Holding all polls together: Modi's counter stroke to Indira's master stroke?

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The Election Commission (EC) has hinted that the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections can be held together, echoing the thoughts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who feels that all elections---from the topmost (Parliament) to ground (local bodies)---should be held together to save time and money.

Holding all polls together will be blow to some remaining vestiges of the Gandhi legacy

If the thought is really translated into practice, it will be another blow to the last few remaining vestiges of the Gandhi politics. It was Indira Gandhi, India's third prime minister, who had separated the years of holding the central and state elections in India in 1971 as a strategic move.


narendra modi and indira gandhi

Why Indira Gandhi gave the master stroke by separating central and state polls in 1971

Indira Gandhi could not become the iron lady she is known as in the earlier years. Though she won her first parliamentary election in 1967, her authority was not above everybody else. She had to compromise with the syndicate comprising senior members like Kamaraj and the only way she could rise as the strongest leader was by eliminating all opponents.

To win over people's hearts in a time which was not conducive (food shortage, rising prices, unemployment etc), Indira turned to a populist brand of politics in a bid to outsmart the factions against her. After the Congress faced more mid-term poll reverses in 1969, Indira sensed an opportunity and started taking one after another measures that seemed pro-people but actually were aimed at getting rid of her opponents in the party.

Soon after, Indira was expelled from the Congress and she formed her own Congress (R) as against the Congress (O) or the original party. Indira still wanted to go ahead with her socialist policies but her bid to abolish the privy purses of the dethroned princely states failed in Parliament.

There were other issues like bank nationalisation and right to provate property which Indira Gandhi wanted to get a parliamentary majority to pursue her socialist (actually populist) ideals and hence she decided to bring the scheduled parliamentary election in 1972 ahead by one year.

The master stroke earned Indira a rich dividend in 1971

It was a master stroke by an over-confident Indira Gandhi from all angles. It not only made her socialist credentials an appealing issue in the national election but also separated the national from the state issues. With the parliamentary election now being held in a separate year, the Congress's state leaders (wherein lied the strength of Indira's political opposition that time) saw their importance getting diminished.

Indira Gandhi's populist call of "Garibi Hatao" gave her a splendid victory and when that was coupled with the historic victory over Pakistan in the Bangladesh liberation war, Indira Gandhi went beyond anybody else's reach.

The cycles of national and state elections have continued broken since then till Modi raised the issue recently. There is no doubt that bringing all elections back to the same year will be beneficial for a number of reasons.

2 reasons why going back to 1952-1967 pattern will be beneficial today

It will bring more focus on governance; state elections have become referendum of sort for party/alliance ruling at Centre

First, it will give a stability to the party in power at the Centre. The assembly elections have virtually turned into a referendum for the party/alliance which is ruling at the Centre and continuous electoral contests make it difficult to pursue long-term goals.

One loss in a state and the hyper-active media starts counting it as the fall of the ruling party, regardless of the differences in the central and state politics. By holding all elections together, both the central and state governments (the former more) will get a time to focus on governance and not run around worrying about the majority figure in the legislature.

Monetary misutilisation can be reduced by holding all polls together under a tight focus

Secondly, by holding all elections together in an atmosphere of quasi-emergency, the scope of monetary irregularities can also be reduced by a huge degree. Almost all elections nowadays come with several allegations about misuse of money and violation of code of conduct.

In a complete election mode, the authorities can mobilise the entire machinery to keep tabs on the exercise, although mammoth.
Indira Gandhi had once centralised the functioning of India's democracy by separating the election years for the Centre and states.

Today, by making the entire exercise a one-time affair, the balance of the country's democractic functioning will be re-established. And not to say, the amount of time, money and energy it will save.

But for Modi and Amit Shah, holding all elections together could be a political punch as it would rattle an already shaken Congress further.

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