Weeks after it put out a working paper and an “appeal” on the question of simultaneous elections to Parliament and state Assemblies, the Law Commission of India has written to heads of all recognised political parties and sought their views as “stakeholders” on the proposal to hold polls in one go. The letter to all recognised political parties, sent Wednesday, is to convey a sense of urgency on the matter, and emphasise that it remains a priority for the ruling BJP, with less than a year left for the next Lok Sabha election. The Commission proposes meeting the parties on July 7 and 8, and has asked parties to suggest the time when they can drop in at the Law Commission offices. Parties, if they so wish, can send proposals and ideas to the Commission in writing “by June 30”.
The Commission has written to parties to solicit their views at meetings since they are yet to convey their views on the matter. No Chief Minister, barring BJP-ruled UP’s Yogi Adityanath and Congress-ruled Puducherry’s V Narayanasamy, has got back to the Commission. While Adityanath has welcomed the move, Narayanasamy has rejected it.The “general public”, the letter states, has already been intimated by the Law Commission through its appeal on April 17, and this outreach to parties constitutes the next step of the process.
The Commission says it is acting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “call to start a constructive dialogue” on the matter — this was during the Law Day celebrations on November 25-26, 2017, organised by the Law Commission in association with NITI Aayog. On April 16, the government’s Legal Affairs Department sent a reference to the Commission, asking it to examine all dimensions and make recommendations. Subsequently, the Law Commission sought opinions and views from the public.
In its recommendations, the Commission suggested that for 2019, one half of state Assemblies could go to polls with the General Election, and the rest with the polls in 2024. Among the more controversial draft recommendations of the Law Commission then was the relaxation to the Tenth Schedule, or the anti-defection law, to ensure that governments once elected would remain stable. The panel also proposed that in case of mid-term polls, the new government could be elected to last for the rest of its term, and not five years.
Experts like former Chief Justice of India M N Venkatachaliah — he headed the National Commission for Review of the Working of the Constitution, which was constituted by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — had told The Indian Express on April 19 that while the prospect of simultaneous elections was mandated by the Constitution, to hold them simultaneously now would mean that vital local issues would “always get submerged” in national issues and not be addressed.
“If state and central elections are held separately, then all issues find democratic and appropriate expression,” he had said.
A move to institutionalise simultaneous election would involve at least five Constitutional amendments. But the Law Commission has held that countries such as South Africa, Sweden and Belgium have such a system.
India held simultaneous elections until 1967, after which the pattern was interrupted. In 1983, the annual report of the Election Commission of India brought this up. In 1999, the Law Commission furthered the idea and in 2015, the Parliamentary Standing Committee also deliberated on the matter.
The proposal by the Law Commission does not envisage local elections to be held at the same time. Sources within the Commission said that would be too wide a mandate. The expenses involved in holding simultaneous elections would also be considerable since the number of EVMs would need to be increased several times for the purpose, making even the argument of “savings” questionable. The term of the present Law Commission, headed by Justice (retired) B S Chauhan gets over on August 31. There are currently seven recognised national parties and 49 recognised state parties.