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  Opinion   Columnists  19 Mar 2024  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | ONOE logistics challenge; threat to India’s diversity

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | ONOE logistics challenge; threat to India’s diversity

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Mar 20, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Mar 20, 2024, 12:05 am IST

India's Election Dynamics: Challenges and Implications of "One Nation, One Election" Proposal

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar with Election Commissioners Gyanesh Kumar and S.S. Sandhu during announcement of the schedule for General Elections 2024, and elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Odisha, in New Delhi, Saturday, March 16, 2024. Lok Sabha elections will be held in seven phases beginning from April 19 and results will be announced on June 4. (PTI Photo/Vijay Verma)
 Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar with Election Commissioners Gyanesh Kumar and S.S. Sandhu during announcement of the schedule for General Elections 2024, and elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Odisha, in New Delhi, Saturday, March 16, 2024. Lok Sabha elections will be held in seven phases beginning from April 19 and results will be announced on June 4. (PTI Photo/Vijay Verma)

In the 75-minute press conference held by chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar, flanked by two newly-appointed election commissioners Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, and other officials on March 16, Mr Kumar answered a question about the lengthy span of seven phases, which is alleged to be favouring the ruling party, the BJP. He said that it takes time to shift the troops, the Central armed police forces, from one place to another across the country where voting is to take place, and that is the reason for the seven phases lasting from April 19 to June 1.

Surprisingly, no one asked about the number of CAPF personnel pressed into election duty, and what were the more sensitive places.

It is interesting that on March 14, a committee headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind had sent a “One Nation, One Election” recommendation to President Droupadi Murmu. If the election to the existing 543 seats of the Lok Sabha and four state Assemblies involved elaborate security preparations, apart from the election machinery of more than 10 lakh polling booths, over five lakh electronic voting machines (EVMs) and tens of thousands of people in charge of the booths, checking the voters’ identity and getting their signatures before they can press the button, and seven phases spread over six weeks, then just consider the magnitude of the preparations and the time it would take to hold elections to the Lok Sabha, whose number is expected to go up to 800 seats from the present 543, as well as Assembly elections in all 28 states and eight Union Territories. If a Lok Sabha election involving 968 million voters is a gigantic task, one involving voting in all the states and UTs in addition would be on a much higher scale. The Minotaur’s Maze would be child’s play compared to the logistical labyrinth that a “One Nation, One Election” would involve.

It will be argued that from 1952 to 1967, the “one election” concept for Parliament and the state Assemblies was done without much ado, and that India after 70 years of elections can handle it, whatever be the scale. And it is a plausible argument. It can be done. One of the reasons that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sold on the idea is because he loves the huge spectacle of a nation of a billion-plus people exercising their franchise in a rhythmic pattern similar to the contingent of soldiers marching with exact rhythm in the Republic Day parade in the national capital. Many others have suggested that the staggered elections to different state Assemblies is a big distraction in the political calendar of the country, and there is a need to reduce its occurrence. The desire for simplifying the electoral process is understandable. Mr Modi, however, thinks beyond mere convenience. His is the sensibility of totalitarian aesthetics. Everything has to be done on a mega scale because it is one way of showcasing the prowess of the nation.

Big is majestic in the political arena. It is an ancient concept of power and glory. The Roman rulers and soldiers believed that they were the masters of the world. The Chinese emperors of old believed theirs was the centre of the world though the extent of the empire stopped at the Great Wall. Indian rulers with big empires, the Mauryas, the Mughals and the British, did not allow the size of the country and their control over it let their imagination of glory run riot. The Indian empire-builders were keenly aware of the political, social and geographical diversity of the country. The unity of the country was not based on the idea of a single sovereign power but in the consciousness of a common cultural thread running through the country. The unity was a subtle, delicate one, based on a shared value system of human solidarity. The sense of unity was not based on strength and might.

The “civilisational moment”, a phrase that has gained vulgar prominence in the boastful talk of the Hindutva chatterati, especially after the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya built on the site of the razed Babri Masjid, which is alleged to have been built on the site of the ruins of an earlier temple, is an assertion of what has been come to be known as muscular nationalism. There is no pretence of civilisational value. It is a crude flexing of nationalist muscle.

So, a single national election day where a billion people would cast their vote is seen as the might of the nation, an expression of the will of the nation. There is the implied expectation that the will of the nation, expressed through a billion people, is one. This is the ominous aspect of the desire and aspiration of “One Nation, One Election”. This is just a short step away from a leader enjoying the trust of the endorsement and trust of the billion people. The totalitarian underpinning of “One Nation” cannot be overlooked. The cultural unity that held India through the centuries was rooted in diversity, and diversity is not the fashion kaleidoscope of what many countries boast of, even as ruthless political unity and uniformity is imposed. The diversity of costumes and arts was the basis of the once mighty Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under the rule of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union (CPSU), underpinned by dictatorial power of the State. Diversity is not simply about variety. It is also about contradictions. Political diversity has to be based on a clash of ideologies and clash of ideas. The striving for national unity by the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is one of uniformity.

An election in a democratic system is not just a mechanical process. It is also a reflection of the culture of democracy where fierce disagreements form the order of the system. The “One Nation, One Election” needs to be assessed beyond the sense of order it lends to the electoral system. There is a possibility that it will induce the people towards fear and shun differences in the name of national unity.

Independent India is not to be confined to the independence of the nation-state. It is the independence of the 140 billion people, of 140 billion free choices. The freedom movement was about freeing Indians, and not just an abstract entity called India.

Tags: one nation one election, election commissioner rajiv kumar, ram nath kovind