Before discussing why we should not implement ‘one nation, one election’, I would like to comment on the propaganda that is being spread by those who are in favour of it.
It has been argued that due to frequent elections, the ‘election code of conduct’ is in force most of the time, and as such, the governments of the day are unable to govern effectively. This is not true.
The model code of conduct does not stop any government from governing.
It only states that you cannot announce major policies, and the purpose behind the code is to prevent the government of the day from making false promises through new policy announcements to lure the voters, and gain an upper hand in the playing field vis-a-vis opposition parties.
Thus, it is a misleading argument that frequent elections come in the way of effective governance.
Will ‘One Nation, One Poll’ Really Save On Election Expenditure?
Besides, the election code of conduct is applicable only in the states where there is an election. For example, if there are elections in Tamil Nadu for its state assembly, no other state’s government can be prevented from announcing any policy. In the case of the Lok Sabha elections, what needs to be done is to hold the elections in not more than 2 to 3 phases, and within a span of two weeks or less, so as to minimise this period.
Another misleading argument that is advanced in favour of ‘one nation, one election’ is that the government machinery gets busy during elections.
In reality, only a very minimal percentage of the government staff, and NOT the entire staff, is posted on election duty throughout the country during Lok Sabha polls, and it is even less for state assembly elections. Moreover, the period for election duty can last between 1-14 days at the most. Thus, to argue that to avoid wastage of government officers’ loss of working days we must have ‘one nation, one election’, is misleading.
Then there is the argument that by holding the elections together and only once in five years, will save a lot of expenditure. The figures given in support of this argument are an estimated Rs 60,000 crores, that was spent by political parties during the 2019 general elections. It is further estimated that out of this amount, more than 50 percent was spent by the BJP.
While it is true that elections are becoming costlier, however, legally speaking the actual cost of the election should not be more than Rs 4,000 crore (543x0.7x5 = Rs 1900 crore + Rs 1,100 crore for political parties + Rs 1,000 crore for independents, and other miscellaneous expenses). There is a ceiling of Rs. 0.7 crore on election expenses for every candidate contesting a parliamentary election. If on average, there are five serious candidates (normally it are not more than 3 serious candidates) per constituency and there are 543 constituencies, the total cost should not exceed Rs 1,900 crore.
The Big Question of Election Campaign Expenditure By Parties
Then there is the element of expenses by political parties. There is no ceiling fixed on this expense. Therefore, it is important to fix this ceiling, so as to reduce the cost of an election, as well as bring about a level-playing field among the contestants. In addition to this, there is a cost for the Election Commission for conducting the elections that is less than Rs 5,000 crore.
Thus, legally speaking, the total cost for a general election (Lok Sabha) comes to Rs 9,000 crore.
Law should take its own course, and disqualify the candidates and the parties (when the ceiling on expenses by political parties is prescribed) who have exceeded the spending limits. We cannot make an undemocratic amendment to the Constitution by advancing an argument that so many candidates and parties spend more money than what is permissible by law, and thereby seek justification in passing any draconian law.
This total expenditure of Rs 10,000 crore, when divided by 130 crore (being population of the country), it comes to Rs 77 per capita. Now, let’s divide it by 5 years, which comes to less than Rs 16 per capita per annum. And which, when further divided by 12, comes to around Rs 1.35 paise per month per capita. Can we not afford this cost for our democracy? And if we cannot afford this cost, then we should know that our democracy could potentially be under threat.
The Potential Dangers Of ‘One Election, One Poll’
The cost of one general election could be funded from one year’s publicity budget of the government. That means we need to cut this budget only by 20 percent.
We need to debate on more important issues like the electoral reforms: capping of the spending by political parties; state funding of elections; switching over to ballot papers from the EVMs; stricter implementation of electoral laws; independence of the Election Commission; amendments in anti-defection law, etc, other than the issue of ‘one nation, one election’.
We have not examined the inherent dangers of ‘one nation, one election’.
Let’s say some foreign powers or some corporates want a particular policy to be made and for that they fund over Rs 100,000 crore to BJP, Congress, SP or Trinamul, or any party for that matter, for example, through electoral bonds (where the identity of the donor need not be disclosed), and also provide more advanced technological support so as to manipulate EVMs and so on, then would not such enactment like ‘one nation, one election’ that is to be conducted once in five years, prove to be draconian?
‘One nation, one election’ would perhaps getting the people of this country to sign their ‘slavery bond’ for five years with only freedom to choose as to whose slavery they want to sign for five years and forfeit their fundamental rights given by the Constitution.
(Nafisa Ali is an actress, former Miss India, and an Indian National Congress politician. She is also a social activist. She tweets at @nafisaaliindia. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)