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(This article was first published in July 2018)
(The first part of the series looked at why the one nation, one poll idea is a ploy by NDA government to come back to power; the second looked at the legal complications in bringing this about; this article deals with the stand of TN parties)
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) under Jayalalithaa had supported the idea of one poll for the country but with some riders. In June 2015, the AIADMK which then had J Jayalalithaa as the chief minister and the general secretary of the party had extended its support to the idea in principle but with some riders.
The AIADMK had stated, in written submissions to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in 2015 that the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies should have a fixed term (of five years) as in the UK, and fixed days of election and counting as in the US Presidential elections.
The AIADMK stated in 2015 that there would be “aberrations” if simultaneous polls were to be held. Norms would have to be worked out for the term of State Assemblies, especially if their term had to be extended or cut. “However, there are likely to be some key issues which would have to be resolved before such a practice can be adopted. It entails that the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies would have a fixed term. This is similar to the fixed Term Parliaments Act, 2011 in the UK, where the elections have been fixed for every five years and the elections can be held prior to that only if:-
Two-thirds of the majority of the House of Commons vote for fresh elections; or the Government falls because of a vote of no-confidence, and another Government cannot pass a confidence motion within fourteen days.
Having simultaneous elections in India would mean that both the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies should first be given a fixed term. Together with the fixed term, fixed dates of election and counting should also be announced as in the case of the Presidential Election in the United States. This will enable the political parties to prepare themselves well for the elections. Further, the dates will not be left to the whims of the Election Commission of India, who suddenly call for a Press Meet and announce the Election schedule, from which time the Model Code of Conduct comes into force.
However, even after that further problems will arise, firstly, in adjusting the residual time period of the existing State Assemblies which are currently not coterminous with the Lok Sabha. Will the terms of these Assemblies be extended or cut short? Norms would have to be worked out for this. This is particularly relevant since a large number of States including Tamil Nadu will go to the polls before the next Parliament Elections scheduled in 2019. It could mean that the next Legislative Assembly in Tamil Nadu may have a tenure only from 2016 to 2019, while Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, etc. will have tenures from 2017 to 2019, and Bihar from 2015 to 2019. These aberrations are inevitable if a policy of simultaneous elections is adopted.”
The AIADMK now, under Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam, has objected to a simultaneous poll as its term was till 2021, and it should not be cut. The AIADMK has now said that the one poll proposal could be considered for 2024.
Vijayakanth’s DMDK Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), on the other hand, had supported the proposal of holding simultaneous elections in 2015. The DMDK had given the suggestion that in the event of a mid-term poll, the term should be only for for the remainder of the period and not for five years.
The DMDK said, “In the Constitution of India, there is provision that a member elected in the bye election can hold office for the remaining period of term only, whether it is for the Rajya Sabha/Lok Sabha or for Legislative Assembly. Similarly General Election are conducted whenever Parliament/Assembly is dissolved or resigned prematurely. The Government thus formed has the right to rule for complete five years instead of the remaining period. This should not be like this. If a Government is formed after premature dissolution, its term should be fixed for the remaining period only. Only then it will ensure the conduct of elections simultaneously for Parliament or Assembly.”
The DMK has a different take on the issue as it outright rejects the idea of one poll on the ground that it was against the principles of federalism.
DMK working president MK Stalin in his letter to the Law Commission firmly opposed simultaneous polls stating that it went against the “basic tenets of our constitution and established principles of democratic functioning”.
Stalin also added that extensive research and study for the same was done by the Vajpayee government in 1999, but the concept of simultaneous polls was found not “feasible”.
“We are against one nation one poll as our party wants to uphold a federal structure and not give into someone’s radical ideas,” said A Saravanan, spokesperson of the DMK.
DMK’s Rajya Sabha MP Tiruchi Siva handed over the DMK letter to the Law Commission on July 7.
The DMK termed the Law Commission’s proposal “a complete misadventure that will decimate the federal structure.”
“Where Parliament is sceptical whether this idea can be ever implemented this redundant exercise of producing a duplicative report that has no chances of being legislated appears questionable and if I may say, useless, both from legal and political standpoint,” Stalin said.
“On the contrary, there is a danger of diminishing the Law Commission’s credibility,” he said in his representation submitted before Law Commission Chairman, Justice B S Chauhan, in Delhi today, through DMK Rajya Sabha MP Trichy Siva.
On the Law Commission’s Working Paper dated April 17, 2018 on this subject, Stalin sought to point out various ‘discrepancies.’
“State Legislatures have a distinct constitutional identity and derive their powers from Chapter III of the Constitution. Though Parliament is empowered to amend the Constitution – in accordance with Article 368 – there are basic features of the Constitution which cannot be abrogated,” he said.
Federalism was one such basic feature and this has been repeatedly held by the Supreme Court in cases, he added. “Any proposal to amend these fundamental tenets in turn threatens to tear apart the fabric holding the nation together,” Stalin pointed out.
He pooh-poohed the idea as prevalent in Sweden, Belgium and South Africa, stating that the population of Tamil Nadu alone outnumbered the combined population of the three countries.
Any comparison of these countries with India in terms of population “is logically fallacious, completely misleading and unhelpful to the present discourse,” he added.
Further, the powers to dissolve the Legislature were vested with the Governor and the President under relevant articles of the Constitution, and these powers have been “circumscribed” by a seven-judge bench of the apex court in 1977.
“Any alteration of these powers by the Union Government or Election Commission of India may run the risk of altering the basic structure of the Constitution and directly impinging on its federal character,” Stalin said.
With regard to the suggestion for ‘dilution’ of anti-defection laws, Stalin said it would promote horse-trading “and no justification can ever be advanced to abet defection among elected representatives.”
On the possibility of synchronising Assembly polls with 2019 and 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the DMK leader said the panel’s Working Paper had apparently not considered that Lok Sabha is also capable of being dissolved before its five-year term.
“If such a situation were to happen, it is unclear whether all Legislative Assemblies will also be dissolved to synchronise electoral process again,” Stalin said.
The DMK leader also questioned the reasoning of “massive expenditure” behind mooting the idea of simultaneous polls, saying the entire cost of holding the 2014 general elections was only Rs 3,870 crore or roughly Rs 45 per elector.“It is not clear how this can be considered huge or massive,” he said.
“In sum, the present proposal of the Law Commission of India seems to be a complete misadventure that will decimate the federal structure. I respectfully submit my party’s wholehearted opposition to the proposal of ‘One India One Elections’,” Stalin added.
The CPM has informed the Law Commission that holding the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls together was inherently “anti-democratic” and negated the principles of federalism, which was a fundamental feature of Constitution. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury in his letter to the Commission had listed the party’s objections to the proposal. Yechury said the proposal went beyond the ambit of law reform entailing major amendments to Constitution and would run against both the “letter and spirit of our Constitution”.
The CPI has also opposed the move to hold simultaneous elections, calling the move “unrealistic”. CPI leader D Raja said, “Simultaneous polls are not feasible as the central government cannot force all state governments to go for polls during Lok Sabha elections”. Raja also charged that the ECI was “toeing the BJP line”.
In effect, the broad consensus among political parties in Tamil Nadu was against holding of simultaneous polls for now.
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