Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi floated a very pertinent idea of having simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. If the elections to the local bodies are included there is no year without some elections taking place. This vicious circle of continuous elections needs to be broken. It affects stability and without it, there can neither be economic development nor a satisfactory law and order situation.
What is more, efficient governance is the first casualty when winning elections is the first priority of all politicians and understandably so. As a result, running an administration and attending to people’s grievances take a back-seat and the bureaucracy rules the roost. In addition, because of the enforcement of the moral code of conduct during elections, the pace of economic development is hampered. If all elections are held in one particular year, it will give a clear four years to the political parties to focus on good governance.
We have a parliamentary democracy with a federal set up. This system worked fairly well with the Congress dominating the political scenario for the first two decades since Independence. But with the collapse of the Congress’ dominance, there emerged strong national and regional parties, each ruling some states with substantial strength in Parliament. How can stable and efficient governance be brought about in a multi-party parliamentary system like the one that exists in India?
Fortunately, the normal duration of elected bodies is five years. Article 83 (2), which speaks about the duration, states that the Lok Sabha “unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years…” Same phraseology is applied for state assemblies vide Article 172. The rider “unless sooner dissolved “ is an exception.
However, earlier dissolution, which breaches the principle of simultaneous elections, is brought about by several methods. First, the PM or CM advises the president or the governor, as the case may be, to prematurely dissolve the Lok Sabha or state assembly and force snap elections to gain electoral advantage. In such a case, the president or the governor should decline such advice as it denies a level-playing field to the opposition, and such a refusal is also in tune with the principle of simultaneous elections. Secondly, by passing the no-confidence motion against a government or defeating the government’s confidence motion. In either case, the president/governor invites the opposition leader to form the government. If no government is formed, the president/governor dissolves the house and orders midterm elections as the last resort.
Before dealing with how such a situation can be avoided, it may be noted that often the central government has misused its powers under Article 356 by imposing the president’s rule in states ruled by opposition parties and dissolving assemblies resulting in premature elections.
The Supreme Court in S.R. Bommai held that there should be floor test before the assembly is dissolved. Similarly, after the landslide victory of the Janta Party in 1977, president’s rule was imposed in Congress-ruled states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Bihar, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Similarly, state governments have often taken over the administration of the local bodies and dissolved them prematurely for political reasons. The combined effect has resulted in staggered elections.
To avoid frequent elections it is necessary to have stable elected bodies. It is pertinent to note that a no-confidence motion is not mentioned in the Constitution or any law, for that matter. It finds place in Rule 198 of the Rules and Conduct of Business of the Lok Sabha, which states that 50 or more members can move a no-confidence motion. If it succeeds, the government has to resign and if no other party or parties can form the government, premature elections follow. The Law Commission of India in its report of 1999 has dealt with the problem of premature and frequent elections. It had recommended an amendment of this rule on the lines of the German Constitution, which provides that the leader of the party who wants to replace the chancellor has to move the no-confidence motion along with the confidence motion. If the motions succeed, the president appoints him as the chancellor. If such an amendment to Rule 198 is made, the Lok Sabha would avoid premature dissolution without diluting the cardinal principle of democracy, that is a government with the consent of the peoples’ representatives with periodical elections. It will also be consistent with the notion of collective responsibility of the government to the House as mentioned in Article 75 (3) of the Constitution.
This proposal has several advantages. The country will always have a government which enjoys the confidence of the Lok Sabha. People will know in advance who is going to be the next PM and avoid the uncertainty as to who will lead the government. It will help ensure Lok Sabha complete its normal term of five years, as contemplated in the Constitution. If this proposal is applied to the states and local bodies, we can have simultaneous elections.
After all, the ultimate sovereign, the people of India, having elected their representatives, have no choice but to keep quiet for five years. Why should their representative be given a choice to inflict premature and expensive elections on the country?
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