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One Nation One Poll: Whose agenda is it anyway?

Lalit Shastri

Number of times President’s Rule has been imposed since 1952

 

As the BJP ruled States, including Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan, where general election to the Assemblies is due later this year, have supported the idea of simultaeous polls, and BJP president Amit Shah has also written to the Law Commission on Monday (13 August 2018) to push the case for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, the issue is now in sharp focus.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has responded to the evolving situation by stating that ‘one nation one poll is a good idea but not implementable in the forthcoming polls.’

The BJP President has put  his entire weight behind the concept of simultaneous elections by arguing that development related works get hampered due to elections being held every year in one State or the other. He has also cited the high cost of conducting elections as a reason for holding simultaneous polls.

Shah has said that those who were of the view that holding two sets of polls (for the States and Lok Sabha) was against the country’s federal structure have a “baseless” argument and were politically motivated.

The Law Commission, had held a meeting in this regard with political parties last month. The Congress kept away from this meeting but separately conveyed its opposition to the whole idea.

Notwithstanding the BJP President’s accusing finger at those opposing the move, there is an underlying need to understand the letter and spirit of the Constitution that provides for the imposition of President’s Rule in the States and also imposition of Emergency in the whole country or in specifc area/s or States.

As long as there is the provision for imposition of President’s/ Governor’s Rule in the country, it defies logic to talk in terms of “One Nation One Poll’ even as a concept.

The breakdown of law and order in any State is a possibility that cannot be wished away. Also, as has been the experience, a split electoral verdict, with no party getting a clear majority, can hold up the formation of democratically elected governments in the States and even at the Centre. It is due to the complexities of the federal structure that the country has moved on a course which is far removed from the path of simultaneous elections, which the BJP is now bent upon taking.

It is easy for someone to brand those in the opposition, who are opposing simultaneous elections, as politically motivated but it would not be easy for the BJP leaders or those who are too ready to toe the BJP line in this matter to write off or undermine the significance of Article 356 of the Constitution which provides for imposition of President’s Rule and also  172Article(1) in The Constitution of India, which says: “Every Legislative Assembly of every State, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer and the expiration of the said period of five years shall operate as a dissolution of the Assembly…”

Obviously therefore, when there is a provision for the dissolution of the House (State Assembly) under Article 356, elections are bound to be staggered across states.  Article 172(1) provides that the five-year period of an Assembly can be extended by Parliament by law for a period not exceeding one year at a time and not extending in any case beyond a period of six months after the Proclamation has ceased to operate while a Proclamation of Emergency is in operation.

The five year period of the elected Assemblies in States that are to go to polls later this year cannot be extended to allow simultaneous elections to coincide with the 2019 Lok Sabha election since “one nation one poll” neither can be the reason for imposition of President’s Rule nor for Proclamation of Emergency in these States.

In light of the Constitutional position, the BJP appears to be politically motivated and seems it is pursuing a political agenda while pushing the case for simultaneous polls in top gear, especially since it is not prepared to face electoral defeat in States where it is in power before the 2019 Lok Sabha Election. The anti-incumbency factor is already staring the ruling party bigwigs, rank and file on the face in these States.

Since 1952, Article 356 of the Constitution that provides for imposition of President’s rule has been used 116 times, including imposition of Governor’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir this year. President’s rule was imposed in 12 states in 1977 when the Janata Party came to power on withdrawal of Emergency. After the collapse of the Janata party Government and Indira Gandhi’s return to power in 1980, President’s Rule was imposed in 9 States.

In the wake of riots following the demolition of the Babri/Ayodhya structure in December 1992, there were six States that were brought under President’s Rule.

The fact that President’s rule has been imposed 116 times in all States at least once, barring the two new States – Chattisgarh and Telangana – shows that Article 356 cannot be ignored despite Supreme Court’s attempt to curb the blatant misuse of Article 356 in the S. R. Bommai v. Union of India [1994].

Under Article 356, it is important to note that if the Governor decides to dissolve Legislative Assembly during his own rule or when the state is under the President’s Rule, election shall be held within six months.

Elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are conducted according to constitutional provisions.

Article 324 of the Constitution of India bestows the relevant powers, duties and functions upon the Election Commission of India while Section 14 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides for conduct of the elections to constitute a new Lok Sabha before the expiry of its five-year term.

The Assembly elections are announced by the Election Commission under Article 324 read with Article 172(1) of the Constitution of India and Section 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951

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