Simultaneous Elections in India: A Needless Debate

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started advocating simultaneous elections in India. Needless to say, his party, BJP, is toeing the line. Their line of argument is that the country is perpetually in election mode, resulting in a lack of adequate focus on governance. The second point is that successive elections lead to extra expenditure.

Other political parties and the media are debating the issue. They are focusing on the constitutional, legal and logistical part of the simultaneous elections that this is not a feasible move.

I feel that rather than moving into the nitty-gritty of the issue straight away – the pros and cons, we need to debate and discuss what have been the other steps taken for improvement in governance and their impact, before contemplating simultaneous elections.

The Indian Government has taken several steps for improving the Governance over a period of years. Actually keeps doing it all the time. What has been the output – intended and actual?

Creation of smaller states

In the recent past, several smaller states have been created – Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal, Telangana. The result also being that Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have become smaller themselves. The contention being larger states are difficult to govern and do not satisfy people’s aspirations.

The point needs to be raised is whether these smaller states have led to better governance and enhancing public services. I suspect that there are no studies on this aspect. What we have ended up with is a bloated government, in both the states – the carved out state and the state from which the smaller state was carved out.

Creation of smaller districts

Across almost all the states in India, districts have been made smaller and increased in number. The supporting argument being government needs to be closer to the people. Again, the question needs to be raised if this has led to an improvement in governance. Apart from the increase in the size of the state – the people and the infrastructure, I do not suppose this means in any material improvement in the output.

A whole lot of public institutions

India has a plethora of public institutions – the Parliament, Council of Ministers, Ministries, Departments, PSUs, Niti Aayog, CAG, CVC, CBI, Judiciary (does not look likely that Lokpal will get added to this ever-expanding list). Yet, why is it that our governance is in shambles?

Where are we getting it wrong?

Legislations to improve governance

India has enacted innumerable laws and acts to improve governance. Right to Information (RTI) was considered as a legislation that would make the Indian Government accountable, bring in transparency and remove corruption. Yet, where are we? The RTI act has been redundant by each of the Governments – Central and State.

If successive elections cannot hold Indian politicians responsible, what will simultaneous elections do

The Prime Minister is saying that as India is perpetually in election mode, governance is suffering. The continuous election cycle gives chance to the electorate to hold the Indian politicians accountable. However, the governance is poor. Now, if the electorate does not have any say for 5 years, what is actually to become of the governance? The politicians once elected will just not be hard to get hold of. They will simply vanish only to return after 5 years.

The biggest argument in favour of simultaneous elections is actually the one against it.

The misplaced assumption

The Prime Minister is assuming that Indian politicians and Indian civil servants want to govern better and hence they need to be empowered. The actual scenario is that there has been n number of public institutions, legislations, steps taken for improvement in governance, none has worked. Rather than soul-searching and introspection on why things do not work and holding the finger towards one’s own self, the Prime Minister wants to put the cart before the horse.

Conclusion

If the Prime Minister really wants to improve governance, he has ample enough tools and means to achieve it. He does not require another needless mechanism – simultaneous elections to get added to the ineffective, inefficient, corrupt and forever static Indian State and Polity.

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