Prime Minister Narendra Modi called an all-party meeting on 19 June to discuss and elicit support for his pet project: ‘one nation, one poll’. Many Opposition leaders including Nitish Kumar, Farooq Abdullah, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Naveen Patnaik, Mehbooba Mufti, Jagan Mohan Reddy attended the meeting, even as others like the Congress party, Trinamool Congress (TMC) boycotted the meeting.
Many regional parties like DMK, TDP oppose the idea of one nation one poll citing it would decimate the federal structure.
They see an ulterior motive in this proposal, to ‘finish off the regional parties’. Regional parties contend that the simultaneous polls will benefit the ruling party at the centre, in this case, BJP. However, an analysis of the state and central elections held together in 2014 and 2019, show to the contrary – that it will actually benefit the regional parties.
What Voters Do During Simultaneous Polls
During the 2014 general elections, the state elections were held together for Andhra, Telangana, Odisha and Sikkim. In all these states, not only did the regional parties win the state polls, they also went on to win the maximum seats in the Lok Sabha elections, for example, the TDP in Andhra, the BJD in Odisha, the TRS in Telangana, and the SDF in Sikkim.
During simultaneous polls, the same polling booth has two EVM machines, one for the state and other for the national polls. Every voter has to press a button each in the two EVMs (two buttons). Usually it has been seen that the voter presses the same button twice.
What State Elections & National Elections Are Contested On
In a blog on the IDFC website in September 2016, the now Chairman of the Data Analytics department of the Congress party, Praveen Chakravarty wrote, “There is a 77 percent chance that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both the state and Centre, when elections are held simultaneously.”
This should not be confused with the notion that 77 percent of the times the simultaneous polls were held, the national parties won both elections. It doesn’t mean that people didn't vote for regional parties. In fact, regional parties are likely to benefit in the Lok Sabha elections if polls are held together, as seen above.
State elections are contested on local / regional issues. The Lok Sabha elections are contested on national issues.
Some regional parties fear that as national elections are becoming more and more presidential, parties like the BJP would benefit even in state elections. In 2019, the BJP drew a blank in the assembly elections in Andhra, and could win only 22 seats in Odisha. Its NDA partner lost the elections in Sikkim.
In fact, the BJP suffered due to the simultaneous polls in these states in the Lok Sabha elections.
Despite a strong Modi 2.0 wave, the party lost both its seats in Andhra, its partner SDF lost its seat in Sikkim, and it couldn’t perform as per expectations in Odisha, winning only half of the expected tally of 15-16 seats. Differential voting by only 23 percent voters is the root cause of this performance.
KCR must be ruing his decision to pre-pone the state elections by six months rather than allowing for them along with the Lok Sabha polls. His party’s tally declined from 11 seats in 2014 to 9 seats in 2019. The decoupling of elections very likely harmed the party, as seen from the results.
What History of Simultaneous Polls In India Reveals
India began its journey with simultaneous elections in 1951. But due to new states being formed, assemblies dissolved before their term ended, and it became increasingly difficult to hold ‘one nation, one poll’ for all states together. Still, simultaneous elections were held in 76 percent of the states in 1957, and 67 percent of the states in both 1962 and 1967. In 1971, simultaneous elections did not take for even a single state.
In 1977, Kerala was the only state where state elections were held simultaneously with the sixth general elections.
In 1957, the CPI handed the first blow to the Congress in Kerala, forming the first non-Congress government in India. They also won the majority of the Lok Sabha seats. In 1967, Congress lost to regional parties in four states, both in the Lok Sabha as well as the Vidhan Sabha – Madras (DMK), West Bengal (Bangla Congress coalition), Odisha (Swatantra Party-led coalition), and Kerala (Left).
Here too, the regional parties got a boost in the general elections due to their solid performance in state elections. The Congress won the maximum seats in UP, Bihar and Punjab, but lost its state governments to coalitions.
Thus, the fear of regional parties that the concept of ‘one nation, one poll’ will be harmful to them and beneficial to the BJP, is unfounded.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)