BJP President Amit Shah (Source: PTI)

Is The BJP Banking On Simultaneous Polls To Overcome Anti-Incumbency?

The push for simultaneous polls in India has intensified, ahead of the all-important 2019 general elections.

BJP President Amit Shah on Monday wrote an eight-page letter to the Law Commission advocating the cause of ‘One Nation, One Poll’, while suggesting that opposition to it was “politically motivated”. Separate elections, he said, was straining the state’s resources. The party is mulling over a proposal to conduct polls to at least 11 state assemblies along with the 2019 general elections, newswire PTI reported, quoting unnamed BJP sources.

BJP National Spokesperson Narendra Taneja told BloombergQuint that simultaneous elections will allow states to focus on governance without worrying about the next set of polls. He slammed the opposition for politicising an “issue of national importance”, and instead asked them to participate in discussions over it.

According to a Niti Aayog report that cited data by the Election Commission of India, managing simultaneous elections would cost around Rs 4,500 crore, compared with the Rs 3,870 crore that the country spent on the 2014 general election. The report said that each state assembly election costs as much as Rs 300 crore.

The issue has, understandably, divided opinion among political circles. While the Congress has vehemently opposed simultaneous elections, calling it unconstitutional, the proposal seems to have found backing among other parties, including the Samajwadi Party and Telangana Rashtra Samiti.

If the proposal is to go through, the terms of various state assemblies will have to either be extended or curtailed, necessitating an amendment to the Constitution. In addition, the Election Commission will have to surmount logistical hurdles—such as procuring a large amount of electronic voting machines and voter-verifiable paper audit trails and involving thousands of government staff in the entire exercise.

Simultaneous elections also involve planning and coordination with the local administration and police officials across India to ensure that the world’s largest electorate exercises its franchise—which is no easy task. Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said as much on Tuesday. “Logistics arrangements with regard to 100 percent availability of VVPATs will be a constraint,” PTI quoted Rawat as saying.

Ranajit Mukherjee, secretary of the AICC research department said the BJP’s push for simultaneous polls ahead of the upcoming assembly polls to three states “was due to political reasons”. “If you see the (BJP’s) push this year, you’d clearly understand that there’s anti-incumbency which the BJP is afraid of.”

Will BJP Do A Nehru With Modi?

The ABP-CVoter opinion poll for Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan—which are BJP-ruled and are due for elections later this year—indicated a decisive edge for the Congress.

BJP, the opinion poll indicates, takes the pole position in elections to the Parliament and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also perceived as the most popular political leader.

Is The  BJP Banking On Simultaneous Polls To Overcome Anti-Incumbency?
Is The  BJP Banking On Simultaneous Polls To Overcome Anti-Incumbency?

Senior fellow at CVoter Manu Sharma told BloombergQuint that the BJP will look to exploit Modi’s popularity—just like how Congress banked on the nation’s first premier, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in the first two decades of independent India.

“If the BJP loses the assembly elections, its momentum will be derailed,” he said. “In the event of simultaneous elections, there could be a split vote with some parties preferred at the state and others at the Centre.”

You can watch the discussion here: