impinge on the political autonomy of States. Under a simultaneous elections regime, the State will be beholden to the Union government for elections to its State, which goes against the very grain of political autonomy under our federal structure. There can be legitimate reasons for State governments to dissolve their Assemblies and call for fresh elections.

Conclusion

There is still much that is wrong with our nation in its governance and elections. But disparate elections to States and Parliament are not one of them. But “oneness” is not the desired path to efficiency in a diverse polity such as India.

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