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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Simultaneous Elections Debate: An Attempt to Fix the Ruling Party’s Achilles Heel?


The Simultaneous Elections Debate: An Attempt to Fix the Ruling Party’s Achilles Heel?

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 13 February 2018


The BJP has been pushing the idea of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas for some time. Just a couple of days ago, I saw a big debate on this topic on NDTV.

There is one point worth raising that most people are not talking or writing about.

The fact is that the BJP is a one-man party. They have no leaders of repute except the PM, and this is by design. Any prominent leaders, whether at the national or at the state levels, have been systematically marginalized, and the only ones in control are those who have no independent base, are unelectable and could not win an election for anyone else.

The argument that is made in favour of simultaneous elections are that when elections are spread out over 5 years in their natural course, the government is constantly in campaign mode and hence little work of the people gets done. It is also said that elections cost money, and wouldn’t we all want to save some money by synchronizing all elections?

The example of the US is given when it comes to “synchronized elections.” In the US, there is a Presidential election every 4 years, and there are midterm elections 2 years after the Presidential elections. Elections to the House and Senate are synchronized with the Presidential or midterm elections.

But many have pointed out that this system cannot work in India because we don’t have a two-party system, and because of this, and the widespread occurrence of defections, a party that comes to power in an election might not be able to hold power for 5 years. If they lose a motion of no-confidence in the state assembly due to defections, fresh elections may have to be held if no party has a majority. This kind of thing never happens in the US. All state legislators and governors serve their full term (except in the case of death.) So it is impossible to have synchronous elections in India.

Given all this, what is the real motive behind this concerted push to synchronize state and central elections?

The PM … is too busy running around the country to run the country.

The practical effect of all this running around is haphazard, poorly-thought-out policies like Demonetization and GST.

The fact is that the BJP is a one-man party. They have no leaders of repute except the PM, and this is by design. Any prominent leaders, whether at the national or at the state levels, have been systematically marginalized, and the only ones in control are those who have no independent base, are unelectable (like the honourable finance minister, Mr. Jaitley, who lost his Lok Sabha election in Amritsar and had to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha to continue in Mr. Modi’s cabinet) and could not win an election for anyone else. The state Chief Ministers are a bunch of nobodies – be it a Devendra Phadnavis in Maharashtra, a Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, a Vijay Rupani in Gujarat, a Trivendra Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand, or a Jairam Thakur in Himachal Pradesh – none of these could win elections in their own states without the fortifying presence of Narendra Modi. With a few exceptions like Shivraj Singh Chouhan in MP, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and Manohar Parrikar in Goa, the BJP needs Mr. Modi’s popularity to win elections.

And this is why Mr. Modi is in constant campaign mode. This is a one-man party, and it is so by design. Anyone who was popular enough to present a challenge to Mr. Modi was thrown out of active politics and sent to a defunct “Margadarshak Mandal.” The result is a party of yes-men and women and a party with only one viable leader.

And, of course, if the PM is constantly in campaign mode, he clearly cannot do the work for which he has been chosen – he is too busy running around the country to run the country. Those who think Yogi Adityanath won because of this own strength should remember that Modi addressed 24 rallies in UP in 2017. He also addressed 31 rallies in Bihar in 2015 (when the BJP lost) and 34 in Gujarat in the 2017 assembly elections (when they won).

Should the country’s entire system be changed (with all the attendant difficulties and costs) just to ensure the survival of one party and its leader? Should the entire political system change to solve the weakness of one political party?

The practical effect of all this running around is haphazard, poorly-thought-out policies like Demonetization and GST. Even for a Superman like Mr. Modi, there are only 24 hours in a day, and governance takes a backseat to winning elections.

This kind of involvement in state elections by the chief executive is unprecedented. Yes, past Prime Ministers have addressed rallies in poll-bound states, but they have usually been only a handful because they have been busy with the job of running the country. Even when the Congress was in the opposition in 2015, Mr. Modi addressed nearly twice the number of rallies (31) that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi addressed, combined (16).

If the country does try to move to simultaneous elections, the move will fail after a couple of cycles and elections will go back to being random. Two cycles, of course, is probably sufficient for the remainder of Mr. Modi’s political life (he is already 67) – which is all the BJP is interested in – milk Mr. Modi’s popularity as much as possible.

The question that needs to be asked is: Should the country’s entire system be changed (with all the attendant difficulties and costs) just to ensure the survival of one party and its leader? Should the entire political system change to solve the weakness of one political party?



Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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