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On Wednesday evening, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers and deputy chief ministers met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah. Subsequent to the meeting, BJP leaders told the media that they discussed the need for more public debate on simultaneous polls, or 'one nation one election'.
This isn’t the first time the PM has spoken about the simultaneous polls. It is intriguing the PM has repeatedly brought up the issue when it is evident that his party is woefully short of the requisite numbers in Parliament to get a constitutional amendment required to push through the agenda.
The BJP won 282 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha, barely 10 more than the halfway mark. Along with its allies, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has 336 in the Lok Sabha. The two-thirds mark in the Lok Sabha, a House of 543-members, is 362.
This is obviously on the assumption that the on day of voting on such a constitutional amendment all 543 members would be present and voting. To be fair, hundred per cent attendance is rare, and the ‘special majority’ is calculated as long as half of the House strength is present and voting. But the numbers make it evident that to get the amendment passed the Modi government would not only need to convince its allies but also some of the opposition parties.
In the Rajya Sabha, the BJP-led NDA doesn’t even cross the halfway mark of 122, and unlikely to do so even after elections to the 58-seats of the House on March 23.
It is evident that the Modi government cannot ensure the passage of a constitutional amendment for simultaneous polls in its current term without building consensus among opposition political parties.
Even if it were to improve its numbers in the Rajya Sabha by 2020, it would still need to get requisite numbers in the next Lok Sabha elections and also convince its allies. Would all its allies be convinced?
Why then does the PM raise the issue of ‘one nation one election’ ad infinitum? When he was president of India, Pranab Mukherjee spoke in support of the idea once.
While there is indeed much merit in ‘one nation one poll’ as it would lead to the saving of government money and effort, Mukherjee has had a change of heart since. He pointed out at a recent lecture that the idea was impracticable. Most experts also agree that the idea is noble but impracticable. Simultaneous polls were a reality until 1967, but with the weakening of single-party domination and fractured mandates the order of the day, holding simultaneous polls was impossible.
Wednesday’s meeting of BJP chief ministers and deputy chief ministers had focused on the need to deliver effectively the central schemes with Lok Sabha elections, and key assembly polls nearing.
The issue of simultaneous polls was spoken of but in passing. However, it gave the media something specific to write about, instead of focusing on the more obvious effort by any political party in power to buttress their re-election chances by implementing social welfare schemes more effectively.
This is exactly the purpose of the PM and others talking about simultaneous polls. It’s a trial balloon that is unlikely to be agreed upon not just because it requires numbers in Parliament, but also of the inherent difficulties in implementing it.
However, talking about it does bring the PM applause from the public for thinking in the national interest and adds to his charisma as a selfless incorruptible leader who, unlike others of his ilk, continuously thinks of the nation, and not merely about advancing his and his political party's interests.