Current Public Administration Magazine (December-2017) The power of many

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::The power of many::

  • Bad ideas seldom wither away — they can resurface and return to haunt in the President’s address to the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, or in the Prime Minister’s meeting with allies. The notion of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, in the public domain for long, has in the past been advocated by the Election Commission, examined by the parliamentary standing committee and the Niti Aayog, and promoted by senior politicians. Now, it seems to be acquiring a troubling new momentum. Frequent elections “adversely impact the economy and development” said President Ram Nath Kovind to Parliament this week, as he called for a “sustained debate” and “a consensus” on simultaneous polls.
  • And PM Narendra Modi reportedly urged the BJP’s allies to create an atmosphere in its favour. Simultaneous polls is a bad idea not just because it is impractical and unworkable in the current constitutional framework, but more because it is anti-democratic and disrespectful of the spirit of federalism at its core.
  • Elections were simultaneously held to the Lok Sabha and to state assemblies when independent India first began holding them, but the cycles diverged after 1967 due to premature dissolution of some assemblies and because general elections were called early in 1970. Ever since, and especially after the splintering of the Congress system, the rise of regional parties, the intensification of multi-party competition and onset of coalition politics, different states have evolved their own formats and electoral cycles that may or may not coincide with each other or with the Centre.
  • Imposing an artificial uniformity and fixity on the several election calendars in the name of reducing expenses, or greater convenience or better governance — arguments for which no persuasive case has been made yet — will have costs that must be seen to be fundamental and intolerable in a diverse, federal democracy. Amendments will be required to the Constitution and to laws like the Representation of the People Act to fix the terms of legislatures and to ensure that a no-confidence motion should also propose an alternative governing arrangement.
  • In effect, that will mean a dilution of the representativeness and accountability of governments. It will also potentially flatten out political diversities and smooth the way for a more presidential, more unitary system that would ill fit a country as plural as India.
  • That different sets of issues and players are salient at different levels of a federal polity should be seen as a sign of the deepening of democracy.“One nation, one poll” may sound like a promise of more neatness and order, but its underlying threat of forcible homogenisation must be recognised and resisted.
  • And then, in a country where accountability structures are still only weakly institutionalised, elections offer vital opportunities for the people to confront their elected representatives, demand answers from them and a hearing.

(Source : The Indian Express Editorials)

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