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Contesting from two constituencies undermines electoral accountability.
There is something absurd about a candidate contesting an election under the promise that they will faithfully serve the interests of that constituency and represent its people, but with the proviso that they might decide to abandon it if they also win in another constituency. Yet this is the case where big-shot leaders decide that one constituency is not enough, and they will fight the election from two places simultaneously.
That is the strategy that Narendra Modi has adopted for the 2014 elections, contesting from both Vadodara in Gujarat and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress can hardly object, since Sonia Gandhi also divided her attention between Amethi in UP and Bellary in Karnataka in the 1999 general elections. Despite defeating Sushma Swaraj in Bellary, Sonia Gandhi retained Amethi and had to resign from her other seat, leaving Bellary unrepresented in the Lok Sabha until a by-election was held in the subsequent year.
There is a clear strategic rationale to this double contestation, but it also reveals a lack of confidence about the electoral strength of a party. One seat acts as a means of reaching out to a symbolic or critical battleground, the other constituency as a fall-back option to ensure the leader is in the Lok Sabha if the voters in the first seat reject them. Amethi was a constituency which had resonance for the Gandhi dynasty, having been won by Rajiv Gandhi, and before him, Sanjay Gandhi. Varanasi has obvious resonance for the BJP as a holy city. In both cases, contesting from constituencies in UP reflects the importance of standing in a state likely to be critical to the outcome of the national polls.
Similar considerations lie behind Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to stand for election in both Azamgarh and Mainpuri. Mainpuri, where he is the incumbent MP, is the back-up option, while standing in Azamgarh serves to bolster the Samajwadi Party’s challenge in the east of UP. The Election Commission has already suggested that candidates should not be allowed to contest from two constituencies in the same election. In its 2004 report on proposed electoral reforms, the EC called for the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, to be amended to prevent this, and suggested that, as an intermediate measure, candidates for two Lok Sabha constituencies post a deposit of Rs 10,00,000 to cover the costs of any subsequent by-election.
It could be argued that the sanction should be left to the voters. If they know that a candidate is dividing his or her attention between two seats, they could object by voting against. It has been argued that contesting from continued…