If someone were to claim that the idea of 'one nation one election' (ONOE) is against the concept of federalism as embodied in the Constitution of India, they would be just wrong. One nation one election is not without its share of constitutional issues, but federalism isn’t one of them.
Federalism is concerned with the autonomy and integrity of the federating units (state governments) from the federal unit (Central Government in India’s case).
One nation one election seeks to bring stability to the both, the Centre and the state governments. This means whatever issues arise, they will be faced at both the levels and there is no apparent danger of subversion of the autonomy of the states.
This leads us to the question that what kind of autonomy do the states enjoy from the Centre in India. If a comparative study were to be done, then India's Constitution would turn out to be one of the least federal constitutions across the globe. This is simply because the Central government has predominant powers in our constitutional scheme.
Unlike the USA, Indian states don't have their own Constitutions. Moreover, the states can be made, deleted, merged, demerged etc. whenever the central government deems it fit. The central government has mechanisms to frame laws even on the state subject and has residuary powers too. The central government can also, of course, declare an emergency and start the administration of the state itself, through the Governor.
A technical reading of the Constitution has even led some of the jurists to claim that the Indian constitution is not federal at all. Therefore, the so-called 'compromise on federalism' is difficult to find constitutional legitimacy.
One nation one election is certainly possible in the current constitutional scheme without disturbing the basic structure of the Constitution. The challenge is, however, to find a mechanism to address the event of loss of confidence of House by the incumbent government. Such eventuality has to be dealt with either a mid-term election, which will only have a government for the remainder of the term of the House or to put the state under the central rule for the remainder of the term. The latter option, if exercised, will certainly lead to a compromise on the federal structure.
A mid-term poll for the remaining term is the only constitutionally viable option for the one nation one election scheme to play out. This means that even though there is a chance of mid-term elections, the political class will be deterred to dissolve the house and use the option, as power will only be attained for the remainder of the term. Still, the efficiency of one nation one election to provide stable governments will remain questionable.
A much better and less debated option in such a scenario is adoption of the presidential form of government. Perhaps we attach too much sanctity to the contemporary constitutional scheme, which deters us from even debating radical changes to the Constitution. It is an established fact, validated from historical precedence as well, that the present constitutional scheme has been, almost totally borrowed from the Government of India Act, 1935, which was a British Legislation, enacted by Britain in its capacity of the ruling colonial power. It is anyway not a good precedent to continue to function in a way, which was designed by a colonial power.
The presidential form of government offers stability because the president at the Centre and governors at the state level, are directly elected for a fixed term, they are not bothered about the confidence of the Parliament. Any form of coalition politics will not influence the functioning of the executive, which is directly elected and is only answerable to the electorate. This means an end to the problem of poaching of MLAs and MPs in the event of a hung house, which leads to MLAs being virtually under house arrests, at various resorts.
In a Presidential form of government, there is no problem of policy paralysis because there is a surety that the term would last for a fixed tenure. The President is also free to appoint whosoever they wish, to man other portfolios. This means that they might not even be elected, and hence industry experts who otherwise will not enter politics ever, can be roped in to run ministries.
The concept of one nation one election is a given in the Presidential form of government. Since there is stability of the tenure, the elections can easily be streamlined to happen on the same time; unless, there is an impeachment, which is an utterly rare scenario: President Donald Trump of the USA, not being impeached till now is an evidence to this fact.
Hence, it is high time we at least debate radical reforms to the Constitution and not attach too much sanctity to the Constitution, because at the end of the day it is a document, which is open to amendments. The Constitution makers themselves incorporated provisions in the Constitution for amendments, which accords constituent power to the Parliament.
The author is an Assistant Professor of Law at Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @raghavwrong.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2018 13:12 PM