Home > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy
What's wrong with synchronised polls?
August 07, 2003
The Bharatiya Janata Party thinks that elections to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas should be synchronised. Many speakers have approvingly quoted the late Nani Palkhivala's dictum that polls are the heartbeat of a democracy, too many or too few are equally injurious to the body politic. The reactions to this suggestion have been vehement. If I have read the media reports correctly, even the Chief Election Commissioner and his colleagues are opposed; J M Lyngdoh has apparently said such a step could violate the Constitution.
I am not quite sure what the Chief Election Commissioner meant. If memory serves me correctly, the first General Election was held in tandem with the first Vidhan Sabha polls. Surely our beloved Chief Election Commissioner is not claiming that all those early elections were anything less than 'constitutional.' Or is he claiming that holding polls to Parliament and assemblies might serve to confuse voters by muddling issues? Once again, then, I turn back to the first General Election.
Everyone knows the Congress did well in the Lok Sabha polls. But that success was not mirrored at the state level. In Madras, for instance, the party won only 152 seats in a House that then had a strength of 375, well under the halfway mark.
In neighbouring Bombay the Congress mustered the numbers but suffered the embarrassment of seeing its chief minister designate, Morarji Desai who had just taken over from the veteran B G Kher, lose his own seat. Obviously, the electorate
was able to distinguish between Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha issues -- and willing to act on those perceptions. Is the Chief Election Commissioner claiming that in the 50 ensuing years the voters have lost this political sophistication?
Rather late in the day the Chief Election Commissioner has offered the clarification that it will not be possible to hold Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls simultaneously because the Election Commission simply lacks the resources -- which shall enable rigging on a massive scale. This is nonsense!
For a long time now we have all got used to the idea that Lok Sabha polls cannot be held all over this country on a single day. We cannot even expect a single state to go to the voting booths on the same day because the Election Commission needs to rush men from one place to the other to prevent untoward incidents. Bihar, to name the chief worry, must vote on at least three different days. But why should this prevent the voters in a given constituency from electing their chosen representatives to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha on the same day?
Or is it that the Chief Election Commissioner suspects a dirty trick on the part of the Bharatiya Janata Party? After all, the Congress (I) has more ministries today than does the Bharatiya Janata Party. That means Sonia Gandhi has more to lose because more of her governments will need to be dismissed abruptly if assembly terms are to be synchronised with the next General Election. If so, I hope the Chief Election Commissioner comes out and says so openly instead of offering some silly excuse after another.
A better argument against synchronisation would be that it would be something of a futile exercise. What is to stop the legislators from falling out with each other and pulling down a ministry? Haven't we seen just how easy it would be in Arunachal Pradesh? What happens if something like that happens, say, just one year after the new Vidhan Sabha has been created? Can we put everything in suspended animation, asking the voters to go without representation until fresh polls can
be organised four years later to synchronise with the Lok Sabha election?
If you ask me, this is the nub of the problem -- the uncertainty caused by ambitious politicians who think nothing of pulling down a government to satisfy their own ends. (It doesn't happen only in the states; I hope nobody has forgotten how the Deve Gowda and Gujral ministries came to an end in 1997, nor what happened to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1999.) And this certainly cannot be stopped by synchronising elections. So, how do we solve this problem?
Actually, a solution was offered back in the turbulent period between 1989 and 1999 -- when we had five General Elections in ten years -- but nobody has taken it up seriously thereafter.
The answer was that India should adopt the German law that no ministry could be voted out unless the same motion specified the identity of a successor. This will not prevent Arunachal Pradesh-style changes via wholesale defection, but that is another story altogether. I don't care what the Chief Election Commissioner says, synchronised polls are a good idea in themselves -- it saves money and gives governments a potential five years in power without needing to second-guess themselves constantly because of some major or minor polls. But synchronised polls cannot ensure stability -- and that is the problem we need to tackle first.