By Brij Bhardwaj
A trial balloon is being hoisted by the ruling BJP in India to achieve its objective of holding simultaneous elections to state assemblies and Parliament by opting for an early poll for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, along with eight states that will be going to polls in 2018. Parliamentary elections are due only in 2019. This can be achieved as BJP rules all states which have to go to the polls in 2018.
The gamble of dissolving the Lok Sabha before the scheduled time was tried by the BJP also in 2004. However, that gambit did not work and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance front came to power.
This time the objective is different, as BJP wants to make the polls Modi-centric and thus help state leaders overcome the anti-incumbency problems they are facing. This is true in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. By linking polls in these states with the general election, the BJP hopes that the huge nationwide popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will work in their favour.
This will also help BJP to achieve its objective of holding simultaneous polls for both the Lok Sabha and the states, which has been advocated by Modi and endorsed by President Ram Nath Kovind in his address to the joint session of Parliament on January 29.
A beginning will be made even if the goal of institutionalising simultaneous polls remains a distant feature because such a proposal will require an amendment to the Constitution, requiring a two-third majority in parliament, which the BJP doesn’t possess. With opposition parties opposed to any such move, the goal will remain a dream. Before such a change is introduced, many questions will have to be answered. For instance if the ruling party at the Centre or in any state loses its majority before the term is completed, will it be denied popular rule until national polls are held?
The problem could become even more complicated if the federal government in New Delhi falls, after losing a no-confidence motion (as a BJP-led government did in 1998) or in case of desertion by members, or whatever other reason. These situations would warrant the necessity of immediate polls.
Even the merits of holding simultaneous polls have not been clearly spelt out. For instance, issues in elections for the Lok Sabha are different from those for state assemblies. Voters exercise a choice which is likely to be different for both sets of elections. It is important to recall that India, instead of adopting a presidential form of government, has chosen a federal structure, in which power is shared between the centre and states.
The BJP’s desire is to turn the elections from a contest between political parties and candidates into a contest between personalities. This will lead to a concentration of power instead of strengthening democracy, in which candidates of a political party get elected to the Lok Sabha and then elect their leader.
A situation where power remains in the hands of a few at the top will not strengthen democracy. Instead it will pull the country towards a limited form of dictatorship. The BJP, which has in the past been opposed to a concentration of power in the hands of few and opposed dynastic rule, has suddenly started glorifying personalities.
Many members are competing to glorify Modi’s leadership because they feel that he alone can win elections for them. It is time the BJP realises that by using Modi for all polls - from local bodies to state assemblies and Lok Sabha - a law of diminishing returns has started operating.
As seen in the Gujarat elections, the appeal is not working beyond a point and the BJP will have to start performing instead of depending on winning elections through a personality cult.
Advocating simultaneous national and state elections by using the logic that it would save the country money may look attractive on the surface but is unlikely to work in the long run. Work at the ground level and leadership at all levels are necessary to perform in a large country like India and to win polls.
(The author is a veteran journalist and commentator)