February 21, 2020
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Frequent Elections Impacting Governance

Some days back, the Vice President came out with a case for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Full text of the note prepared by the Vice President Secretariat.

Frequent Elections Impacting Governance

Frequent Elections Impacting Governance

Some days back, the Vice President came out with a case for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Full text of the note prepared by the Vice President Secretariat.


Democracy and Elections

After independence, the people of India decided to have a 'sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic Republic'. Indeed, we are proud of being the largest democracy in the world. We also have the potential to be a great democracy.

Democracy means having a government of the people. People have the right to choose the government through elections. And once a government is elected, people expect good governance to promote their welfare. This happened generally in the first two decades after independence. The elective politics was healthy; seeking election was motivated by desire to serve the people , an opportunity to be in a position commanding respect and be apart of governance for development and public welfare. Elections were contested and fought on the basis of performance of previous five years and on the policies and programmer projected for next five years in the election manifesto.

This was so till democracy meant elections in five years. But, soon this type of democracy ceased to exist. Instead of 'democracy of elections in five years' it became 'democracy of frequent elections - nay, elections almost every year!' The frequent elections blew the death knell or good governance. Winning the elections through short cuts and strategic tactics meant a go by to the adoption of ethical means; end justified the means.

Today, the state of governance provided by the democratic framework of frequent elections has led to erosion of faith and confidence of the public in the very capacity of our democratic institutions to provide efficient and honest administration. There is general despair and a shadow of gloom.

People are asking: 'democracy is fine, but does it mean only frequent elections?’

Frequent Elections & Adverse Trends

Every year has now become an election year when everything goes in the election mode. Governance, too, gets into the election gear. Every proposal is examined and seen through the lens of electoral prospects.

Public governance is the first casualty of frequent elections. Public policy is governed more by political calculations to win the elections; everyone avoids implementing good public policies of larger public interest but which are not likely to be taken favourably by voters of some particular caste/community/religion/region or even by some coalition partners of the government.

Political expediency overtakes genuine public welfare and national interest. Apprehension of pre-mature elections always acts as a sword; short term gains triumph over long term perspective vision of growth; everyone succumbs to pressures of the existing vested interest. Lobbies and pressure groups become active; pressures are built up to concede popular demands with intention to lure voters.

Frequent elections generate demand for larger campaign funds. Every election gives a political boost and encouragement to those with muscle and money power who in turn exploit the political system to the utmost causing irreparable damage to the ethics and efficiency of public administration.

Vote banks tend to be nurtured and polarised on caste lines. Every election tends to further sharpen the focus and accentuate these narrow vote oriented outlooks - caste arithmetic becoming the single most important aspect of election winning strategy.

Even after elections, the vote bank considerations in the next election, keep on colouring our vision and force us to a course of action not on ground of merit of larger public interest but on whether it would increase the vote bank or not. Election related compulsions and weakness cause irreparable damage to system of governance. General public seems to be losing faith in the capacity of elected governments to fulfill and deliver the promises made at the time of elections. The anti-incumbency factor generally noticed in elections to State Assemblies are nothing but reflection of public dissatisfaction with the quality of governance being provided to them.

In the current scenario of deteriorating standards of elective politics, there is growing disillusionment with the democracy of elections. The loss of public faith and respect is detracting good persons of caliber from getting attracted to politics. Naturally, the quality and standard of the elected -bodies is showing a decline. This, in turn, is impacting on the quality of performance of these elected bodies.

Frequent elections are the single biggest factor for the present plethora of ills associated with our democracy today. The compulsions of elective polities in the every-year-election-syndrome are the genesis of the concerns and malice inflicting our democracy. 

Era of frequent elections

In the year 1952, we started with simultaneous general elections, both for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies . The details of elections to Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies since then are annexed. The general elections to Lok Sabha in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1989 and 1996 were held on time i.e. after LokSabha had completed the normal duration of five years.

Lok Sabha Elections in 1977 were held after six year duration of Lok Sabha (duration of Lok Sabha was extended under the emergency provisions of the Constitution). Other Lok Sabha Elections in the years 1971, 1980, 1984, 1991, 1998, 1999 were held pre-maturely (Lok Sabha being dissolved sooner than completion of normal duration of five years). Lok Sabha 1967 had a duration of four years, Lok Sabha 1977 (three years), Lok Sabha 1980 (four years), Lok Sabha 1989 ( two years), Lok Sabha 1996 (two years), Lok Sabha1998 ( 13 months).

Lok Sabha election in 1971 and 1984 were held one year in advance as the government recommended early dissolution of-the Lok Sabha with a view to choose the timing of next elections to their advantage.

Why Many Lok Sabhas Did Not Complete Full Duration Of Five Years? 

Election to Lok Sabha in 1980, 1991, 1998, and 1999 had to be held as on each of these occasions, situation of political instability had developed leading to pre-mature dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

On a few occasions the ruling party thought of choosing the timings of next elections and accordingly recommended early dissolution of Lok Sabha (this happened in 1971 and 1984).

With the decline in the primacy of the Congress and emergence of multi-party system, shifting combinations of support and party defections led to political instability leading to the fall of government and in the absence of any feasible option of alternative government, led to pre-mature dissolution of Lok Sabha. This was what happened in the years 1980, 1991, and 1998. In some of these cases, the shifting combinations led to passing of no confidence motion against the govt. but an alternative combination, commanding majority could not emerge; the only option left was dissolution of Lok Sabha (this happened in the year 1998).

Widening Delinkage In Elections To Lok Sabha And State Assemblies.

In 1952 Lok Sabha and all State Assemblies had simultaneous polls. This trend continued, more or less, up to 1967. After 1967, the delinking between Lok Sabha and State Assemblies elections has been widening. Today, linking of Lok Sabha elections with State Assemblies is only nominal - with just about 6 to 7 State Assemblies having simultaneous polls with the Lok Sabha elections. Even elections to the State Assemblies are not held simultaneously - about 6-7 State Assemblies going to polls every year in the last decade. The country is thus in the election mode almost every year.

The main reason has been pre-mature elections to Lok Sabha i.e. before completion of normal five-year duration. With the Lok Sabha having shorter duration and going in for pre-mature elevations, the linkage with the State Assemblies was altogether dislocated.

The delinking of elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies has been greatly accentuated in the last decade. There were four elections to Lok Sabha; almost every year we witnessed elections in the states:

1990 Election to 11 State Assemblies (Arunachal, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orrisa, Rajasthan and Pondicherry)
1991 Elections to Lok Sabha
Elections to 7 State Assemblies (Assam, Harayana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Pondicherry )
1992    Election to one State Assembly (Punjab)
1993     Election to 9 State Assemblies (Himachal, MP, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Tripura, UP and Delhi)
1994     Elections to 4 State Assemblies (Andhra, Goa, Karnataka and Sikkim)
1995     Elections to 6 State Assemblies (Arunchal, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharasthra,; Manipur and Orissa)
1996 Election to Lok Sabha
Election to 8 State Assemblies (Assam, Haryana, -J&K, Kerala, TN, UP, WB and Pondicherry)
1997     Election one State Assembly (Punjab)
1998    Election to Lok Sabha
Election to 9 State Assemblies (Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Tripura  and  Delhi)   
1999     Election to Lok Sabha
Election to 5 State Assemblies (Andhra, Arunachal, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Sikkim)
2000     Elections to 4 State Assemblies (Bihar, Haryana, Manipur, and Orissa)
2001    Election to 5 State Assemblies (Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal)
2002 Elections to 7 State Assemblies (Manipur, Punjab, Uttranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, J&K, and Gujarat)
2003     Elections to State Assemblies of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh and Delhi.

If things are not changed, in 2004 we would have elections to State Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Sikkim. In 2005, we shall behaving elections to State Assemblies of Bihar, Haryana, Manipur and Orissa.

What was envisaged in the Constitution

The founding fathers of our Constitution conceived of are representative democracy with identical system of elections both in the Union and the States; a uniform five year duration of the Lok Sabha  as well as the State Assemblies . The pattern of elections, the mechanism governing the conducting of elections to -L S and State Assemblies was also to be uniform under the charge of one institution i.e. the Election Commission. The Constitution also lays down 
that the duration of the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies is the same i.e. five years (unless sooner dissolved).

The spirit behind various provisions of the Constitution clearly was that general elections to Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies should be simultaneous; delinked elections to a State Assemblies would be an exception rather than the rule (only in situations caused by dissolution of legislation on account of political instability or in situation of President's rule under article 356).

Alas, gone to the wind is the spirit of our Constitution that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies should be simultaneous only once in five years!

What needs to be done now

We have got to remedy the situation. The adverse effects of frequent elections are too big a luxury for our country to afford.

Let us restore the dignity and credibility of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, which are the highest elected democratic institutions in our federal democratic setup. Let us ensure that:

  • Lok Sabha and State Assemblies function for their full duration of five
  • We get out of the syndrome of elections every year.
  • Election to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies to be in a fixed month every five years (the only exception being in the case of SA where emergency provisions under Article 356 have to be invoked).

How can we do it?

To prevent the possibility of pre-mature dissolution of Lok Sabha on account of political instability, it would be necessary to review the provisions of no-confidence motion so that in the event of the fall of the govt., the lack of alternative options does not lead to dissolution of Lok Sabha. A proposal that any no-confidence motion should be backed with simultaneous alternate positive confidence motion has been mooted which deserves early consideration.

Similar provision should also be there in respect of State Assemblies so that except when emergency provision under Article 356, the State Assemblies also complete their full five year duration.

With election to Lok Sabha to be held only once in five years, we can restore the future linkage of elections of State Assemblies with elections of Lok Sabha. However, one time synchronization with corrective adjustment (by appropriate shortening or extension in the existing tenures of State Assemblies) would need to be done.

Approach and Strategy of action

The stakes are big and heavy which political parties, committed to the larger interest of the nation, cannot afford to neglect or ignore. However, compulsion of elective politics may pose some resistance. It would, therefore, be necessary to build up a political consensus.

Let us generate public debate. Let media play its role.

Let Parliament discuss this big issue which poses a serious challenge to our democratic governance. The Rajya Sabha (the House of Elders) can take the lead. Parliament could consider a JPC to consider the matter and give its recommendations (there are many eminent legal luminaries in the Parliament who can give legally sound and feasible options).

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