One-India, One-Poll buzz refuses to die down
The buzz of a slightly early, combined poll for Parliament and state assemblies refuses to go away, with the latest speculation centered on the possibility of 10 state assembly elections being combined with that of the Lok Sabha.
This, the buzz grows, could be done by delaying elections in four states, advancing six others and clubbing the Parliamentary battle into one big “one-India, one-poll” dance of democracy. Further, this entire exercise could be held by February-March 2019.
Is this even possible? Unlikely, for a number of reasons including any move to postpone elections to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram would be challenged by rivals in court. Moreover, psychologically it may amount to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) perhaps being seen as afraid of facing the electorate. The ruling alliance will be forced to face a combined anti-incumbency of the State governments and the Central government.
BJP has been in office in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for the past 15 years. Rajasthan has a track record of not returning the same party to office since 1977. The ruling party is aware that the current trend in Hindi heartland states is not well disposed towards it. One shade of opinion thus feels that a combined Assembly and Lok Sabha election “would be a big political mistake”.
Others suggest that there are ways to achieve simultaneous polls in 10 states and the Lok Sabha general elections by putting State Governments of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram under Central rule and advancing polls due in 2019 for Haryana, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand. Elections to Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coincide with the national general elections.
The logistics in arranging the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) for combined regional and Lok Sabha elections by November this year may not possible. The Election Commission has already indicated that it can meet its obligation of arranging VVPAT compliant electronic voting machines (EVMs) by February next year
Meanwhile, as this buzz plays out, the BJP leadership continues to work on the organisational aspects with party president Amit Shah continuing whirlwind tours across the country with a special focus on West Bengal and Assam.
The current session of Parliament ends on Friday and the level of coordination by the opposition shows its willingness to put up a combined challenge as far as possible. Next six months would witness tough bargaining between the NDA allies as well as the regional groups and the grand old party, the Congress, to seize the initiative and emerge winners.
The broad indications emerging from the BJP camp points to the party reverting to its ultranationalist position on major domestic and foreign policy issues. The regional parties and the Congress, however, seek to build tactical state-level alliances drawing from each other’s strengths.
The draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and the Supreme Court hearing on Article 35A of the Constitution providing special privileges to the residents of the State. The petition on Article 35A was filed by an NGO close to the BJP. The Central government decided not to file a counter affidavit on the issue to leave the issue free for Supreme Court to decide on what is essentially an interpretation of law and the Constitution.
The granting of special status to Jammu and Kashmir has been an emotive for the BJP since the days Jana Sangh days. SP Mookerjee, the president of Jana Sangh, the precursor of BJP, had died in Jammu prison where he had gone to lead a protest against special status to J&K.
The NRC has given an opportunity to the BJP to rake up the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh, which has to change the demography of the border state of Assam. The issue assumes emotional connotation as there have been very few job opportunities available. Emotive issues help BJP reach out to its core voter and galvanise them in the run up to a tough electoral sweepstake.
The opposition in a show of greater cohesion are planning to approach the Election Commission of India to revert to ballot papers and not conduct it through electronic voting machine (EVM). The opposition parties have been critical of the use of EVMs alleging that the machines could easily be tampered to manipulate poll results.
The BJP, however, maintains that the EVM issue is being raked up by the opposition to cover up their defeat in several electoral battles in the past four years. With Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) manipulation is not feasible and in case of any defect in the EVM senior officials immediately replace the machines concerned.
With the Monsoon session of Parliament coming to end on Friday, the ruling alliance and its challengers would be ironing out their rough edges. The real test of electoral battle will begin with Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram electing their regional assemblies before the end of the year.