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One Nation One Election – ONOE?


ONOE, for a long time, has been in discussion and back, making headlines and dinner table arguments. For the uninitiated ones, simplifying it, the main idea behind ONOE is to hold Lok Sabha, State Assembly, and local elections across all states at the same time in order to reduce the frequency of polls held in our country in turn saving the massive expensive incurred on each of these separate elections.

Bringing homogeneity in a heterogenous society – is that desirable, and feasible?  It’s a formidable question – should we have a One Nation One Election system – ONOE? The question is formidable for a nation with 28 States and eight UTs. Prime Minister Modi has espoused this grand shift since he took office in 2014. It comes up frequently, and now, it’s in the news.

To be sure, this idea isn’t new at all

After the constitution was adopted, Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assembly Elections were held simultaneously, during 1951 – 1967. After that (in 1968, 69), due to the premature dissolution of several State Legislative Assemblies, this synchronization was impacted and over the years it has come to pass, that in any given year, we have four to five State elections proffering ample fodder to the argument – the nation is in a perpetual electioneering mode.

One Nation One Election idea is not about having LS & State Assembly elections on the same day but it’s about having a window in which these elections can all be held simultaneously.

Elections have two broad heads of costs – the cost to simply run the leviathan-sized election machinery and the other is about campaigns, to “win” elections (candidate & and party-specific). The total expenditure runs into thousands of crores. For an MLA it could be 5 – 6 crores and for an MP, easily in the 30 Cr range. But the math isn’t overwhelming – about 0.33% of the GDP (direct cost) and adding the voter-friendly freebies, “policy changes” etc., another 1 – 2% of the GDP. While in absolute terms the cost is undeniably very steep, running into thousands of crores but it may well be argued that as a percentage of GDP, it isn’t crippling. That money can surely be diverted towards nation-building but as we all know, that’s rarely the case. There’s a lack of transparency in sources of funds. That money is going to be spent anyway – not on crucial development but optics, and it cuts across party lines.   

Having elections multiple times in a year does have a setback on governance. Political parties resort to mud-slinging matches all the time, which vitiates the overall atmosphere. Policymaking and implementation come a cropper, and the North Star is always about winning seats, which indefinitely shelves long-term developmental plans that often come with short-term pains.  

Today, the BJP stands to gain from having a One Nation One Election. The Modi wave has turned out to be a tsunami, and States are always seen riding on the Prime Minister’s mass/global appeal. His image is like a powerful brand, and any campaign that has it is blessed. Arguably, this has created panic in the opposition. They fear that the nationwide messaging that goes with LS election campaigns will overshadow the regional priorities, and the voter will not be able to differentiate the two while casting their vote perceptibly, thereby tilting the outcome in favour of the BJP. Also, there is an underlying concern that the national priorities may render the regional ones subservient.

Is that in the right spirit of a federal structure? 

Naysayers also cite the under-preparedness of the electioneering infrastructure. Is the nation prepared to undertake this massive exercise – safety & and security concerns being one, and not least the EVM conspiracy theories always doing rounds after any election.

 As we see often, election-time violence severely impacts the social fabric. While it’s not easy to put a number to it (in terms of GDP impact), polarisation through hate speeches and heinous crimes committed particularly against women, send shockwaves to terrorize a nation. Will it increase manifold if we adopt ONOE or will it be restricted because of the window?

After the elections, what happens in the ensuing four years?

What kind of a man rapes a woman to seek revenge? What kind of people burn down houses of political adversaries? Every society in the world is ridden with such elements and that’s why the arms race also thrives. The dregs of society – what else can you call them? –  work for their bosses, make money and are gainfully employed throughout the year, marking dark humour. Without round-the-clock elections, what would these people do? They have no other known skills. The society will have to think of a rehab programme if it wants free and fair elections in the future. And that’s independent of ONOE!

The moot question here is – in a heterogenous country, will such a homogenous approach work? There are powerful arguments on both sides of the debate.

Recently, a high-level Committee was constituted by the Government under the chairpersonship of Shri Ram Nath Kovind, former President of India, which will examine the issue and make adequate recommendations. We patiently await what it has to say.

But the real problem that led to this situation after 1967 cannot be solved so easily – State governments are being dissolved due to MLAs shifting their allegiance overnight. In the 90s it became so rampant that the media coined the phrase “Ayaram-Gayaram”, meaning politicians with little stake, who came and went away, as they chose to. Well, that won’t change, irrespective of what the Committee comes up with.

What happens if an elected State government topples after six months of formation? Perhaps, this is an opportunity to come up with a robust law with hefty fines when elected members are a part of horse-trading in their bid to make political gains that have little to do with ideology. If ONOE comes about, it will require massive amendments to the Constitution.

Isn’t that asking too much before the LS elections in 2024?    

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