ONOE: One Voice, Many Concerns

    • By,
      Lakshmanan S. – Student, Kautilya

A highly polarizing topic is gaining traction in India: one nation, one election, i.e., a proposal under consideration by the Government of India to synchronize elections for the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies. The high-level committee led by former President Ram Nath Govind submitted its report to the president of India on 14th March, pitching for the Synchronised elections across the country. The committee’s proposals give a path for the necessary adjustments, which range from standardizing electoral records to changing legislation and the Constitution. Thirty-two political parties expressed support for simultaneous polls, while fifteen expressed opposition to the proposal from the Ram Nath Kovind-led panel. Importantly, every one of the 32 parties in favour is friendly with or an ally of the BJP.

Not a New Concept:

The idea of ONOE (One Nation One Election) is not new to the country; India had simultaneous Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections prior to 1967. Moreover, they were stopped when some state assemblies and Lok Sabha were dissolved prematurely. The Election Commission (EC) originally recommended looking into the viability of holding simultaneous elections in 1983. In 1999, the Law Commission recommended simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies in its 170th report. A parliamentary standing committee conducted a study in 2015 that examined the viability of holding simultaneous elections and outlined several advantages, including lower expenses and more effective administration. The report did, however, also take into account the objections expressed by opposition parties, who opposed the notion due to potential effects on federalism. The group recommended up to 170-day assembly tenure extensions and up to 599-day term reductions. “Holding simultaneous elections may not be feasible in 2016 or even in a decade,” the report said. The High-level committee report has given recommendations on some of the frequently asked questions like,

What happens if the Assembly gets dissolved?

Only the remaining five years of the current five-year term will be decided by new elections to form the state assembly or lower house of parliament in the case of a hung house and a no-confidence motion. This ensures the synchronization process.

Will it require Constitutional Amendments?

Yes, The committee has proposed amending Article 172, which deals with state legislature tenure, and Article 83, which deals with the time that the Houses of Parliament sit. It has suggested adding Article 82A, which allows the President to enact the provision by releasing a notification on the first Lok Sabha meeting following a general election. This date is known as the appointed day. With the help of these reforms, elections will be synchronized without the need for state ratification of the first steps toward holding simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The panel has suggested amending Article 325 of the Constitution and adding Article 324A in order to implement synchronized elections for municipalities and panchayats. The tenure of local bodies established via a mid-term election will last until the following general elections if the terms of municipalities and panchayats expire before the end of five years from the date set at their first meeting.

Arguments for One Nation One Election:

One of the primary arguments from the BJP for simultaneous elections is that it wastes money and interferes with governance. As India Today reports, simultaneous elections will increase voter turnout as it is easy for people to cast many ballots at once. Moreover, some Industrial federations have also backed the idea of ONOE. The CII(Confederation of Indian Industry) has also raised similar issues, citing worries about how the regular elections affect project progress and approvals because of the model code of conduct. Ministers and government employees are frequently consumed with the electoral process, which can result in slow decision-making and limitations on capacity. According to FICCI, it is critical to reevaluate the election process to improve public outcomes and boost economic activity when India is headed toward being the world’s third-largest economy.

Arguments Against ONOE:

The suggestion has faced strong opposition from various groups, especially the Congress party and regional factions like TMC, DMK, and AAP. Their primary focus is on the potential for local and regional concerns to be overlooked during elections happening at the same time. Regional political parties may struggle to communicate their distinct needs and priorities in the face of national-level issues taking precedence in conversations. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Lok Sabha’s Congress leader, stepped down from the Kovind-led committee, claiming that its focus on supporting simultaneous elections was unfair and did not thoroughly assess the advantages and disadvantages. The foundation of the idea is unstable and delicate, incorporating cost cuts, stagnant policies, governance meddling, and the fresh assertion of enhancing economic growth. Opponents of this idea argue that standardizing political discussions could put at risk the variety of perspectives necessary for a robust democracy. Conducting elections in India encounters difficulties across various levels.

With ‘One Nation, One Election,’ it appears that democracy finds an equilibrium between political concord and procedural effectiveness. The challenges require thorough parliamentary debates, inclusive stakeholder discussions, and a holistic approach beyond legislative action to strengthen India’s democratic integrity and electoral processes. Ultimately, the decision should be grounded on strengthening rather than weakening India’s democratic foundations. In the words of the Prime Minister,

“If a national consensus is achieved, nothing like it, but if it is not, it should not be thrust on the people.”

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.