The election manifesto of BJP in 2014 general election had forward the concept of 'one nation, one election' which means holding polls to the parliament and state assemblies simultaneously.
On 20 January 2018, prime minister Narendra Modi spoke about it more clearly and called upon political parties and the people to seriously debate it. Former Chief Election Commissioner Achal Kumar Jyoti who retired on 23 January 2018, had spoken in support of this idea, as did his successor Om Prakash Rawat immediately after he took charge. Then in January 2018, soon on assuming office as President, Ram Nath Kovind in his policy declaration speech, made a call to consider simultaneous elections. To sum it all, the Central government and BJP have been trying to convert the national conscience to the concept espoused in the party manifesto and thus to change the electoral machinery to that system. Now, the all-party meeting convened by the prime minister on Wednesday, has to be read as a continuation of that effort.
The fact that this became the agenda of the very first all-party meeting convened by the prime minister, speaks for how seriously the government is pursuing the matter. Far beyond making a mere propaganda, the government is moving along practical lines towards the agenda of simultaneous elections. Congress, the main opposition party, Trinamool Congress, BSP, SP and DMK from the Opposition parties and Shiv Sena from the ruling side, abstained from the meeting. Among those who attended the meeting, CPM, CPI, NCP and National Conference opposed the government's move. In spite of that, the meeting concluded with a decision to appoint a special committee to further proceed in the matter. In other words, the country looks like being set on fast track towards the system of simultaneous elections.
During the previous government's term, a panel of NITI Ayog members Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai was appointed to study the need and possibilities of having simultaneous elections, and it submitted its report too, which endorsed the idea. The panel cited two main reasons to support the recommendation. One, holding elections at different times causes huge financial burden, and having simultaneous elections can substantially reduce costs of conducting elections. The second is around the model code of conduct when an election is declared; if elections are held at different times, the moratorium period imposed by the code of conduct gets that much longer. That adversely affects development and administrative proceedings. In addition to these two reasons, there is also the argument that in simultaneous polls, popular participation in the electoral process will be much greater. All these contentions do have their substance, and they are popular factors which can influence the public. But the democratic populace have to be aware of the big agenda hiding behind these postulates.
It is one of the fond dreams of the RSS to replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential model. And they aim at moving matters gradually to that goal. They deem the presidential system to be more helpful to their extreme nationalistic scheme of things. And the idea of simultaneous election is the first step towards that goal, based on the calculation that if elections are held with a country-wide wave of frenzied nationalism and communalism, they alone will be the beneficiaries.
Our constitution is founded on strong federal principles that grant as much autonomy as possible to the states. It is this federal structure that holds our nation together in pride with its rich diversity and sub-nationalities. At the same time, this framework poses a big hurdle to the radical nationalist philosophy of the sangh parivar whose dream is for one nation, one culture, one religion. Therefore, the principle of simultaneous elections is nothing short of a political scheme to serve as the first step towards a monolithic nation, pure and simple. This makes it incumbent on advocates of democracy to recognise it as such and resist it. It is targeting a similar demolition of cultural federalism and imposition of monolilthic culture that the sangh parivar propounded a system of uniform civil code. And now, they are venturing with the scheme of one nation, one election to strike at the very root of political federalism. Here again those committed to democratic federalism have to read that motive in its essence and rise in resistance to that. Or else, advocates of one nation, one election will have altered the very character of the country beyond a point of no return.