Indian panel calls for simultanous national and regional elections

Polls for parliament and India's 28 states are held at different times

India's former president Ram Nath Kovind hands over his committee's elections report to President Droupadi Murmu. Photo: President of India
Powered by automated translation

An Indian government-appointed committee led by former president Ram Nath Kovind has recommended the country should hold simultaneous national and regional elections to increase transparency, reduce costs and improve governance.

The world’s largest democracy of 1.4 billion people has a federal structure in which elections for parliament and for the legislatures of its 28 states are held separately. Both have five-year terms.

At least five state elections take place every year.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government has long championed “one nation, one election”, claiming that it would cut costs.

Mr Kovind submitted the committee's report to President Droupadi Murmu on Thursday.

“Based on suggestions from parties, experts and other stakeholders, the committee was of the unanimous view that simultaneous elections will bring fundamental transformation in the electoral process and overall governance,” the committee said in the report.

“Asynchronous elections cause uncertainty and instability, thwarting supply chains, business investments and economic growth.”

Indian elections are among world's costliest and need enormous logistical support from the administration in a country where millions of people are still living in poverty.

In the 2019 general election, the state, political parties and candidates spent a combined 550 billion rupees ($8 billion), according to the Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi.

The centre, a nonprofit think tank that tracks poll expenditure, estimated that the total poll-related spending for the general election due to be held in coming months would amount to $14 billion.

Besides the polling process, India's elections involve extravagant rallies and other public events, social media campaigns and widespread advertising.

Simultaneous state and parliamentary polls were the norm after India gained independence in 1947.

However, this ended when some legislative assemblies were dissolved prematurely in 1968 and 1969 and the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, was dissolved in 1970, one year before its term expired, prompting fresh elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government formed the “One Nation, One Election” committee in September last year to look into the feasibility of holding simultaneous national and regional elections.

Home Minister Amit Shah, other parliamentarians and opposition leaders are part of the nine-member committee.

Its report said it consulted 47 political parties, economists and the Election Commission of India.

At least 32 political parties supported the idea, whereas 15 others, including the main opposition Indian National Congress, opposed it, the report said.

Opposition parties argue that if national and state elections are held simultaneously, regional parties would lose to the bigger parties because of their greater influence and financial resources.

The panel has suggested that while polls for parliament’s lower house and state assemblies could be held together, elections for local bodies could be held 100 days later.

The report will not affect the upcoming election, which is expected to be held in May.

Updated: March 14, 2024, 12:26 PM