One Nation, One Election: Reform or Unconstitutional? 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the Bhartiya Janata Party’s manifesto, titled ‘Sankalp Patra’, for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on April 14th, coinciding with the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution. The manifesto focuses on a vision termed “Viksit Bharat”, featuring initiatives such as India’s bid for the Olympics in 2036, the implementation of the New Education Policy (NEP), legislation against paper leaks, the enactment of a Uniform Civil Code, the introduction of a Bullet Train for the Northeast region, and the proposal for ‘One Nation, One Election’.

One particularly controversial aspect of the Manifesto is the proposal for ‘One Nation, One Election’, which has sparked intense debate among experts. Some constitutional experts found it as a threat to federalism and an attempt to alter the balance of power between the central government and the states. Conversely, proponents argue it could be cost-effective, reducing the strain on administrative resources and security forces. They believe it could facilitate smoother implementation of government policies, free from interruptions caused by frequent elections, and redirect administrative focus towards developmental endeavours rather than continuous campaigning. 

“We have set up a committee to examine the issues of conducting simultaneous elections and will work towards implementing the recommendations,” PM Modi said during the release of ‘Sankalp Patra  2024’. Previously, the BJP included the ‘One Nation, One Election’ plan in its 2019 manifesto as well, but the opposition has strongly criticised it, particularly concerning constitutional issues. 

In mid-March, a committee headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind submitted a report on the government’s proposal for ‘One Nation, One Election,’ advocating for simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Formed in September, the committee thoroughly investigated global best practices and consulted with 39 political parties, economists, and the Election Commission of India. The committee endorsed the idea but stressed the need for a legally sound mechanism to manage existing electoral schedules.

What is ONOE? 

In simpler terms, all Indian citizens will vote for their national (Lok Sabha) and state (Assembly) representatives in the same year, if not simultaneously. Only a few states hold their state elections simultaneously with the national elections, such as Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha, which are scheduled to vote during the April/May Lok Sabha election.

Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand will hold their elections later this year. Additionally, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir must conduct its first Assembly election in six years before September 30, as per a recent Supreme Court order on restoring statehood. Other states follow a non-synchronised five-year cycle, like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Telangana, which voted at different times last year.

Aligning and synchronising electoral cycles presents numerous challenges, including logistical, financial, conceptual, constitutional, legal, and practical issues, especially considering the country’s vast size and the significant topographical and cultural differences between regions.

Why is the Government Backing ‘ONOE’?   

Last year, before the Ram Nath Kovind-led panel was announced, Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal outlined the government’s rationale and listed some possible hurdles. Mr Meghwal told Parliament that simultaneous elections represent financial savings since they reduce the deployment of poll officials and security forces several times each year and reduce costs incurred by the public exchequer and political parties on their campaigns.

He also pointed out that asynchronous polls meant the Code of Conduct remained in force frequently, which affected the roll-out of welfare schemes, whether by the centre or a state. The government also anticipates that holding a single-election event will enhance voter turnout, which currently exhibits significant variation between states and even within the general election.

Legal Hurdles in Front of ONOE 

One Nation, One Election” cannot be implemented unless the Constitution is amended and the amendment is approved by all state and union territory governments and potentially major political parties. Legal experts caution that without amending five Articles, the proposal could be vulnerable to accusations of undermining India’s federal structure.

These Articles include Article 83 (regarding Parliament’s term), Article 85 (regarding the dissolution of the Lok Sabha by the President), Article 172 (regarding the duration of state legislatures), Article 174 (regarding the dissolution of state legislatures), and Article 356 (regarding the imposition of President’s Rule). These are crucial as a significant challenge arises if a state or the central government faces a no-confidence motion or is dissolved prematurely.

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