January 24, 2017

Ensuring Fixed Term to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies

~ By Bhatruhari Mahtab

When Lok Sabhas were being frequently dissolved, the then President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, came up with an idea that pre-poll alliance will get precedence, if it has a common manifesto, to a coalition that comes after the election, in the event thatthe coalition gets an invitation to form government. I think from then on, Shankar Dayal developed this idea, after receiving suggestions from the Supreme Court. 1996 to 1999 were turbulent years for India’s democracy. People were repeatedly asked to vote andthe country continued to give a fractured mandate. This was happening for the first time showing clearly that there was no party, which was competent enough to form a government with absolute majority.

This had happened earlier in respective state legislatures as well. Even today, Jharkhand stands as apolitically volatile case. Orissa witnessed fractured mandates till 1977. From then onwards, repeated governments enjoyed full majority. In 1961, when Biju Patnaik led the Congress government to power, it had full majority of 80 members in a house of 140. But at that time also his government lasted only for two years and four months. Subsequently, there were two chief ministers, during the remaining tenure of the Legislative Assembly. So, with absolute majority also there is no guarantee that the government would continue. If there is fractured mandate, more volatility can ensue.

Figures at times educate us about a situation that was prevalent at that period of time. But the basic question is that this issue has now opened for debate. It needs to be told in public How many times promulgation of Article 356 has happened till 1967 and between 1967 and 1999? So, what is the crux of the problem? And how does one address the problem? With a full majority in the LokSabha, it would be the right time to propagate that idea of one election among the public at large.

It is time to try and establish a national consensus that there should be attempts to avoid frequent elections. There was a time in 1990s when there was a general complaint regarding frequency of elections. I will tell you some hard truths. I have contested elections seven times. And during this period, I have learnt that people love elections. People want that their candidates come to their house so that they can ask questions. Also, there is a wrong notion that black money is freely spent in elections. Rather, black money turns white during elections. These are hard facts, however unpalatable they may be. But this is the problem and we have to address that problem.

Leave aside assembly elections and parliamentary elections simultaneously. In Panchayati Raj and Municipal elections, the voter has to vote for his/her ward member, has to vote for Sarpanch, has to vote for Samiti member, and also vote for Zilla Parishad member. One has to cast four votes in the same room at four different tables. They are all paper ballots. 90 to 95% polling is witnessed in some cases.

There are some political parties, which deposed before the parliamentary standing committee of law and justice headed by Dr. Nachiappan, saying that there would be confusion if simultaneous elections areto be held. They said that in Lok Sabha people vote on determination for national perspective.Some political parties might take advantage of and regional parties and smaller parties might be rendered losers. But Orissa had proved this concern wrong.

AtalBihari Vajpayee went for election in 2004, six months before the completion of his tenure. Orissa was supposed to have elections in 2005 and one more year of tenure was remaining for the house. Naveen Patnaik too decided to have state elections one year before schedule to have them along with national elections. The election commission agreed. Simultaneous elections were held both for parliament and Orissa State Legislative Assembly. It proved beneficial to BJD.

What happened in 2004? Bharatiya Janata Party did not come to power. They lost miserably in Parliament. BJD did not lose. It formed the government in Orissa. Its strength also increased. Though it contested only for 12 seats out of 21 seats, its strength increased from 9 to 11. It lost only one seat. Bharatiya Janata Party came down. Congress got 6 seats. People at large decided. Perhaps they got a sense of the direction in which the wind. BJP was out of power. In 2009, there was no BJD alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party. BJD was fighting on its own. It went to election. It increased its number in simultaneous elections for assembly and also in parliament. In 2014, when there was strong northerly wind, BJD could withstand the wind. BJD increased its strength not only in Assembly, but also in parliament. It lost only one seat out of 21.

How could this happen? It is not a matter to be discussed, deliberated in political science class. This is a matter to be deliberated specially by those who say, if we have simultaneous elections, so-called national parties would prevail, national issues will prevail and regional parties and small parties will just fade away. It doesn’t happen. At least Orissa has proved that wrong. Tamil Nadu has proved that wrong. West Bengal has proved that wrong. To a great extent, Telangana has also proved that wrong.

So, when a citizen of this country goes to vote, he knows for whom he is going to vote and for what reason. And that is the reason why, we maintain the sanctity of the mandate that the citizen gives or elects for five years. Can we fix the term of the house? If term of the house is fixed, can we fix the date of the election? That on such and such date next election would be held. We know how elections are held in the United States.

I have submitted a private members bill in Lok Sabha on 2nd May 2016. It would come up for discussion and deliberation in the house. I have suggested three amendments to the Constitution. And the first amendment is related to a government losing to a no-confidence motion. In Law Commission’s Report of 1999, it is recommended that if at all a no-confidence motion is moved, it should also be simultaneously moved for a confidence motion. Articles 75, 164, in respect of the parliament and also the state assemblies, must be amended. Similarly, one more amendment is necessary to Article 326 (A)in order forLokSabhaand all state legislative assembly elections to beheld simultaneously.

We have heard former Chief Election Commissioner of India Dr. S.Y.Quraishi say that Election Commission is competent enough to hold simultaneous elections provided certain things are given to them – security forces and other things. It can be done. It is a very encouraging statement that Election Commission can conduct elections within 33 days. I think for the first time this thing is being said. Earlier I did not read it anywhere.

In 2014, after elections it used to come in news papers that I would lose. I went to my leader and said, this is going to happen, what should I do? He said forget it and go to some other place and relax. The more you stay in your constituency, the more tense you would be. But ultimately when the results came, my lead was more than 2 lakh votes. However, I suffered during that one month period, the gap between the polling date and declaration of results.

It was a private discussion I had with the Prime Minister, but I can share with you. Last year, the session was going to commence and Prime Minister was to go to campaign in certain states. A news item had come in some newspapers that he would be very busy campaigning for the party instead of attending the house. I was tempted and I asked him, “Sir, don’t you think it is necessary we should have simultaneous elections both to state legislative assemblies and parliament so that it would save time and energy and also to a very great extent, will minimize the cost.”  He said, “You want it?You want it?” I said, “Yes we want it. Yes it should be done.” He said, “First ask Khadgeji”.

Khadgeji was sitting just across the table. I do not know whether he would vouch for it today or not, but that day, he said that all of them want simultaneous elections. But when their written statement was sought by the committee, the Congress party said, “The proposal of holding simultaneous elections, ideal as it may sound, is impractical and unworkable and can lead to a scenario where the necessary balance in Indian democracy given the diversity of the country is lost.”

I think it is workable.  I believe it can also protect the diversity of the country. Some say it is ideal, but not implementable. But it is implementable. Our constitution is dynamic, a living document. People of this country through their voice have made dramatic changes in the constitution that was conceived in 1949 and 1950. I have also proposed we can also try to bring adjustment related to the elections so that we can lead to a situation, perhaps in next 10 to 15 years time, where all state legislative assembly elections and LokSabha elections can be done in one go. The more we deliberate the more we discuss in public, it will have an impact on the respective political parties. And a voice will come up.

On 1998 17thApril 1998, when Atalji’s government had fallen by one vote, it was not Giridhar Gomang who was the culprit. He had been vilified and our party BJD had been at the forefront making the allegation. He belonged to the Congress party. He did not defect. He was the chief minister of Orissa that time and he did not resign from the Lok Sabha. There were three members of National Conference in Lok Sabha. Omer Abdulla, Prof. Souz and there was one more member. Prof. Saifuddin Souz voted in favour of the no-confidence motion. Whereas Omar Abdullah voted against the no-confidence motion, he was with the government. The other member obtained. Prof. Souz was rewarded later on.

It is necessary that we must have simultaneous election. We should have national and international outlook. The prerogative is not only with national parties. People also think about the country. They also want a strong government in Delhi. That is the reason why, they may vote differently for the state and for the centre. There is need not only for simultaneous elections but there is also a need for fixed term for respective houses.

(This article is the gist of the address made by Bhatruhari Mahtab, Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha from BJD, at the symposium on ‘One Nation, One Election’ jointly organized by India Foundation and Nehru Memorial Museum and Library on 26th November, 2016)



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