ONE POLL TO BRING THEM ALL

Narendra Modi is serious about ending India’s endless cycle of elections

Quartz india
Quartz india

India’s most prolific political campaigner is turning out to be the biggest proponent of ending the country’s unending cycle of elections.

Amid his interview blitzkrieg on July 05, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi once again backed the idea of synchronising the country’s state and national election cycles.

In an interview to the Economic Times newspaper, Modi argued that simultaneous elections would better reflect the popular mandate, apart from causing less disruption to the business of governance.

“The government’s work comes to a standstill during elections. That is why many people are calling for holding the Lok Sabha (national) and Vidhan Sabha (state) elections simultaneously,” the prime minister told the Economic Times.

Under India’s current system, national elections are held every five years, during which members are elected to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. Elections for India’s 29 state legislative assemblies, or Vidhan Sabhas, are also held every five years. These state legislators then elect members to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s parliament. But the national and state poll cycles aren’t synchronised, and which results in an endless series of elections.

There are, of course, deeper political motives for such a call. The Modi government’s reform momentum, including the passing of the crucial goods and services tax bill, has been constantly blocked by the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, where his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lacks a majority. On the other hand, the BJP and its allies have a clear majority in the Lok Sabha.

That is why holding simultaneous elections at the state and national levels would mean that the “Rajya Sabha will also be in tune,” Modi told the Economic Times.

Despite his obvious affection for the idea, Modi can’t exactly push his case too much, as he recently admitted.

“I believe that the prime minister cannot take a decision on this and nor should he do that. Neither the government can do this,” Modi told the Times Now news channel late last month. “The process will get derailed if one party were to initiate this.”

Instead, he argued that the Election Commission of India—a permanent constitutional body that conducts all elections to the parliament and state legislatures—must initiate a debate and take the process forward.

“There should be a broad discussion on this and we should not run away from the debate on this continuous cycle of elections,” Modi told Times Now.

“There should be a debate on how costs can be reduced by holding simultaneous elections, how the influence of black money can be curbed, how the five years can be spent in taking the country forward. Today, due to the model code of conduct, there is a loss even in those areas where the code is not applicable,” the prime minister added.

However, there are concerns that such harmonisation of poll cycles would work to the advantage of large national parties, while regional political outfits would suffer. Modi has dismissed such fears.

“The Indian voter today is very mature. He votes in one fashion in the Lok Sabha elections, he votes in a different manner in the state assembly elections,” he told Times Now. “We have seen this. In 2014, the general elections coincided with the Odisha Assembly elections. The same electorate gave one judgement for Odisha and another judgement for Delhi”

Nonetheless, building political consensus for such a move will not be easy. After all, the cottage industry that thrives on the country’s non-stop political merry-go-round isn’t insubstantial.

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