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One nation, One election UPSC NOTE

 One nation, One election

  • In September 2023, the Union Government set up a ‘High Level Committee on One Nation, One Election’ under the chairmanship of former President of India, Ramnath Kovind

  • The High Level Committee has met on three occasions and sought the views of various national and State political parties on the subject of a common elections schedule. 

  • Though there is no definitive timeline for the Committee to submit its recommendations. 

  • The fact that the timing of this exercise coincides with the lead-up to the general elections in 2024 raises pertinent doubts. 

  • Nevertheless, as the outcome of this exercise has the potential to alter the fundamentals of our democratic set-up and reset the federal structure, it is necessary to examine the legal issues at the earliest juncture.

  • There are compelling reasons to believe that the High Level Committee is likely to return a recommendation in favour of a common schedule comprising elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies overlooking genuine constitutional and legal concerns

  • This is why all the attention, in the aftermath of this exercise, would entirely focus on the Supreme Court of India

  • This would be India’s Baker v. Carr moment where the Supreme Court of the U.S. deliberated the concept of “entering the political thicket”.

  • The Indian Supreme Court, which has self-characterised its constitutional role as the “sentinel on the qui vive”, would be called upon to determine, quickly and purposefully, the ultimate fate of Indian democracy.

Are common elections feasible?

  • One of the reasons assigned in support of One Nation, One Election is the high amount of expenditure towards the conduct of elections

  • It is reported that the 2014 general elections cost the public exchequer an estimated ₹3,870 crore

  • It is argued that common elections for the Union Parliament and State Assemblies would reduce expenditure significantly. 

  • Another reason put forth by proponents of a common election is that the Model Code of Conduct comes into effect twice in a five year cycle, which affects the seamless conduct of government business and results in ‘governance downtime’.

  • Opponents of the common elections contend that these reasons are logically and factually untenable

  • The cost of holding free and fair elections to elect a government of the choice of the people is a price that can never be high

  • There are occasions where a government may not complete a full term of five years, and elections may be held again. 

  • Such occurrences are expressions of the democratic system and ought to be accepted.

  • Likewise, the Model Code of Conduct and other guidelines issued by the Election Commission are necessary pains to ensure that executive influence over voters is kept to a minimum and the playing field, during the election period, remains level

  • In any case, it sounds strange for a Union government and the Election Commission that have refrained from holding Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, for nearly five years, to

express strong concerns regarding governance downtime.

Legal concerns

  • In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994), the Supreme Court declared that the States have an independent constitutional existence, and they have as important a role to play in the political, social, educational and cultural life of the people as the Union. 

  • The Constitution provides for a specific tenure for the State Legislatures, which is five years from the date appointed for the first meeting. 

  • A similar provision also exists for the tenure of the Union Parliament

  • Therefore, the introduction of a common election process would necessarily require alteration of the existing duration of a number of State Legislatures. 

  • This would go against the express language in the Constitution and be in violation of the view expressed by the Supreme Court in the S.R. Bommai case. 

  • Therefore, any such action that impinges upon the independent constitutional existence of a State by altering the duration of its Legislative Assembly would naturally be anti-federal and unconstitutional.

  • The next test would be that of bias, exclusion, and inequality adopted in this exercise. 

  • A cursory glance of the website created by the High Level Committee, intended to be a repository of all relevant information on the subject and act as a platform for interaction from all stakeholders, shows that it is available only in English and Hindi. 

  • This is to say that such a landmark consultation process is being conducted in one of the 22 official languages of the Union.

  • Finally, there is a question that goes to the root of the independence of the Election Commission,.

  • A constitutional body endowed with autonomy to take independent decisions regarding elections. 

  • Similar to demonetisation, when the Reserve Bank of India was kept in the dark, the Election Commission seems to be a silent spectator to the entire process undertaken by the High Level Committee set up by the Union government.

Can One Nation, One Election be stopped?

  • In the U.K., home of the common law jurisprudence, Parliament is supreme. 

  • However, the Indian constitutional architecture is structured differently granting higher courts inherent and broad powers of judicial review when executive actions transgress the fields

assigned to them. 

  • The stage is set for a constitutional showdown in the not-too-distant future.

  • One that will raise the question of whether constitutional courts, especially the Supreme Court, will enter the political thicket

  • At the moment, there seems to be no alternative but to enter and wade through the thicket, if the constitutional architecture of this country is to be preserved.

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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: One nation, One election UPSC NOTE
One nation, One election UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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