By Harihar Swarup
The debate on “one nation, one election” seems to revolve around two related themes — technical feasibility and political motives. The supporters of this motive evoke several technical issues—the ever increasing cost of elections, administrative technicalities and possibilities of corruption, the negative impact of frequent elections on governance and the election-centric focus of policy initiative. These concerns are not entirely new. Various official reports on electoral reforms, including the Law Commission’s 170th Report which has been prominently mentioned in the recently released government notification, have raised these important technical administrative questions on several occasions. No one can deny the fact that these issues affect the functional aspects of our democratic polity.
The opponents of the one nation, one election thesis question the political enthusiasm of the BJP. The High-Level Committee constituted by the government is seen as a calculated political move. Congress leader, Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, who was inducted as the Leader of Opposition in the HLC, criticized the terms of reference of the committee. In his opinion, the proposal is politically motivated, “pragmatically non-feasible and logistically unimplementable idea”. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal goes a step further in his criticism. According to him, “they (BJP) will not show their faces for five years if one nation, one election gets implemented”.
The election reform versus political motive debate has certainly contributed to our public discourse in a significant way. The election, which has always been regarded as a settled issue of our political system, has emerged as an open and unresolved question of democracy. Precisely, for this reason, there is a need to go back to the Constitution which envisages a clear, ever evolving conception of democracy. The Constitution, in this sense, could be taken as a crucial point of reference to reassess the one nation, one election proposal. More specifically, we need to examine a very basic question: What is the relationship between Constitutional democracy and the elections in the post-colonial Indian context?
The Indian Constitution, we must remember, is an outcome of a political movement. Our national freedom struggle, especially, the dominant strand of it led by Mahatma Gandhi, was not merely anti-colonial, it was fully committed to the idea of people’s participation in achieving the wider objective of social change. This political imagination was one of the resources which influenced the deliberations in the constituent assembly. The Constitution finally adopted parliamentary democracy not merely as a form of government, but also as an instrument to realise the aspirations of the national movement in future India. The Constitution in this sense, offers us a future –oriented meaning of democracy for creating a secular polity guided by the principles of equality and social justice.
The Constitution, however, is also a legal-administrative document. It has to spell out the mechanism by which this normative imaginative of democracy could be realistically implemented. This makes the idea of election very relevant. A close reading of Articles 324-327 suggests that election is seen as an apparatus to ensure the effective participation of citizens in an overtly secular sense. The Constitution seems to remind the government that democracy is a political virtue, which has to be fully realized by evolving what B R Ambedkar calls constitutional morality; and by this logic, conducting of free and fair election is the most important instrument to make polity responsive and democratic.
The Constitution empowers the supreme legislative body, Parliament, to make future laws to strength this democracy—election equilibrium. At the same, it is expected that the judiciary protects this Constitutional mandate again by evolving people-based legal interpretations. The Basic Structure Doctrine is a good example in this regard. (IPA )