The push from a section of the political class to have simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies appears to have found a resonance with the Election Commission of India (EC). The EC has informed the Union Law Ministry it could undertake the exercise if the logistical and financial challenges, it had flagged in its response to a parliamentary panel that studied the feasibility of simultaneous elections, are addressed. The challenges listed by the EC, though not “insurmountable”, are substantial and the cost involved may outweigh the financial gains claimed if Parliament and assembly elections are held together. From beefing up infrastructure and machinery to building a political consensus on drawing up a common poll schedule, the EC had outlined the many impediments that could make the exercise expensive and cumbersome. These apart, there are political reasons that ought to be considered before the proposal is pushed to its logical conclusion.
Though the first general election and elections to state assemblies were held together, the cycle diverged soon due to the federal character of the nation. States have followed their own poll cycles independent of the Centre, often necessitated by political realignments within. In a way, the separation of the poll cycle was the inevitable outcome of the constitutional federalism that defines relations between the Union and the states. The rise of powerful regional parties, often in opposition to the dominant Centre, further strengthened the federal element in the polity. The assertion of regional aspirations has contributed to the making of a fragmented polity and fractured verdicts, leading to the phenomena of coalition politics. A common poll schedule for the Lok Sabha and assemblies could lead to fixed terms for Houses, making coalitions a necessity than a virtue.
Assembly elections are now fought on local issues and, in the true spirit of federalism, parties and leaders are judged in the context of their work done in the state. Clubbing them with the general election could lead to a situation where the national narrative submerges the regional story. This could mean a regress for the federal character of the polity, which is best avoided.