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Govt appoints panel headed by Kovind on simultaneous polls; Oppn slams move

PNS|New Delhi

A day after announcing a “special session” of Parliament, the government on Friday constituted a committee headed by former president Ram Nath Kovind to explore the feasibility of “one nation, one election”, opening the possibility of Lok Sabha polls being advanced so that they could be held with a string of state assembly elections. The move caught opposition bloc INDIA, holding their conclave in Mumbai, by surprise and further raised the political heat. The opposition alliance slammed the decision as a “threat” to the country’s federal structure. Meanwhile, arrangements are also being made for group photos of MPs during the “special session” of Parliament from September 18-22, sparking another set of speculation as such a picture is generally taken at the beginning or end of the Parliament term.

Sources said on Friday that Kovind will explore the feasibility of the exercise and the mechanism to see how the country can go back to having simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly polls, as was the case till 1967.

He is expected to speak to experts and may also consult leaders of different political parties, they said.

While the government has kept the agenda of the session under wraps, its move has come amid indications that the “special session” could be the last meeting of the 17th Lok Sabha and general elections can be advanced.

Since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a strong votary for the idea of simultaneous polls, including local bodies, citing the financial burden caused by the almost continuous election cycle and jolt to development work during the polling period.

Kovind too had echoed Modi’s view and expressed his support to the idea after becoming President in 2017.

Addressing Parliament, he had said in 2018, “frequent elections not only impose a huge burden on human resources but also impede the development process due to the promulgation of the model code of conduct.”

Like Modi, he had called for a sustained debate and expressed hope that all political parties would reach a consensus on this issue.

With the Modi government approaching the end of its second term, there is a view in its top echelon that it can no longer let the issue drag on and needs to move decisively to underscore its purposefulness after debating on the topic for years.

With the ruling BJP under Modi always animated by grander themes and big-ticket ideas to rally popular support, the issue will also suit the party politically and catch the opposition off-guard, leaders in the party believe.

Opposition leaders alleged that the ongoing meeting of the INDIA alliance has rattled the ruling BJP and forced the government to take a decision to set up the committee.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge called the government’s move a “diversion and distraction”.

“No matter how many diversions and distractions the ruling regime throws at the people, the citizens of India shall not be betrayed anymore,” Kharge said on X, without making any direct reference to the formation of the committee.

Priyanka Kakkar of the Aam Aadmi Party said the move betrays the “panic” in the ruling party after they saw the unity of opposition parties under the INDIA bloc. “First they reduced LPG prices by Rs 200 and now the panic is so much that they are thinking of amending the Constitution. They have realised that they are not winning the upcoming elections.”

The recent moves by the government have thrown open the possibility of advancing the general elections and some state polls.

Assembly polls are due in five states- Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Rajasthan- in November-December and they are scheduled to be followed by the Lok Sabha elections in May-June next year.

Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh assemblies are scheduled to go to the polls with the Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP enjoys good relations with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy and his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik even though they are not formally part of its alliance.

The BJP is in power in Arunachal while Sikkim is ruled by an ally.

Maharashtra and Haryana, two states where the BJP is in power with allies, and JMM-Congress-ruled Jharkhand are slated to go for polls after the Lok Sabha elections.

Two Law Commissions in the past have supported the need for simultaneous polls while pointing out the extensive constitutional mechanism required to bring it to fruition.

The Election Commission had earlier said that holding simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha and all assemblies would need any no-confidence motion to be coupled with a ‘confidence motion’, while any mid-term election can be conducted only for the remainder of the term.

Proposing amendments to the Constitution, the EC had said the term of Lok Sabha would normally commence and expire on a particular date (and not on the date on which it completes five years from the date of its first sitting).

The department-related standing committee on law and personnel, which came out with a report on the “Feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies” in December 2015 had cited the suggestions made by the EC on the issue.

“The terms of all State Legislative Assemblies should also normally come to an end on the date on which the term of the Lok Sabha is expiring. That may also mean, to begin with as a one-time measure, that the term for the existing Legislative Assemblies will have to be either extended beyond five years or curtailed so that fresh elections can be held simultaneously with Lok Sabha election,” the report of the parliamentary panel had said citing EC’s suggestions.

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