Simultaneous Elections and Federalism: Constitutional Implications and Beyond


I. Introduction

The present government has come up with the idea of ‘one nation, one elections’, and is looking forward to holding ‘simultaneous elections’ in 2019, that is, when the tenure of the ruling party expires. In a simultaneous election, the election cycle of the Lok sabha and Vidhan Sabha are synchronized together, and usually the voter is supposed to cast his vote for both the Legislative Assembly and State Assembly at the same polling booth. The government has justified the proposal by saying that ‘simultaneous elections’ will result in a stable form of government, reduction in expenditure, imposition of model code of conduct and save resources. However, it is essential to consider the Constitutional provisions and structure of government before implementing such plans. In this article I will argue against the proposed change in the format of election on three grounds. Firstly, it is against the constitutional provisions, that is, Article 172, Article 174 and Article 356. Secondly, it is against the principal of federalism. Thirdly it is against, the principal of democracy.

II. Implications of Simultaneous Elections

A. Simultaneous elections are against the constitutional provisions

Under Article 172 of the Constitution it has been provided that Legislative Assembly of every state, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting, and the expiry of the said term should result in the dissolution of the house. It also provides that the said period can be extended only in case of emergency.[1]

Article 174 of the constitution talks about the power of the Governor to dissolve the state Legislative Assembly.[2] In the context of dissolution of a state government, Article 356 is relevant as well, since it envisages the situations in which a state assembly can be dissolved by the president. It says that a State Assembly can be dissolved by the President, if on receipt of report from the governor or otherwise, he is satisfied that there is failure of Constitutional machinery in the state.[3] Even though the President and the Governor have been vested with the power to dissolve the State Legislative Assembly, that is not absolute in nature. The supreme Court in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India[4] has held that the premature dissolution of State Legislative Assembly by the President is subject to assent of both houses of Parliament and the validity of such dissolution is subject to judicial review, thus making premature dissolution of any state legislative assembly stringent. The dissolution has to be backed by solid justifications on relevant grounds as provided in the aforementioned articles.

The tenure of the present government will expire in 2019, which means fresh elections for the Lok Sabha will be held in 2019.  Going by the idea of ‘one nation, one vote’ if simultaneous elections take place in 2019, then, on one hand the tenure of State Assemblies in certain states, such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan etc. will be extended, and on the other hand the state assemblies of some other states, like Tamil Nadu, Bihar, West Bengal etc. will be prematurely dissolved.[5]

Hence, the simultaneous elections will result in both premature dissolution as well as extension of tenure of several state governments. This implies that there is an assured chance of the fall of a government in a particular state. However, our constitution clearly provides for the time limit for which a State Assembly should be in session and the circumstances in which such a time limit can be shortened or extended, but simultaneous elections don’t fall under any of the criteria. Neither, does the constitution provide for a circumstance where the fall of a government can be pre decided.

B. Simultanoues elections are against the principle of federalism

A state is said to be federal when different states combine together into a Union, yet do not sacrifice their independent character. It such a model of government, national integrity and unity coexists with state’s right.[6]

The learned author, H.M. Seervai, has opined that federal character is dominant in our constitution.[7] Whereas the Supreme Court has held that India is a quasi-federal country.[8] Despite of the absence of any unanimous opinion, it can be concluded that there is at least some “flavor” of federalism enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

The Supreme Court while shedding light on the nature of Indian federalism has stated that “The end aim of the essential character of the Indian federalism is to place the nation as a whole under control of a national Government, while the States are allowed to exercise their sovereign power within their legislative and coextensive executive and administrative sphere.”.[9] Moreover, the provision of Article 356, gives the president to dissolve a state legislative assembly, only when it is not functioning as per the constitutional provisions. Hence, it can be said that even though there is a hierarchy between center and state, where the center is placed above the state, the founding fathers of the constitution had intended that a state would exist quite independently of the center in terms of governance and would have the power exercise autonomy over its legislature and executive, as long as it is functioning according to the constitution.

Given that, bringing in simultaneous elections is against the federal character present in our Constitution, since the state governments in certain states would have to be dissolved on the whims and wishes of the center. Also, it might result in the dominance of national issues over local issues as the parties will be campaigning for both the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in the same campaign, the major media coverage and money power will add on to that problem as well.[10] Hence, such an elections will shift the focus from immediate issues to distant issues, defeating the whole purpose of federalism, which aims to address both national and local issues equally in a nation.

C. Simultaneous elections are against democracy

India is democratic country, which means that there is representative form of government, and more importance is given to the power of the people than the power of the government. The ruling party in every state has been wisely chosen by the citizens themselves, through a democratic process. The power of the people to choose a party to represent them at the state legislature for the period of five years is backed by constitutional provisions. Also, the people have the choice to re-elect the earlier government, or bring a new government at the end of the five years. Given that, if the simultaneous elections result in reduction or extension of tenure of state governments, then it will amount to gross disrespect of the power of representation given to the people by the Constitution and hence it is against the democratic values of our Government.

III.  Conclusion

Even though the government has proposed the said plan of simultaneous elections thinking that it will result in a stable form of governance and will save money and time as well, but such objectives can’t be achieved at the cost of constitutional provisions and fundamental principles of federalism and democracy.

As per the above discussion Constitutional provisions imply that the founding fathers of the constitution intended to keep the state government independent, barring certain circumstances. Hence, interfering with the function of state governments will not only amount to disrespect of that intention, but it will also hamper the policies which a state government intends to implement in a given five-year plan.

As discussed above, such an election will result in ignorance of immediate issues of citizens, which will lead to chaos in the country and make the government unstable. It should not be forgotten that, decision of the people should be given more importance, and they should be given enough time to evaluate the government in power. Moreover, it is the right of every ruling party to be given enough time to fulfill the promises they have made to the people, so that the people can select their representatives in the next elections wisely.

Instead of subverting the constitutional provisions and the spirit of the constitution, the government should let things be as they are because there is legitimate expectation on the part of the people and the state governments based on these constitutional mandates, and abruptly taking that away would be detrimental for our structure of governance.

[1] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 172.

[2] Supra note 1, Art. 174.

[3] Supra note 1, Art. 356.

[4] S.R. Bommai vs Union of India, 1994 AIR 1918.

[5] Rajindar Sachar, Simultaneous Lok Sabha, Assembly elections against federalism, December 31, 2016, available at (Last visited on February 22, 2018).

[6] Vijay Jaiswal, Federalism in Indian Constitution, August 24, 2013, available at (Last visited on February 21, 2018).

[7] H. M. Seervai, Constitutional Law of India 166 (4th ed., 1996).

[8] Supra note 4; State of West Bengal v. Union of India, AIR 1963 SC 1241.

[9] Supra note 4, ¶169.

[10] Garga Chatterjee, Why holding simultaneous Union and state elections will be a blow to democracy and federalism, September 26, 2016, available at (Last visited on February 22, 2018).

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