One of the first acts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after winning his second term in office was to push the ‘One Nation, One Election’ plan, which involves having Lok Sabha and Assembly elections simultaneously across the country.
There are many procedural obstacles before the government can even come close to making this plan a reality.
- Several articles of the Constitution of India and the Representation of the People Act 1951 would have to be amended.
- Every registered national and state party will have to agree to the plan.
- Then there is the fact that the plan would complicate the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, where the Assembly has a six-year term and not a five year one like the Lok Sabha.
So why is the BJP so keen on going ahead with the plan?
The 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections proved that the BJP does much better in national elections than in state elections.
Of course, the BJP has won several key state elections in the past five years but in almost every state, its 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha vote share was better than its vote share in the Assembly polls held in between.
The main exceptions are Bihar and Maharashtra but they don’t really count as the party’s lower vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was because it contested as part of a larger alliance. The other exception is Tripura, where the BJP was a minor player in 2014 but grew since then. So by and large the trend has been that the BJP’s vote share was higher in the Lok Sabha polls (both 2014 and 2019) but lower in the Assembly polls. This doesn’t include states like Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh where Assembly and Lok Sabha polls were held simultaneously in 2014 and 2019.
The BJP’s calculation, therefore, is that if Assembly and Lok Sabha polls are held together, it would end up winning more states as the surge of support for it nationally would translate into more seats in state Assemblies as well. Put simply, the belief is that with Modi on the ballot, people voting for two elections in the same booth are less likely to go against the BJP.
If the 2019 elections were held together and if people voted more or less similarly at both the levels, the NDA would now have a majority in 19 Assemblies. The only exceptions would have been Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
But currently, this is what the map looks like:
The NDA is in power in 14 Assemblies and in the Opposition in 16. Jammu and Kashmir is under president’s rule. The states where the NDA is in Opposition but has got a majority in the Lok Sabha polls are: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Delhi. On the other hand, the UPA turned the tables in two NDA ruled states: Tamil Nadu and Meghalaya.
The BJP also managed to make significant inroads in West Bengal, that is ruled by Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee. While the BJP is optimistic of its chances in the 2021 Assembly polls in the state, many in the party also feel that it may not be able to match Banerjee in a state election to the same extent as a national election.
The same goes for Karnataka, where the BJP fared poorly in a local body poll held barely a few days after its sweep in the state in the Lok Sabha elections. This indicated that the state polls could be a different ball game for it. The same goes for Delhi where the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party is likely to put up a better fight in the state elections than it did in the Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP has reason to believe that it would have a better chance of winning these states if Lok Sabha and Assembly polls are held together.
However, this could be a simplistic calculation. One can’t rule out a possibility in which state-level factors end up influencing the Lok Sabha polls, in case polls are held together.
The Telangana Case
The only state where we can study the difference between simultaneous and separate elections is Telangana. This is the only state in the recent past to have witnessed both simultaneous and separate Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. In 2014, the two polls took place together but this time the Lok Sabha polls were held about four months after the Assembly polls.
Looking at the vote shares of various parties in the two sets of elections, a clear pattern emerges. When the elections were held together in 2014, the difference in the vote share of the TRS, Congress and AIMIM wasn’t very different in the two polls, the two NDA constituents – BJP and TDP – did much better at the Lok Sabha level.
But the four month gap between the 2018 Assembly elections and the 2019 elections led to a much greater change in the vote shares of various parties. The BJP’s vote share increased by 12.5 percentage points and that of the Congress increased by 1.1 points. The main loser was the ruling TRS whose vote share fell by 5.6 percentage points. The TDP secured 3.5 percent votes in the Assembly polls, but didn’t contest the Lok Sabha polls. Its votes may have gone to the BJP or Congress. The AIMIM’s vote share remained almost the same.
The comparison between the two elections shows a few things:
- The BJP’s vote share in the 2014 and 2018 Assembly polls remained reasonably static at around 7 percent. This may not be a loss in absolute terms but it is as a loss nevertheless, as in 2014, it contested it contested only a small number of seats due to its alliance with the TDP while in 2018 it fought on almost all seats. Therefore, the poor performance in 2018 shows that the separation of state and national polls harmed the BJP at the state level.
- Conversely, the separation of the two polls greatly benefited the BJP and harmed the TRS at the national level. It seems that many TRS voters may have chosen to stay away or vote for the BJP or even the Congress in a national election. Therefore contrary to the perception that simultaneous polls would harm national parties, the Telangana experience shows that if the polls are held together, a regional party like TRS may get more Lok Sabha seats than it would if the polls were held separately.
- When elections are held together, the extent of split-voting between Assembly and Lok Sabha reduces substantially. Whether state factors will dictate the national vote or vice versa would depend a great deal on how parties leverage these factors. Strong regional leaders like KCR, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik might be able to do a better job of using state narratives to resist BJP’s national-narrative while the latter might be more successful in states where there is a direct contest with the Congress.
Of course, this is all in the realm of speculation. The ‘One Nation, One Election’ proposal may come to nought if unless all the parties agree. One thing which the BJP can do to at least partially achieve this, is to dissolve the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies of most of the states it is in power some time in 2023 so that several state elections and the national election can be held along with the Assembly polls of winter 2023. It could have done that even last year.