New Delhi: The Union government has refused to provide a clear answer to three Congress MPs on whether it has given a fixed deadline to the high-level committee, under former president Ram Nath Kovind, to submit its report on the implementation of the ‘one nation one election’ theory.
The starred question was jointly raised by Congress Lok Sabha MPs Adoor Prakash, Anto Antony, and Su. Thirunavukkarasar to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. They also sought more details on the committee.
Though the theory of ‘one nation one election’ has been advocated by leaders of the ruling dispensation, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government had remained tight-lipped about any move in that direction for quite a while.
However, things began to move in that direction in August-end.
While the government described a meeting between Union home minister Amit Shah and Minister of State (Independent Charge) Arjun Ram Meghwal with Kovind at his residence at the end of August as ‘a courtesy call’, on September 1, it notified a committee led by the former president to look into the possibility of simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections.
The notification on the formation of the eight-member committee drew media attention, particularly because it came just days before the Parliament was to be in a special session (between September 18 and 22) with the government not announcing any particular agenda for it. It was also the time when the Election Commission of India was finalising the schedule for the assembly elections in five states.
The government’s September 1 notification said that aside from Kovind, the committee would have Shah too. Opposition leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, now seen close to the Bharatiya Janata Party, were also named as members. Former Finance Commission chairman N.K. Singh, senior advocate Harish Salve, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap, and former chief vigilance commissioner Sanjay Kothari were the other members.
However, Chowdhury refused to be part of the committee, saying that it was tailor-made to reach certain conclusions.
On September 23, Kovind chaired the committee’s first meeting in New Delhi, during which it decided to invite political parties and the Law Commission to seek their views on the subject.
The Law Commission, on October 23, suggested a roadmap to the Kovind committee on how to proceed on the matter.
On December 8, while replying to the queries put up by the Congress MPs, the law ministry, in a written reply, avoided answering whether any fixed term had been set for the committee to submit its report. Its written statement only gave the objectives of the committee and also justified its action by banking on the precedent of parliamentary and assembly polls “mostly held simultaneously from 1951-52 to 1967, after which this cycle got broken”. Due to elections being organised every one or two years, it leads to more expenditure, diversion of manpower, including security forces, and “disruption of development work”, it said.
These arguments have been publicly stated by the prime minister, too, even prior to forming the Kovind-led committee.
In its statement in Parliament, the law ministry referred to the parliamentary standing committee on law and justice suggesting this theory in 2015 and the Law Commission mooting the same in 2018.
The mandate of the commission, as per the reply, is not only to suggest amendment to the constitution to make the simultaneous elections possible, but also to set up a framework suggesting phases and the time frame for the synchronisation.
The statement, however, had a line which said that the “high level committee shall start functioning immediately and make recommendations at the earliest.”
Though the committee is yet to submit its recommendations, on November 21, Kovind said he supported the idea of one nation one election, and asked all political parties to support it in “national interest”.