Despite BJP's denial, simultaneous polls to Lok Sabha, eight state assemblies could be held in 2019

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has officially rejected the speculation that its leadership was mulling over a proposal to hold simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the assemblies of 11 states it governs around the March-May period next year.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra called it a "misconception" and said that there was no mention of simultaneous elections in party chief Amit Shah's letter to the Law Commission of India.

Patra was stating what was expected. As the party spokesperson, he would not have made any such statement without orders from the BJP's central headquarters. It could be inferred that the party leadership wanted to end the speculation.

File image of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. AFP

File image of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. AFP

Those who deal closely with the Constitution, law and politics knew that the speculation — with its origin at unknown sources — was without basis and would not go anywhere within the current legal framework. The notion that the BJP wanted to postpone the elections in four states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram — to next year would be counterproductive for the party for two reasons:

First, it would give the impression that the BJP was apprehensive about the outcome of the Assembly elections and hence, wanted to buy time. The saffron party has been governing both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for the past 15 years and hopes to win both states for a fourth consecutive term.

Also, despite the sweeping victory in Rajasthan in the last elections, the BJP is now making an all-out effort to fight the signs of disillusionment with the Vasundhara Raje government, which has been evident from the results of both Assembly and parliamentary bypolls. The BJP is also aiming to spread its saffron wave to Mizoram, which is currently under Congress rule. At this stage, the BJP wants to steer clear of sending confusing signals.

Second, the BJP leadership knows fully well that it is beyond the competence of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre or of the governments it runs in these states to postpone the elections to beyond the scheduled expiry of the current regimes.

Speculative reports in various newspapers and TV channels said that the government could postpone the elections in these four states by imposing President's Rule for a few months and then holding the polls. This was a completely fallacious argument as there is nothing in the current constitutional framework that suggests that a state can be placed under President's Rule to hold Assembly elections at a later date.

President's Rule can be imposed in a state only in case of a constitutional breakdown, as defined in Article 356 of the Constitution. "A situation has arisen in which the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with provisions of this Constitution," it reads.

The Election Commission of India is constitutionally mandated to hold free and fair polls within a stipulated period. For argument's sake, even if the Modi government does decide to get into conflict with the polling monitor and defy constitutional norms, two other aspects come into play — the need to get the move ratified by both Houses of Parliament at the next session and possible court intervention at any stage of President's Rule being promulgated.

One should also understand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah would not have risen to their current high had they not had the foresight and in-depth understanding of situations, both on ground and constitutional.

Coming back to the question of simultaneous polls. What Patra did not mention at his press briefing was holding elections in the states scheduled to go to the polls in the later half of 2019.

Consider the following: The Election Commission held the Lok Sabha polls between March and May in 2014. Elections were also held in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha the same year. These were followed by elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir from September to December.

The Election Commission will hold the next parliamentary polls in consultation with the Centre — for the deployment of paramilitary forces to ensure law and order — and with the states concerned — to seek their view on dissolution, as the EC can hold elections in a state six months ahead of schedule. With three BJP-ruled states — Maharastra, Haryana and Jharkhand — scheduled to go the polls within three to six months of the Lok Sabha elections next year, there is a possibility that they will recommend dissolving the state assemblies and holding the elections simultaneously with the parliamentary polls.

This makes it highly likely that between March and May next year, there will be eight Assembly elections in India — in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Odisha, Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand — along with the Lok Sabha polls, not in 11 BJP-ruled states as reports said.

By creating a hype for simultaneous polls — the One Nation, One Poll idea — the BJP leadership has put its opponents under undue pressure. The angry rants of the Congress and its allies over the subject helps the saffron party build a favorable public opinion for itself that its rivals are scared of it and they are trying to stall a reformist idea. Their charge that by asking for simultaneous polls, the BJP is trying to kill India's federal structure is also a fallacious argument — simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and assemblies were held in India till 1967. Did India make a dangerous start to federalism after Independence? The answer is no.

Under the Indira Gandhi administration, states were dissolved before schedule and parliamentary elections were also held early — as seen in 1971 — and called a year later — in the case of the 1977 polls because of the Emergency. Did Indira Gandhi help the case of federalism? The answer would be a big no.

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Updated Date: Aug 14, 2018 23:14:42 IST

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