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Interview With PDT Achary

Interview With PDT Achary

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah's idea of simultaneous elections has been opposed by the opposition parties which said that it is in contravention to the basic structure of the Indian federal system.

Election season never ends in India because of the fact that there are 29 states and two union territories. All of them have elections at different times thereby keeping the country in a permanent election mode. Even as the debate on simultaneous elections was going on, the Election Commission recently decided to go by the law as well as convention to hold assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram together in December and not to club them with Lok Sabha elections.

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to former Secretary General of Lok Sabha P D T Achary on the feasibility of BJP's proposal which has initiated a national debate. Achary, who is an expert on constitutional matters, has strong views against one nation, one poll proposal. He denied simultaneous elections if implemented, would be a historical one in election reform process. According to him, implementation of simultaneous polls is fraught with several logistical and legal constraints. Achary said periodic elections are necessary for the survival of democracy in India. To reduce the escalating cost of elections year after year, the former Lok Sabha Secretary General suggested the idea of state funding as an answer.

IC: What are your views on one nation, one poll?

P D T Achary: In the current circumstances, it is practically possible to implement this idea. The simultaneous polls used to be held in 50s and 60s. After the dissolution of Lok Sabha in 1967, the process of holding simultaneous went haywire. Thereafter, it was never possible to hold Lok Sabha and States’ elections together.

IC: Why is the BJP pushing this idea then?

I don't know what the urgency in pushing this idea now is. Some of them have been talking about amending the Constitution. Constitutional bodies like Election Commission and Law Commission are working on the proposal. I don't think cost of conducting elections can come down because of this. Political parties, both ruling and opposition, spend huge amount on elections. Now that the FCRA has been opened, money from abroad will come in from several countries. State funding of elections can drastically reduce the cost of holding elections.

IC: Some leaders in the ruling party have reportedly suggested that for holding simultaneous elections, President's rule should be used to dissolve assemblies of the states going to polls later this year. Do you think it would be appropriate?
The idea of imposing President's rule is not an easy proposition. Break down of the constitutional machinery in a state, is primary reason for pushing elections; so president's rule cannot be imposed without justification. The need to hold state elections with Lok Sabha cannot definitely be the ground for dissolution of the house. Also, the dissolution of an elected house can be nullified by the Supreme Court and assembly can be reinstated. As per the Bommai judgement, the Supreme Court can review the President's rule and reverse the decision if it finds unjustifiable. So it will be very tricky for any political party to do so. The tenure of assembly can be extended only when the emergency is in operation. So that option cannot be availed.

IC: Those in favour of simultaneous elections say it will be historical step in election reforms. Do you agree?  

There is nothing historical about it because we had conducted simultaneous polls in 50s and 60s.The revival will not be historical. It cannot be revived for practical reasons. Another point I want to make is- Why are you afraid of elections? Periodic elections are the best thing for any political party to do course correction. Periodic elections ensure accountability of elected representatives who get an opportunity to meet people for one or the other elections. Also, such polls give an opportunity to people to ask their elected representatives about the work done by them. 

IC: Is simultaneous elections an answer to better development and governance in the country?

Simultaneous polls cannot guarantee that there won't be any political instability in the country. Suppose, some governments fall in few states before five year term, what will you do? Will you wait for the parliament elections to be held for three or four years? How will you manage that?  You have to mull over these issues before pushing such an idea. It is bogus to accept that the government cannot do anything concrete when model code of conduct is enforced in the state at the time of elections. The reality is that the entire election process, from announcement to voting and results, doesn't take more than a month and half. The government has four and a half years or more to talk about policies and programmes.

(Published on 20th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 34)