Thought September 08, 2023 / 05:02 pm UTC

One Nation, One Election: Modi’s Move Against One Opposition

By Sanya Suri

The government’s proposal of "One Nation, One Election" (ONOE) has sparked intense debate and discussions in India's political landscape about the risk of an early election (some have speculated about November 23). It appears that the opposition is unlikely to be in favour of this move, as this takes away from its potential to gather some momentum ahead of the national elections in May 2024. However, while the government may consider this an effective ploy to destroy the opposition completely, it is unlikely to provide significant tailwinds to the eventual result. 

One Election Proposal 

The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)-led government has proposed the One Nation, One Election (ONOE) move, the benefit of which are being considered by an autonomous committee. The government has placed former president, Ramnath Kovind at the helm of a committee to study this proposal. However, the only opposition member in the committee, and a member of Congress party, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has resigned. As a consequence, this issue has now taken centre stage. Speculation is rife that a special session of parliament might be convened to push through constitutional amendments for ONOE, but such a far-reaching change requires extensive consensus and multiple constitutional amendments, making it a challenging endeavour.

Understanding ONOE

The ONOE proposal, which looks to have synchronised elections at both the state and centre level, and a uniform election calendar, is not a new one. It has been discussed within political circles for years, with leaders like the BJP’s LK Advani advocating for simultaneous elections to the lower house (the Lok Sabha) and state assemblies. However, it remained largely unimplemented until now. Meanwhile, the Modi government has championed this idea as a revolutionary step towards streamlining India's electoral process.

The argument in favour of the ONOE is that frequent elections, occurring at various levels of government, lead to waste of time and expenditure. Additionally, the code of conduct rules during elections disrupt governance for extended periods, making it inefficient and costly, while also disturbing economic activity. With ONOE, elected representatives can allocate more time to legislative responsibilities, ultimately leading to more effective governance and improved policy implementation. Further, back-to-back elections can lead to voter fatigue and decreased participation. Synchronized elections could alleviate this issue, as voters would only need to cast their ballots once in several years, potentially resulting in higher voter turnout.

However, implementing ONOE poses significant constitutional and logistical challenges. The Indian Constitution mandates fixed terms for state assemblies and the lower house, necessitating constitutional amendments to align their schedules. Coordinating elections across a vast and diverse nation like India is a daunting task, fraught with administrative complexities and potential delays. ONOE could favour national parties over regional ones. Smaller regional parties may struggle to compete effectively in simultaneous elections, as they lack the resources and reach of larger national parties. This could lead to the concentration of political power in the hands of a few dominant players, which would ultimately weaken democracy. 

Move to Decimate Opposition 

The ruling BJP is using this move as a ploy to limit the newly formed I.N.D.I.A alliance’s ability to gather momentum in the upcoming state elections ahead of the national one in 2024. Historical data indicates that often the result of the national election is influenced by the state elections results in the run up to it. These state elections provide influence voter sentiment across other states and can result in damaging a party’s popularity. These state elections would also allow for the I.N.D.I.A. coalition to highlight the BJP’s failures repeatedly over the course of nine months and fuel an anti-incumbent sentiment in some of these major states where the BJP is currently ruling. Meanwhile, the move could also backfire for the BJP if the narrative set by the government is misunderstood, and viewed as anti-democratic. ONOE seems to disregard the diversity and uniqueness of India's states, each with its own political culture and regional parties. Implementation of ONOE could overlook these local particularities and impose a uniform election calendar, which could be viewed as undemocratic and unconstitutional.

The Road Ahead

While the idea of One Nation, One Election is intriguing and offers potential benefits, it should be approached with caution. The proposal's success hinges on the delicate balance between achieving administrative efficiency and upholding the principles of democratic representation and accountability. However, implementing such a significant change in the electoral process requires broad consensus and careful consideration of its implications. In our view, the prevailing political climate, characterized by strained centre-state relations and limited cooperation between political parties, poses significant challenges to the smooth implementation of ONOE. 

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Analyst Declaration
I, Sanya Suri, the lead analyst declare that the views expressed herein are mine and are clear, fair and not misleading at the time of publication. They have not been influenced by any relationship, either a personal relationship of mine or a relationship of the firm, to any entity described or referred to herein nor to any client of Continuum Economics nor has any inducement been received in relation to those views. I further declare that in the preparation and publication of this report I have at all times followed all relevant Continuum Economics compliance protocols including those reasonably seeking to prevent the receipt or misuse of material non-public information.