The Prime Minister has thrown his weight behind the idea of One Nation, One Poll (ONOP). This is not a new concept but was the norm till 1967, with the exception of Kerala, where the first non-Communist government was unceremoniously dismissed by Nehru Government in 1959. But the election scenario in India has now turned into a never-ending circus in which we ended up holding nine rounds of Assembly polls between 2014 and 2019.
|Schedule between 2014-19||Schedule between 2019-24 (expected)||States||Proposed Schedule
|1||April-May 2014||April-May 2019||General Elections + Orissa +Andhra Pradesh +Arunachal Pradesh +Sikkim||Oct-Nov-2023|
|2||Oct-Nov-Dec 2014||Oct-Nov-Dec 2019
|Maharashtra + Haryana + Jharkhand + Jammu & Kashmir||Oct-Nov 2023|
|3||Feb 2015||Feb 2020||Delhi||Oct-Nov 2023|
|4||Oct 2015||Oct 2020||Bihar||Oct 2020|
|5||April-May 2016||April-May 2021||West Bengal + Assam + Kerala +Tamil Nadu||April-May 2021|
|6||Feb-March 2017||Feb-March 2022||UP + Uttarakhand + Goa +Meghalaya + Manipur + Punjab||April-May 2021|
|7||Nov-Dec 2017||Nov-Dec 2022||Gujarat+ Himachal Pradesh||April-May 2021|
|8||Feb-March 2018||Feb-March 2023||Tripura + Nagaland||Oct-Nov 2023|
|9||Nov-Dec 2018||Nov-Dec 2023||Rajasthan + Madhya Pradesh + Chhattisgarh + Telangana +Mizoram||Oct-Nov 2023|
In 2017, in ‘Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The “What”, “Why”, and “How” ’, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai of NITI Aayog also proposed two-phase elections as the most feasible solution . Phase I (Lok Sabha + 14 States): April-May 2019 , Phase II (remaining States): Oct-Nov 2021. This concept is in-sync with the proposal of the Parliamentary Standing Committee a discussion paper as well. They ruled out fixed terms for legislatures . But the problem of premature dissolution and resultant disturbance in synchronous pattern led them to suggest various impractical measures like coupled ‘no-confidence’ and ‘confidence’ motions as well as curtailed tenures,and even President’s Rule in the Centre. We must not let the idea of simultaneous elections become a dogma, rather India should try to preserve the simplicity which is a hallmark of our electoral system.
The Centre must acknowledge that ONOP rather comes across as an exercise to weed out mid-term mini-referendums . Even in the US where the Presidential elections are held after every four years , Lower House gets reconstituted in every two (along with 1/3rd seats for Senate which come up for election in every two years) .These midterm Congressional polls are validly seen as virtual referendums. As such, it does not seem quite desirable to weed out all state elections between the five year tenure of the Lok Sabha . Infact, a mid-way poll in half the states shall help in gauging the mood of the nation.
Anyway if they are serious, BJP must lead by example and take the following steps –
- Publically promise during the Oct-Nov Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand that next time they shall be held after 4 years,i.e. in Oct-Nov 2023.
- Advance the next General Elections to Nov-Dec 2023 and set the stage for Winter Polls.
- Convince Chief Ministers of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim to agree for early polls at the end of current tenures in Nov-Dec 2023. Even if they don’t agree, Section 14 and 15 of Representation of People Act,1951 read with Article 83 (2) of Constitution give ECI the power to notify elections to State Assemblies six months prior to the end of normal terms of these Houses.
- Using the abovementioned provisions, Delhi Assembly polls should be held in Nov-Dec 2019 itself, with the open election promise by BJP of holding the next ones after 4 years, if theycomes to power. Make ONTP an electoral issue and let people have their say on it.
- With Rajasthan ,MP, Chhattisgarh , Telangana and Mizoram scheduled to go to polls in Nov-Dec 2023 as things stand ,the abovementioned little tinkerings might result in combined polls for Lok Sabha and atleast 13 states . These maybe dubbed as Winter Polls for the sake of convenience .
- Let Bihar follow its polls cycle for now , which gets completed in October 2020 .
- Since West Bengal,Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala Assemblies are scheduled to go to polls in April-May 2021, this period must be treated as the base for Summer Polls . This would be exactly two and a half years prior to the prior Winter Polls
- BJP should sacrifice nine months of Government tenures in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand , Manipur and Goa and pre-pone their Assembly polls to align them with Summer Polls (April-May 2021). Meghalaya, run by NDA ,and can also be favourably influenced to go in for early polls. Punja , currently being ruled by Congress, might not be willing to play ball . If so , the government should let it stand out and hold elections separately in February 2022. This would force the Congress to go public with its opposition to the ONTP. ECI is empowered to hold the next Punjab polls in October 2021 using the provisions of Section 14-15,RPA 1951 read with Article 83(2) of the Constitution. In the subsequent term, using the same provisions, poll dates can further be preponed to align with the next Summer Polls (April-May 2026) .
- BJP must gamble big, and sacrifice about 18 months of tenures of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh governments so that they go to hustings during the time of Summer Polls (April-May 2021).
- Next Tripura and Nagaland Assembly polls are scheduled for Feb-March 2023. Here ,NDA has two options – either the two states be kept under President’s Rule for about 8-9 months so that their next vote get aligned with the proposed Winter Polls ( Nov-Dec 2023) ,or seek a fresh mandate in Tripura and Nagaland after tenures of 3 years and 3 months .
- Karnataka is being run by a tenuous coalition of JD(S) and Congress since May 2018. If the government lasts its full term, the state can be kept under a spell of President’s Rule for six months .It would not be difficult since NDA would be in a majority in Rajya Sabha by then. This will align Karnataka Assembly elections with the Winter Polls (Nov-Dec 2023) as well.
- J&K Assembly has a tenure of six years. If polls are held in Oct-Nov 2019, the next term would get over only in Oct-Nov 2025. Centre must not fuss over a perfect form for the proposed ONTP or get obsessed with J & K, Bihar ,Punjab and whichever other state might see a fall of government .Once the idea of ONTP takes root, it would automatically nudge every political party to abide by the convention.
It is striking to note that out of 29 states, only J-K is going to witness Mid-term polls (Nov-Dec 2019) . Elections in Telangana were held six months prior to their due date since ruling party opted for premature dissolution of the Assembly. All other state assemblies completed their five years’ tenures. This is a heartening trend which suggests that once the ONTP convention gets established ,it can actually be maintained.
With the proposed schedules, the election programme between 2019 and 2023 might look like this –
|Polls Schedule 2019-2023||States|
|1||Oct-Nov 2019||Maharashtra +Haryana + Delhi +Jharkhand +J-K|
|3||April-May 2021||Summer Polls- West Bengal + Assam +Tamil Nadu +Kerala +UP + Uttarakhand + Meghalaya + Manipur + Goa +Gujarat + Himachal Pradesh|
|4||Oct-Nov 2021 or Feb 2022||Punjab|
|5||Oct-Nov 2023||General Elections + Orissa + Andhra Pradesh +Arunachal Pradesh + Sikkim + Tripura + Nagaland + Rajasthan + MP+ Chhattisgarh + Delhi + Maharashtra + Haryana + Jharkhand +Karnataka +Telangana|
Proposed picture between 2023-2028-
|1||Oct-Nov 2023||Winter polls- General elections + 15 states|
|3||April-May 2026||Summer Polls- 12 states including Punjab|
|4||Oct-Nov 2028||Winter Polls again|
Our Social Studies’ textbooks used to enlighten us that one of the reasons for high population growth in rural India was lack of means of recreation. Cable TV and social media have turned politics into much needed full-time entertainment and filled crucial gaps. But no country can afford to celebrate election season for five years and expect that the march towards development won’t be hampered. ‘Pollaholic’ Amit Shah might miss the din and bustle of ceaseless election campaigns. Yogendra Yadav might not enjoy regular gainful employment as an analyst .Psephology might lose its lustre. But India (and the Central government) does need to smarten the election schedule.
Great Leaders are remembered for successful ideas and projects – Nehru for IITs and NAM , Indira for Green Revolution, Bank Nationalisation and Bangladesh, PV Narsimha Rao for liberalisation and Vajpayee for Golden Quadrilateral. If insisted upon, ONOP would head the way of River Interlinking Project – a great idea , but unfeasible . Perhaps the PM should settle for One Nation, Two Polls (ONOP) which with a little bit of self-sacrifice, flexibility and pragmatism can turn out to be more palatable to swallow as well as become a part of his legacy.