CCG Statement on simultaneous elections to Parliament and State Assemblies

08 December 2020

The Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG) is a group of former civil servants from the All India and Central Services and is non-partisan and apolitical in nature. Many of its members have conducted, managed and supervised elections to Parliament and State Assemblies during their time in government service.

We have noted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for simultaneous elections to Parliament and State Assemblies saying that it is “not only a subject of debate but a necessity for India.” The main reason given is to avoid frequent suspension of development programs and welfare activities due to the repeated imposition of the Model Code of Conduct by the Election Commission of India. The additional reasons given are to avoid huge expenditure in conducting frequent elections and to reduce the influence of black money, caste, religion and communal issues in elections.

Proponents of this suggestion argue thus: “Getting out of the ‘permanent election mode’ will be a structural change in mind-set that could potentially provide the much-needed space to governments to focus on governance and long-term transformational measures without worrying about impending elections.” Supporting this contention, some quote the American example of simultaneous elections for all electoral offices from President downwards.

We are of the view that these arguments lack sincerity and are being used only to divert attention from the many flaws in our electoral laws and practices, including those relating to safeguards in the use of EVMs and to the use of post-election defections to gain power. To the  Prime Minister’s rhetorical question, “Why should the country waste so much money?” the response would be that money is being spent on a number of items other than elections as well, e.g. purchasing aircraft for the President and Prime Minister’s exclusive travel, building massive Parliament and Secretariat buildings in Delhi’s Central Vista and many others.

It is well known that  ‘simultaneous elections’ is what India started with in 1951 and continued with up to 1967, during which period Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assembly elections were held together without much fanfare. It was after this period that the cycle of synchronised elections got disrupted, primarily because many state governments (as well as governments at the Centre) could not complete their term of five years. Restoring status quo ante to synchronise elections to the State Legislatures and Parliament would present major constitutional hurdles, apart from huge logistics, security, and manpower issues being involved.

The ‘One-Nation-One-Election’ proposal, as envisaged, has little regard for the fact that in a federal democracy, once the respective domains of each unit of democracy – small or big – have been constitutionally demarcated and defined, that unit functions autonomously within its domain. The interests, the priorities, the mores and the conventions of each unit are its own and are not subordinate to those of the Union, except where the Constitution itself so mandates. The term of the Legislative Assembly of a state has nothing to do with the term of the Lok Sabha and depends primarily on the way electoral politics plays out within that state.

Holding of simultaneous elections is a political agenda of a state aiming at a unitary polity, in which the Centre is conflated with ‘national’ and the States treated as its subordinates, with their individual political fortunes deferring to those of the Centre. This is an assault on the fundamental principle of federalism in which each unit of democracy and governance is expected to function with relative autonomy and take its own decisions, whether it is the timing of elections, the framing of its laws and/or formulating its own policies in respect of subjects in the State List/Concurrent List.

What is worrying is not just the disregard for the federal character of the country, which is implicit in the ‘One-Nation-One-Election’ idea, but the barely concealed contempt for electoral democracy itself. The dangerous assumption here is that the need to periodically seek the mandate of the people is an unnecessary burden which comes in the way of efficiency. Governance, here, is viewed as something superior to and outside the practice of democracy and as the preserve of the administrative and political executive which controls it. The implication is that the people, the voters, have nothing to do with it, a totally unacceptable principle in a democracy.

India is a Union of States and the administrative convenience of the Central Government or the Election Commission of India cannot dictate the political processes of a state. Doing so could decimate whatever is left of the federal nature of the country and alter the basic structure of the Constitution as laid down by the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharati (1973) and the S.R. Bommai (1994) cases.

At the same time, it is common knowledge that there are serious flaws in the current electoral processes and practices, with many electoral reforms being urgently needed. These include the use of money and muscle power in elections, the increasing participation of criminal elements in the election process as candidates, the faulty preparation of electoral rolls, the lackadaisical implementation of the Model Code of Conduct and addressing the mounting concerns on the integrity of EVM voting and VVPAT counting, as well as on the opaque electoral bonds system. We are of the considered view that it is electoral reforms that are the need of the hour today and not the idea of “One-Nation-One-Election”, which, if implemented, will be destructive of our federal structure. If the Government of India sincerely wish to improve the operation of the electoral system in India, it should work in tandem with all political parties (and in consultation with the Election Commission of India) to initiate reforms to improve the fairness and transparency of the election process.

SATYAMEVA JAYATE

 (90 signatories, as below)

 

1. Anita Agnihotri IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Social Justice Empowerment, GoI
2. V.S. Ailawadi IAS (Retd.) Former Vice Chairman, Delhi Development Authority
3. S.P. Ambrose IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
4. Anand Arni R&AW (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
5. G. Balachandhran IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
6. Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
7. Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
8. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
9. Rana Banerji IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat (R&AW), GoI
10. Sharad Behar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
11. Aurobindo Behera IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha
12. Madhu Bhaduri IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Portugal
13. Meeran C Borwankar IPS (Retd.) Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI
14. Ravi Budhiraja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI
15. Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
16. Rachel Chatterjee IAS (Retd.) Former Special Chief Secretary, Agriculture, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh
17. Kalyani Chaudhuri IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
18. Anna Dani IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
19. Vibha Puri Das IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
20. P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
21. Pradeep K. Deb IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI
22. Keshav Desiraju IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
23. M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
24. K.P. Fabian IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
25. Gourisankar Ghosh IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
26. Suresh K. Goel IFS (Retd.) Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI
27. S. Gopal IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, GoI
28. S.K. Guha IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI
29. H.S. Gujral IFoS (Retd.) Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Govt. of Punjab
30. Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
31. Wajahat Habibullah IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner
32. Deepa Hari IRS (Resigned)  
33. Sajjad Hassan IAS (Retd.) Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur
34. Siraj Hussain IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture, GoI
35. Najeeb Jung IAS (Retd.) Former Lieutenant Governor, Delhi
36. Vinod C. Khanna IFS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, MEA, GoI
37. Rahul Khullar IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
38. Ajai Kumar IFoS(Retd.) Former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
39. Brijesh Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
40. P.K. Lahiri IAS (Retd.) Former ED, Asian Development Bank & Former Revenue Secretary, GoI
41. Aloke B. Lal IPS (Retd.) Former Director General (Prosecution), Govt. of Uttarakhand
42. Subodh Lal IPoS (Resigned) Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
43. B.B. Mahajan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Deptt. of Food, GoI
44. Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
45. C.K. Mathew IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
46. Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
47. Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
48. Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
49. Avinash Mohananey IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Sikkim
50. Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
51. Shiv Shankar Mukherjee IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
52. Sobha Nambisan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka
53. P.G.J. Nampoothiri IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
54. Surendra Nath IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Finance Commission, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
55. P. Joy Oommen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Chhattisgarh
56. Amitabha Pande IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
57. Alok Perti IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
58. R. Poornalingam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI
59. T.R. Raghunandan IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI
60. V.P. Raja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission
61. C. Babu Rajeev IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI
62. K. Sujatha Rao IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
63. M.Y. Rao IAS (Retd.)  
64. Satwant Reddy IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, GoI
65. Vijaya Latha Reddy IFS (Retd.) Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI
66. Julio Ribeiro IPS (Retd.) Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania
67. Aruna Roy IAS (Resigned)  
68. Manabendra N. Roy IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
69. A.K. Samanta IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police (Intelligence), Govt. of West Bengal
70. Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
71. G. Sankaran IC&CES (Retd.) Former President, Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal
72. S. Satyabhama IAS (Retd.) Former Chairperson, National Seeds Corporation, GoI
73. N.C. Saxena IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
74. Ardhendu Sen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
75. Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
76. Aftab Seth IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
77. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFoS (Retd.) Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation, Govt. of Gujarat
78. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
79. Navrekha Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
80. Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
81. Sujatha Singh IFS (Retd.) Former Foreign Secretary, GoI
82. Tirlochan Singh IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, National Commission for Minorities, GoI
83. Jawhar Sircar IAS (Retd.)

 

Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati
84. Thanksy Thekkekera IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Minorities Development, Govt. of Maharashtra
85. P.S.S. Thomas IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission
86. Geetha Thoopal IRAS (Retd.) Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata
87. Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir
88. Jawed Usmani IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh & Former Chief Information Commissioner, Uttar Pradesh
89. Ashok Vajpeyi IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi
90. Ramani Venkatesan IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra

 

 

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