NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to forge a consensus on his “one nation one poll” agenda on Wednesday received a setback after key opposition groupings boycotted an all-party gathering to discuss the issue.
At the end of a three-hour meeting, a decision was made to “set up a panel to give suggestions” on the matter.
“Most parties which attended the meeting chaired by PM Modi assured support to the proposal of simultaneous polls,” said Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh following the talks.
He revealed that the presidents of 40 political parties had been invited to the meeting but only 21 attended, with three parties submitting their opinions in writing.
India’s main opposition Congress Party and a number of important regional players were among those who failed to show up. One significant absence was the Trinamool Congress Party, the ruling group of the largest eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Representatives from the north Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh also boycotted the meeting along with major regional groupings from the country’s southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Although the Congress Party gave no official reason for staying away, media reports quoted it as saying the meeting had only been called to advance “the BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) expansionist agenda and bypassing the real issues of electoral reforms and curtailing escalating electoral expenses.”
While some left-wing parties responded to Modi’s invite, they opposed the idea of “one nation one poll” in principle. “Holding simultaneous polls to Parliament and state assemblies is fundamentally anti-federal and anti-democratic and thus against the constitution,” said Sitaram Yechury, secretary-general of the Communist Party of India (CPI).
Modi and the ruling BJP have long talked about “one nation one poll,” which would allow one single election for India in which the poll for both the center and all the 29 states would be held together. The BJP believes a simultaneous poll would save vital resources, time and manpower.
In its 2019 election manifesto the BJP said the idea would “ensure efficient utilization of government resources and security forces and effective policy planning.”
BJP parliamentarian Rakesh Sinha said: “The idea of a ‘one nation one election’ is in the interest of the country. It is good for the economy of the country and it will be good for governance.”
The former chief election commissioner of India, S.Y. Quraishi, said that the idea sounded good but there were lots of “hurdles” to clear.
Political analyst Urmilesh said there was a larger game plan than just expenses and manpower. “If the BJP is serious about containing electoral expenses then why are expenses increasing at every election? How come the BJP has managed to mop up such huge resources to spend in the just concluded elections?”
“There are many democracies in the world where national elections and state elections are conducted separately. So, the idea of ‘one nation one election’ is against the dynamism of democracy,” Urmilesh told Arab News.
“When the electoral process started in 1952, the elections to all the states and the center were held simultaneously and it continued for a few elections. But it could not work that way. You will always have a situation in a democracy where a state government will fall or get dissolved, then how will you handle the situation when you have a ‘one nation one poll’ concept?”
Urmilesh added: “The constitution makers did not make simultaneous election a constitutional obligation. That shows that they understood that in democracy you cannot work with an absolutist mind. I see some ulterior motive in promoting this kind of agenda. The opposition parties should oppose it with all their might.”