Is holding of Lok Sabha and assembly elections simultaneously feasible?

Election Commissioner O P Rawat announced on October 4 that the Election Commission is “logistically equipped” to hold simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and Assemblies by September 2018.  The EC has informed the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Modi, Rawat said during a media conference.

The EC announcement came days after it had issued a formal direction that VVPAT or paper train machines will be used at all polling stations in all future elections where polls are held using EVMs. Now that logistics of holding the assembly and general elections are in place, it is worth probing whether the simultaneous electoral exercise in desirable and constitutionally correct or not?

Such demands have been in public domain in for quite some time and it gained traction since Modi came to power in May 2014. Various union ministers have been expressing themselves in favour of the proposal. In a media interview in November last year, the Prime Minister had talked in detail about the issue saying that there should be a broad discussion on this and “we should not run away from the debate on this continuous cycle of elections”.

“The Indian voter today is very mature. He votes in one fashion in the Lok Sabha elections, he votes in a different manner in the State assembly elections. We have seen this in 2014, the general elections coincided with the Odisha assembly elections. The same electorate gave one judgement for Odisha and another judgement for Delhi”, Modi pointed out.

“So this country’s voter is very mature and we should trust his maturity. There should be a debate on how costs can be reduced by holding simultaneous elections, how  the influence of black money can be curbed, how the five years can be spent in taking the country forward. Today due to the model code of conduct, there is a loss even in those areas where the code in not applicable”, the Prime Minister stressed.

Modi had further said that such an electoral exercise would “cause some loss to all, including us” but the political parties should not look at the idea through the narrow prism of politics. “Our party or a government cannot to do it. We will have to find a way together”, he had stressed.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee, in his speech on the eve of this year’s Republic Day, had supported the idea of holding Lok Sabha and assembly election together. “The time is ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after Independence when elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies were held  simultaneously.

In his reply to the motion of thanks to the former President’s address to the joint session of parliament this year, the Prime Minister had further pitched in for simultaneous electoral exercise saying that elections are held all the time and continuous polls lead to a lot of expenditure. He had informed that more than Rs 1100 crore was spent on the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the expenditure had shot up to Rs 4000 crore in 2014.

Over a crore government employees, including a large number of teachers are involved in the electoral process. Thus, the continuous exercise causes maximum harm to the education sector, Modi had underlined. Security forces also have to be diverted for the electoral work even as the country’s enemy keeps plotting against the nation and terrorism remains a strong threat, he had said.

The government’s leading Think Tank NitiAyog too has favoured conducting synchronised two-phase Lok Sabha and assembly polls from 2024 in “national interest”.

Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.