To say simultaneous polls will be the death of regional parties is exaggerated, writes TN Gopalan.

File photo
news Opinion Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - 12:47

Harmony is not exactly associated with the BJP in political discourse. So people are not easily taken in when the current dispensation declares solemnly, “One nation, one election.”  If anything, many are rattled.

The opposition is mortally scared by the idea of simultaneous elections for the state legislatures and the Lok Sabha, they seem to be sensing an almost existential threat and are denouncing the move as undemocratic.

The civil society is not amused either. Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan stresses, “Simultaneous Lok Sabha and state elections are not possible in a parliamentary democracy where governments can fall and mid-term elections are needed in states or at the Centre. That is possible only in a presidential form of government, which is what Modi wants. Then why beat about the bush?”

For its part, the BJP is talking of cost-effectiveness, pre-empting governance paralysis, putting an end to the strain of elections somewhere or the other all the time, and so on. 

But the fact is that they are seeking to widen their reach ever further and entrench themselves in power, and which in turn could help them carry on with their stated and unstated agenda without much of a difficulty.

A committee will be formed by the Centre to prepare a possible road map, it has been announced. Reports also say PM Modi had stated that  “this formula needs to be accepted even if it takes 10 years to achieve synchronisation.”

That ten year bit is also interesting. Despite a near sweep, the BJP is not threatening to hurtle along at a breakneck speed on any of its major planks, whether building the Ram temple or even the National Register of Citizens (NRC), or simultaneous elections, for that matter.

Whatever its bona fides or the validity of the opposition’s arguments, an important question to ask is whether at all the idea proposed is antithetical to democracy and also whether it could militate against federalism.

First it is not fair to hold that since the concept is promoted by a grouping notorious for its impatience with democracy, it should be ipso facto undemocratic. The RSS, at some point of time, might hijack the democratic system to serve some sinister purpose or other, many apprehend. The reasoning is plausible, yes, but not good enough of a counter. 

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte or US President Donald Trump do not necessarily invalidate democracy, you learn to live with them, while at the same time trying to ensure they don’t run amok. 

In a similar vein, simply because you get a Trump, you can’t say the US type of presidential  democracy is unacceptable or because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian variety of parliamentary democracy  is. Lump it and move on instead of crying wolf. If you can, conscientize the people and mobilize them against the iniquities  inflicted on them by their elected representatives, but please do not look for scapegoats in EVMs or simultaneous elections. Nobody will take you seriously.

Death of regional parties exaggerated

A related apprehension is that the regional parties might be wiped out, or at least terribly weakened. After all, many times in the past, the dominant national party of the moment has triumphed in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly Elections when they are held simultaneously, and the scenario could be replayed even more vigorously in the days to come.

Let not our imagination run riot but. Our voters can make their own choices (intelligent or otherwise), unbamboozled by the frenzy of the times. Like in Tamil Nadu recently, when it saw Assembly by-elections to 22 constituencies along with the Lok Sabha polls.  While the UPA won all but one of the 38 seats at stake in the Lok Sabha Elections, the results were relatively mixed when it came to the Assembly, the ruling AIADMK managing to win nine of the 22 seats for which elections were held.  

The very same voters who plumped for the DMK and its allies in respect of the Parliament could opt for the AIADMK’s Assembly candidates in some regions. “ A comparative study of votes polled…shows that the ruling party, in 14 Assembly constituencies netted more votes than what it or its allies secured in those Assembly segments in the respective Lok Sabha constituencies,” states a report in The Hindu

Previously in 1980, the DMK-Congress combine swept the national polls, but when Indira Gandhi dismissed the state government  on dubious grounds and fresh elections were ordered, it was MGR who had the last laugh.  

As of today in Odisha, the BJD is holding firm, indeed the Modi tsunami  lost momentum in the southern belt. Clearly then reports of the impending death of the regional parties are exaggerated.

There are multifarious issues in synchronizing, but equally multifarious solutions have been suggested, many of them worth examining. One would think the Niti Ayog  2017 discussion paper delineates some feasible ones.  

For this writer, the attraction of simultaneous elections is two-fold: One, a few crores of rupees are saved. Two, even more important, there is a pause button to the endless election cacophony. The Niti paper notes,  “...in the last 30 years, there has not been a single year without an election to either the State Assembly or the Lok Sabha or both.” Remember all through his last term, Narendra Modi was busy campaigning somewhere or other.

You can always grandly declare that the elections are a festival of the masses, but the bitter fact is that it is also the time when venality,  polarization, and a whole host of attendant perversions tear the moral fabric apart.

Democracy is whatever it does. Anyone who can skew the system to their advantage can rule, yes, but it ridiculous to reject democracy altogether when alternatives have shown themselves to be monstrous beyond compare. The best way forward would be to contain the collateral damages.

TN Gopalan is a senior journalist based in Chennai. Views are author’s own.