The oneness syndrome

Ravi Shanker Kapoor |

The Narendra Modi government’s keenness on ‘one nation, simultaneous elections’ becomes evident from the fact that President Ram Nath Kovind, at the first joint sitting of Parliament after the election of the 17th Lok Sabha, included the subject in his address. When the President addresses a joint session of both Houses at the beginning of a new Lok Sabha, he basically posits the government’s stand on important issue. Which means that simultaneous elections are no longer an unusual idea that the ruling dispensation is just flirting with; it is very much on the agenda. This is a worrisome development, for it is a bad idea.

But before demonstrating why it is bad, we shall examine the excessive emphasis on ‘one nation.’ The Modi government implemented the goods and services tax or GST with the slogan ‘one country, one tax, one market.’ Now it is talking about ‘one nation, one card’ for travel, and also ‘one nation one ration card.’ There is also something called ‘ek Bharat, shreshtha Bharat’ (one India, great India). And, of course, there is ‘one nation, simultaneous elections.’

These catchwords are not the work of officials and experts who have chalked out various courses of action; they are politically inspired. Further, they expose the Bharatiya Janata Party government to the Left-liberal charge of being influenced by Nazi Germany. The most conspicuous slogan in those days was ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’ (‘one people, one nation, one leader’). Or, and this is plausible, do BJP grandees actually want the pinkish intellectuals to accuse the saffron party of being Nazi-like?

The stress on the oneness of the nation or India is, to put it mildly, bizarre. Nobody in the right frame of mind—excepting the microscopic minority of various radicals—is screaming that India is not a nation and that India is a congregation of nations. Nor is anybody asserting, as some British imperialists did in the heyday of the Raj, that India is just a “geographical expression.”

Further, there is no major secessionist or separatist movement looming large, so large that the dismemberment of India could be regarded as a creditable threat. There are small separatist groups in the North-East and also in Kashmir, but they don’t seem strong enough to force secession from India.

Besides, there is nothing in the Constitution that warrants the recent obsession with oneness and integrity of the nation. The very first Article clearly says, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” While there are a number of federal features in our polity, and it is the wont of the foreign media to refer the Central government as federal government, the unitary bias has been stated unambiguously.

Against this backdrop, slogans like ‘one country, one tax, one market’ sound unnecessary.

The GST regime may be better than the previous one, though the experience so far has been far from satisfactory, but that is beside the point in our context. What is relevant here is a simple fact: fairness and effective collection rather than political sentiments and slogans should determine the nature of indirect taxation in a country. Would and should the government persist with GST if tomorrow it is found that more than multiple indirect taxes would engender ease to businesspersons and tax collectors?

Similar is the story of ‘one nation, one card.’ In his address to Parliament, President Kovind said, “My government is developing a transport system, which is not only fast and safe, but is also environment friendly. For this, special emphasis is given to Public transport. Metro rail network is being expanded rapidly in several cities. The facility of ‘one nation, one card’ has been launched to realize the dream of seamless mobility.”

A transport system being fast, safe, environment-friendly, and seamless is desirable. But ‘one nation, one card’ can scarcely be called a virtue. What if all the desirable features of a transport system are made available by two cards or without any card? Should ‘one nation, one card’ be continued just because the slogan suits the ruling dispensation?

The very concept of ‘one nation, simultaneous elections’ is problematic. First and foremost, it calls for a major constitutional amendment, if not another constitution. Second, what happens when government at the Centre or in any state falls? One or two states may wait for the general election to be held, but what if the same thing happens in a large number of states? Or if the Central government falls?

Third, what are the benefits of simultaneous polls? The rationalizations offered—huge expenditure, disruption in governance, policy paralysis because of regular elections—cut no ice. There are a zillion ways of reining in government expenses and making governments function effectively. Simultaneous polls are not one of them.

And, finally, regular elections keep our political masters on their toes. As it is, they are arrogant and self-serving; if they know that once in office, they don’t have to worry for five years, their arrogance and selfishness will know no bounds.

Those who are opposed to the idea of simultaneous polls should leave no stone unturned to ensure that the idea gets aborted ASAP.

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