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"'One nation one election' may only be a one-time pleasure, it is not worth the pain," senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde told The Quint.
The proposal essentially means holding polls for all state Assemblies and the Lok Sabha simultaneously – something that the Narendra Modi government has actively pushed for over the years and even included it in its manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
In this explainer, The Quint tries to answer three important questions arising from speculations that 'one nation one election' could become a reality.
How will it be implemented?
What are the legal hurdles?
What are the logistical challenges?
How Will 'One Nation, One Election' Be Implemented?
The Centre has called for a special session of the Parliament from 18-22 September. While there is no official word on the agenda of the session, speculations are rife that it may table a Bill concerning 'one nation one election'. If it does so, what might the Bill include?
1. Amendments: "The legislation would definitely have to have Constitutional Amendments, which fixes the terms of legislatures. There are people who have estimated that at least five articles of the Constitution would have to be amended, if not more, Hegde said.
Article 83 (2), which states that the Lok Sabha's term should not exceed five years, but the House can be dissolved before the completion of its term.
Article 85 (2) (B), which states that dissolution ends the term of the existing House and a new House will be formed after general elections.
Article 172 (1), which states that a state Assembly will continue for a period of five years unless it is dissolved sooner.
Article 174 (2) (B), which states that the Governor enjoys the power to dissolve a state Assembly on the aid and advice of the Cabinet.
Article 356, which deals with the imposition of President's Rule in a particular state.
Former Election Commissioner OP Rawat, talking to news agency ANI, opined,
"There is one difficulty in the present situation – and that is to make amendments in the constitution and law. It is the government's responsibility to make those amendments through the Parliament and by taking all political parties on board. Without amendments, the election commission is bound by law to hold elections as and when polls are due in the states."
Requirements for Constitutional Amendments to pass:
At least two-third members of the House must be present at the time of voting.
Consensus of all political parties and state governments is required.
If the Amendment passes in Parliament, it needs to be ratified by the Assemblies of at least half of the states in India.
2. Logistical provisions: Further, the legislation might itself provide for a fixed date or a method of ascertaining a fixed date to hold elections.
3. Subsidiary matters: Thirdly, the legislation may include provisions for administrative support. "For instance, why is it that elections are not held around April and May? It's because schools are not available at that time (in the form of polling booths) because it is exam time," Hegde said.
What Are the Possible Logistical Challenges?
“Implementation of 'one nation one election' may lead to focussed governance for the people – and the political leaders and administration will have more time on their hands," Rawat told ANI.
However, the proposal is in itself a logistically painstaking task.
The first requirement for 'one nation one election' is to synchronise the terms of Parliament and all state legislatures across the country. In order to do that, a date will have to be decided from which all terms will be in sync. However, deciding the date is not as easy as it seems.
"If you decide randomly that it will be 15 August, then the problem with having simultaneous elections all over the country on that particular date is that there could be changes in the weather in different parts of the country as the geography across India is vastly different. It may be monsoon in some places," Hegde said.
Another hurdle, according to Hegde, could be the deployment of paramilitary forces.
"Lok Sabha elections are usually held in six-seven phases. Primarily because you need to move central forces from one election area to another. And that is because no party is willing to trust the state forces in a particular state. How can you suddenly expand the paramilitary forces once every five years and then demobilise them?"Sanjay Hegde
Meanwhile, some experts said holding elections simultaneously could help reduce costs significantly, too, making it a positive move. They further added that "elections at different times hamper development as new schemes and policies cannot be introduced during elections" – making 'one nation one election' a viable move.
What are the Legal Hurdles?
Even if the Centre devises ways to overcome the logistical hurdles, it is still half the battle won. One nation one election is still a legally daunting task. Why?
What if a party loses majority or a vote of confidence in a particular legislature after two years in power, and a new party comes to power?
What if a party loses power and the Opposition does not have the numbers to form a government?
"If one party loses a majority or a vote of confidence in the House and the other parties are unable to come up with an alternative, then you are left with two rather undemocratic options," Hegde said.
The first is that a government continues without having the confidence of the House.
The second is, in the case of states, the Governor can assume power. But in the Centre there is no such provision, he added.
Simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections have been held in India in 1951-1952, 1957, and 1962. However, the practice had to be discontinued precisely for this very reason – some state Assemblies and the Lok Sabha were getting dissolved before their terms concluded as they lost the majority or the confidence of the House.
"Since 1967, it started going out of sync... The Election Commission had in the year 1982-83 put forward a suggestion to bring an amendment (to the relevant law), so that 'one nation one election' can again be held simultaneously. The suggestion did not fructify then," former election commissioner Rawat added.
In addition to the challenges stated above,
What if the state Assemblies refuse to be dissolved before their five-year terms are over?
Can the Assemblies be dissolved without their consent?
"There has been a previous instance, in 1977, when the Janata Party government came to power. It advised all the states where the Congress had lost to seek a fresh mandate from the people. That was challenged in the Supreme Court in the state of Rajasthan's case. Given the circumstances at that point of time, the Supreme Court upheld it," Hegde said.
However, he cast aspersions about whether something like this will be upheld just for the sake of synchronising elections.
"Let us take Karnataka for instance, where a new government was elected to power just this year. Can you ask the Assembly to dissolve itself? Will such a dissolution be upheld in a court of law?"Sanjay Hegde
Supreme Court lawyers Nipun Saxena and Pradeep Rai, too, pointed out similar problems in their conversation with CNBC. The idea of 'one nation, one election' must factor in situations where there will be defections within political parties, emergency declared in states and Union Territories, President’s Rule, no-confidence motions, or any other situation, that could lead to dissolution of central or state governments, they said.
"In that scenario, re-election will have to be held midway… then what happens to the state Assemblies? Moreover, to implement 'one nation one election,’ all the election cycles will have to be reset."Nipun Saxena to CNBC
The Basic Structure Test
Moreover, whether one nation one election will pass the 'basic structure' doctrine of the Indian Constitution is a highly debatable question.
"A parliamentary form of democracy is part of the basic structure. Essential to the parliamentary form is that the government of the day must demand the confidence of the House. And if a situation arises where there is no such government possible, recourse to the people must always be available," Hegde told The Quint.
"If part of the requirement for one nation one election is that Assemblies cannot be dissolved whatsoever, then you may have a position of unrepresentative governments and that certainly goes against the basic structure," he added.