The Law Commission has come out with two documents that outline principles which must guide the government in formulating policies on two contentious issues — one, holding simultaneous elections to Parliament and state assemblies and two, the sedition law. The government should listen to the cautionary note struck by the Commission, which completed its tenure on Friday, on both.
In a draft report on the proposed simultaneous polls, an issue dear to the central government and the BJP, the Commission has said it is “not possible within the existing framework of the Constitution”. While the panel admits it is desirable to have simultaneous polls, it warns that the measure will require major amendments to the Constitution. It has said that “this is a serious issue, and needs wider consultation with the public and constitutional experts”. On the sedition law (124A IPC), the Commission has issued a consultation paper where it advises that the stringent provision should be invoked only in cases “where intention” behind the act is to “disrupt public order or to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means”. In this context, reflecting on the nationalism debate, the Commission has said that “singing from the same book is not a benchmark of patriotism” in a democracy and “people should be at liberty to show their affection towards their country in their own way”. Sedition, the Commission does well to point out, is not “a thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the government of the day” and the law concerning it should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind a perceived act of sedition is to “disrupt public order or to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means”.
On simultaneous polls, the government has so far privileged the expected benefits of reduced election expenditure over constitutional constraints. The Commission has detailed these constraints and indicated that many parliamentarians it met had argued that amendments to facilitate simultaneous polls would upset the basic structure of the Constitution. The federal character of the republic does not allow the specificity of state polls to be subsumed in the name of synchronicity with the general election. Parliament and state legislatures have separate and independent trajectories and lives that respond to, and are shaped by, factors distinct to their respective settings. Simultaneous polls to these bodies will require, in the event of a hung verdict or local events leading to the collapse of a government, the term of state legislature(s) to be extended or curtailed as per the term of Parliament and schedule of the general election. It calls for a radical departure from the federal spirit that currently mediates Centre-state relations.