Holding simultaneous national and state elections is a bad idea whose time should never come.
Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat has given a leg up to the debate. He told reporters on Wednesday, “We would be logistically ready to hold simultaneous polls by September 2018, but it is up to the government to take a decision and make necessary legal amendments for it.”
Well, the government is willing, but the Opposition is against the move. They are mouthing the old clichés and platitudes—Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to have a presidential form of government, to trample on states’ rights, etc.
So, let’s first examine the grounds for concurrent polls offered by the government, especially Modi who is very keen on having all polls together. He said in Parliament earlier this year that if adopted, this measure would take care of the rising cost of elections. While 2009 Lok Sabha polls cost Rs 1,100 crore, five years later the figure went up to Rs 4,000 crore. “How much burden can a poor country like ours suffer?” he said in the Lok Sabha. In November 2016, too, he had said, “Elections cause several impediments including financial burden… Therefore, the viability of simultaneous polls should be explored.”
First, the amounts mentioned are minuscule for an economy of the size of India; it is a pittance that doesn’t deserve the time and energy of top government functionaries. Second, there are a thousand ways of saving the expenses of our “poor country.” If all political parties make a pact with each other that they would not indulge in the most shameful forms of populism like free electricity, farm loan waivers, and evergreening of loans to industrialists, the country would be able to save lakhs of crores of rupees. And we are not even discussing structural reforms like the privatization of public sector banks and undertakings.
It must be noted here that according to a recent estimate by ratings firm Crisil if all states also announce farm loan waivers as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Punjab did, the exchequer would be poorer by Rs 2.5 lakh crore or 0.5 per cent of GDP. So, if the Modi regime is able to evolve a consensus—which is anyway needed for concurrent polls too—regarding some check on competitive populism, the endeavor would indeed be noble. It would help the people, the economy, and thus eventually the government itself.
Then there is the argument that because of frequent polls, governments get distracted and governance suffers. Bullshit. The authorities work when and where our political masters want them to work. So, as I mentioned earlier, there are no civic problems—water-logging, overflowing sewage, potholed roads, encroachments—in Lutyens’ Delhi because the contemporary royalty, politicians, live there. Many parts of the city resemble a gigantic garbage bin, though.
The votaries of simultaneous polls also argue that going frequently to the voter keeps politicians always in the election mode. One has to be an incorrigible optimist to believe that politicians like Modi and his Man Friday Amit Shah will cease to be 12-month-a-year election campaigners once simultaneous polls become a reality. And why just the Big Two? Congress president Sonia Gandhi, AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal, BSP chief Mayawati, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, et al—whatever they do, they do it with an eye on the next polls. A politician, they say, thinks about the next election, while a statesman about the next generation. We don’t have any statesmen any longer.
I would go to the extent of saying that frequent polls are actually good for the country. By regularly facing people, the politician would remain in touch with those he claims to represent in the legislature. If he knows that now he would have to face the electorate after five years, there would be a more likelihood of the execution of stupid ideas like demonetization; he would be tempted to indulge in more flights of fancy. Frequent polls keep him grounded.
The country can ill-afford more fanciful ideas, especially after demonetization and the mess called GST implementation.