Voting is the foundational act that breathes life into the principle of the consent of the governed. - DeForest Soaries
On the 69th anniversary of our Republic Day, we heard glorification of our republic status with representatives of 10 ASEAN states. President Ramnath Kovind on his address to the nation said: "A Republic is its people. Citizens do not just make up and preserve a republic; they are its ultimate stakeholders and in fact pillars. "
But on 20 January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for a national debate on holding simultaneous elections — his fancy name for it: One Nation One Poll. Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Prakash immediately supported Modi's idea.
Why does BJP want to deny voters multiple elections that work as a deterrent to political arrogance and offers checks and balances?
Why does BJP want to deny voters multiple elections that work as a deterrent to political arrogance and offers checks and balances? What is that the BJP and Modi are bent on the idea of One Nation One Poll?
Since becoming eligible, I have voted many times in elections and it is quite a satisfying and empowering feeling. Not even once, I felt bothered by voting process nor considered it a time waste — not even while voting twice in four months for state and national elections.
(Women voting in remote part of Hyderabad 2009. Photo credit - Reuters/Krishnendu Halder)
I very well remember that although the local candidate I voted for never won, when the government changed, I felt empowered, almost as if I had defeated the government with my power of a single vote.
I am sure every voter who votes has same feeling. Did you see the joy of people when they get in queue to vote?
(Young girls proudly display voting mark after voting in 2014. Picture courtesy: guardianlv.com
Voting is a powerful celebration, But Modi wants to reduce voters' of reckoning to only once in five years.
Voters always look raring to go and exercise their right. You would rarely see them complaining about standing in long queues. The voting day is like a celebration, in anticipation of seeing their power getting victorious. It is a pride that poorest of the poor people wear on their sleeve. We are not talking about the elites who skip elections after elections. Did you even notice the signature finger mark photo of people after voting?
Prime Minister Modi suggests this right be restricted to once in only five years. On 20 Jan, while talking to Zee News in an exclusive interview, Modi spelled out why holding simultaneous elections for Loksabha and Vidhansabha is important for the country. His call was supported by former President Pranab Mukherjee, NITI Ayog and former Chief election commissioner T.S Krishnamurthy. This was repackaged version of Advani's decade-old call for fixing the term of loksabha and vidhan sabha.
Arguments in favor of 'One Nation One Poll' frivolous
According to Modi, multiple voting (Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha at different times) means loss of public exchequer, a distraction from governance, huge wastage of security forces, and, good officers and teachers wasting their precious time on election duty. Most bizarre of his argument was that multiple elections were bad for a federal structure. He told Zee News, "Let's say elections are in Tripura, the political mudslinging in campaigns would reach Goa by television and impact federal structure."
None of these arguments make sense. Loss of public exchequer is not a tenable argument. No amount of public spending would replace fundamental rights of adult suffrage.
Next: the argument of wasting good officers on election duty. Anyone who has seen the award-winning movie Newton would tell you that a good officer is not just good in his own duty but equally good on preserving a sacred democratic institution like an election. Against all odds, Newton preserves the democracy in the remotest part of the country. Suggesting that election duty is an unwanted wastage is doing injustice to such bright officers who consider election duty as a proud national duty.
Security forces are deployed during elections but they are mostly reserved forces. Nobody from Siachen or China border is pulled and asked to protect booths. If government can control violence like the one in Haryana during Jat agitations they can stop wastage of defense forces who had to be stationed there.
State elections offer checks and balances
State elections happening at a different time than general elections give tremendous power to people. This is the same power that defeated mighty Indira Gandhi's Congress not just in the Loksabha elections after emergency ended but also in the assembly polls of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar— the party's bastion until 1977.
Supreme Court Advocate Nitin Meshram says "One Nation, One Poll idea is dangerous. The concept of responsible government means continuous adherence to governance for the mandate given by people. People cannot be made to wait for five years until the next elections are held. The ruling party at Center and State will become insensitive to peoples issues if there is only one election in five years and this will result in widespread corruption and maladministration."
Indira Gandhi too was defeated halfway through her 5 year period in center and states
Advocate Meshram is right. If State and general elections were held simultaneously, Indira Gandhi's party would still have held power in UP and Bihar until 1979 — even after coercion of emergency and her defeat in Center. Separate state elections, however, meant that the people did not have to wait until 1979 to defeat Congress in the state.
In the present context, Gujarat, Delhi, and Bihar assembly polls offer good examples. While the BJP swept these states in 2014 general elections, they were trounced badly by Aam Admi party and RJD-JDU-Congress alliance respectively in the assembly elections that followed.
In Gujarat, many strong supporters of BJP — like the patidars turned against it — with slogans like hamaribhool kamal ka phool(my mistake to vote BJP in 2014) and BJP almost lost the state.
These elections which came after Modi's ascendance was a reality check. This was probably voted against BJP's development plank turning into cow terrorism and coercive jingoism with fringe groups making merry at will.
More elections Strengthen Federalism not affect it
BJP's Achilles heel has been lack of a majority in Rajya Sabha — the upper house. Holding Assembly polls at a different time than Lok Sabha polls gives a distinctive nature to the composition of Rajya Sabha and more likely to prevent complete control of one party in both houses.
In wave elections like 2014, holding simultaneous polls would give an unparalleled power in both the houses to change laws and even the Constitution. In the absence of a responsible opposition and reliable judiciary, this looks a scary picture — especially when BJP's lawmakers are proclaiming that they are here to change the Constitution.
If voters do not get multiple shots at elections, the weapon of a fundamental right will get a bland paving way for autocracy for five years.
With each passing election, our democracy only gets stronger and the voters get wiser. Reducing the elections would tantamount to taking away opportunity given to voters to teach a lesson to the party which has to mislead them in the recent election — whether it is BJP or Congress.
Modi is attempting to introduce the immensely autocratic method in the guise of saving money and manpower and it should be opposed tooth and nail from those who believe in mores of democratic mores.