he ruling BJP has, through a carefully crafted move, taken its campaign for simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies to a new pitch this week. Notably, this is being done at the precise moment when the countdown for the next Lok Sabha polls has just about begun. A proposal raised first by Prime Minister Narendra Modi a while ago, had failed to gain traction. The renewed push made by BJP chief Amit Shah now by writing a letter to the Law Commission to facilitate this idea is seen in the context of a perceived fear of defeat for the saffron party in some of the upcoming assembly polls. The BJP can ill afford to suffer such a defeat while it is at the doorsteps of the crucial General Election, which is eight months away.
The reference here is to states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, in all of which the BJP is now the ruling party. By-election results in recent months have made it amply clear that the BJP is getting increasingly unpopular in these states, most notably in Rajasthan, as an anti-incumbency wave is building up. A defeat for the BJP in these three states will not be just a loss of face for the party but will also undoubtedly set the tone for the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP will have to face the elections with a negative image, of a party that has lost its shine, if it first loses the assembly polls and then faces the Lok Sabha trial of strength.
Today, what is clear to all is that the Modi Magic that worked wonders in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls no more exists. The Karnataka elections, for one, was proof of this, if at all one ignores the results of the by-elections in other states, which mostly went against the BJP. Gujarat, the PM’s own home state that stood solidly behind him for many years, had shown proof of Modi’s waning influence in the last assembly elections. Despite a full-throated campaign across the state by Modi himself, the party failed to retain its previous strength and just about managed to form government. The push to have the One Nation One Poll proposal, if accepted and implemented, is seen as a way to enable the BJP escape disasters before the Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP brass has been working overtime to retain public support before 2019 elections. BJP has little to show by way of effective governance in the past over four years. Some steps such as Demonetisation and the GST rollout are showing an impact in the way the rupee has nosedived into its worst tally against the US dollar in the last few months. The national economy has suffered major shocks and it would take years for it to recover from this. Although there is no doubt a very strong group that still firmly believes that things such as the economy do not matter, the markets facing serious odds against this backdrop seems to conjure a turbulent future. The failure on the part of the government to create more avenues for jobs for the youth, the failure to implement promises to improve the lot of farmers, and failures on several other fronts such as defence, foreign affairs and MSP are bound to put the BJP on the defensive as the nation gets set for general elections. Added to this is the gathering storm over unanswered questions, or secrecy, relating to the Rafale and other controversial governmental deals. It would look like the Opposition would have enough of ammunition to target the ruling party and PM Modi in the next Lok Sabha polls, if only they get their act together and bring forth a set of workable proposals on how to avert the imminent catastrophe that people face.
The One Nation One Poll idea is not new. This was how Independent India started on its democratic journey in 1951-52 with its first general elections that extended over four months from October 25, 1951 to February 21, 1952. However, times gradually demanded fresh elections. Whenever a particular state government lost people’s support, an alliance partner pulled out or a coalition could not pull through, there was obviously need for fresh elections in that state rather than allowing President’s rule or a forced Central governance for prolonged periods. The taxpayers’ money was justifiably spent on the taxpayers’ right to vote and choose another viable alternative. Today, the BJP’s demand for fresh polls might not be so very hard to accept and implement. But the bigger question is, once the reset button is pressed, how does one democratically sustain it? If simultaneous elections are conducted and a coalition government collapses after a few months, would the people be forced to be under President’s rule or Central government’s authority? If the spirit of One Nation One Poll is to be kept intact, will it in turn damage the democratic spirit and rights of people to choose their own government? Will it break up the federal structure and bring India into a centralised form of governance with many states lingering under central authority without any state representation?
Discussions and evolution of a consensus on such key questions that remain unanswered, are important. This would require time, and involvement of all national and regional parties. It is well advised that no hurried decision is taken on these core democratic matters.