July 25, 2016 7:24:35 pm
In March 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proposed the idea of conducting joint Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. This was following a phone call that the PM made to the election commissioner the previous year to enquire about the feasibility of holding joint elections. Since the initial proposal, the centre has been actively debating upon the possibility of such a scenario.
The idea of a joint Lok Sabha and Assembly elections is not new to India. The first set of elections held in independent India in 1951-52 took place together in the centre and the states. The number of Indians eligible to vote at that time numbered over 170 million. Needless to say, an elaborate machinery had to be set up and resources pulled together in a mammoth scale in order to conduct simultaneous elections in the centre and the state effectively.
Approximately two million ballot boxes had to be made along with the construction of 224,000 polling booths. Close to 620,000,000 ballot papers had to be printed as one million people were put in charge of supervising the proper conduct of voting procedures.
Overall 17,500 candidates stood for the elections. On the one hand 489 Lok Sabha seats were being contested, and on the other, 3,283 seats of the State Assemblies were up in the polls. The elections spread over four months, starting from October 25, 1951 and culminating on February 21, 1952.
The practice of holding joint elections continued for the next three elections in 1957, 1962 and 1967. The period between 1967 and 1971 was a phase of extreme political volatility in the country, resulting in the toppling of several state governments, including Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Mid-term elections had to be held in each of these states. Further, the death of President Zakir Husain, the schism in the Congress party and international developments like the Bangladesh liberation war, led to the premature dissolving of the central government in December 1970. In 1971, a fresh set of elections had to be conducted for the Lok Sabha. Since then, the country no longer followed the tradition of holding simultaneous elections for the centre and the state.
The prospect of holding joint elections again would have to face large number of challenges.
In the first place a constitutional change would need to be brought about that either curtails or increases the terms of the state assemblies so that a common polling date can be reached.
Secondly, the very clause in the constitution that allows a state government to be dissolved and further adds that a new government has to be formed within six months of its dissolution would prove to be one of the biggest reasons behind the difficulty of holding concurrent elections.
Third, the sheer scale of expenditure involved in bringing about such a change is again something the government needs to consider. As per the election commission, an amount of Rs 9,284.15 would be required to buy additional Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.
At the same time though, joint elections do have their own merits that being administrative convenience since personnel in charge would have to be trained only once in five years and also political stability as parties would not be forced to prepare for elections as frequently.
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