1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Can India benefit from simultaneous elections?

Murali Krishnan in New Delhi
September 21, 2023

The Indian government is exploring the idea of holding simultaneous elections at the national, state and local levels. But the opposition has slammed it, saying it goes against the spirit of federalism.

Indian parliament building
Opposition parties have slammed the proposal, saying it would go against the federal structure of the stateImage: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

Early this month, Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi's government set up a committee to explore the feasibility of its project dubbed "One Nation, One Election," or ONOE.

The eight-member, high-level committee, led by former President Ram Nath Kovind, is expected to meet later this week to analyze and recommend possible scenarios for holding simultaneous elections.

What would the proposed electoral system mean?

The idea has been advocated by India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as Modi since it came to power in 2014.

The ONOE envisages holding elections to India's lower house of parliament (Lok Sabha) at the same time as votes for state assemblies, municipalities and village councils (panchayats) — once every five years.

However, opposition parties and political commentators have slammed the proposal, saying it would take a toll on the federal structure envisioned in the Constitution and affect state governments' autonomy and independence.

"The ONOE is an assault on the Constitution. We reject it as it is an attack on federalism. It will require at least five constitutional amendments," said Congress leader P Chidambaram.

"The BJP knows it does not have the numbers to pass these constitutional amendments, yet if it puts forward this mirage, it is only to divert attention from the pressing issues and create a false narrative," he added. 

"We demand fair election, not 'One Nation, One Election,'" said Sanjay Raut from the regional political party Shiv Sena in the western state of Maharashtra. "This move is being brought to divert the attention from our demand for a fair election."

Many regional parties also pointed out that they had limited resources and would struggle to fight national and state-level campaigns simultaneously.

India's opposition alliance 'I.N.D.I.A' challenges Modi

The government supports concurrent elections to reduce wasting public funds.

It also argues that frequent elections encourage political parties to prioritize populist measures focused on individual benefits instead of nationalist ones.

Keeping costs down

A report released by the Centre for Media Studies, an independent policy and development research think tank, estimates that at least 550 billion Indian rupees (€6.2 billion, $6.1 billion) was spent for the 2019 general and assembly elections, making them the world's most expensive.

"In 20 years, involving six elections to Lok Sabha between 1998 and 2019, the election expenditure has gone up by around six times from rupees 90 billion to around rupees 550 billion," the report said.

"It is interesting to see how the ruling party gears up to spend much more than others," the report added.

Proponents of the move say that expenditure is one of the central arguments supporting the idea and improving the efficiency of governance.

"It is an idea whose time has come. Elections are more and more expensive, and a constant election watch is taking a toll on policy-making. Let the committee examine the constitutional tangles, but we must be open-minded about this," BJP spokesperson Tom Vadakkan told DW.

"Non-stop campaigning for state elections disrupts the business of government."

Strengthening a Hindu-nationalist identity

However, trying to centralize and homogenize a vast and diverse country is not easy as it bypasses the federal structure, which is essentially a union of states.

India debates history schoolbooks

"It is the absurdity of the project, which, at its core, is about undermining federalism. It seeks to legitimize itself by citing the constraints that democracy places on our systems. We must not allow ourselves to be deluded by the promised gains," Yamini Aiyar, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a public policy research think tank, told DW.

Aiyar pointed out that the problem of election costs was better dealt with through reforms in political financing, including scrapping the opaque electoral bonds.

"On the other hand, the problem of political parties being in permanent election mode is an outcome of the wider pathology of centralization of our political party system, which is hardly going to be resolved through simultaneous polls," she added.

Some believe the move also attempts to strengthen the central government and promote a pan-Indian Hindu-nationalist identity.

It is perhaps for this reason that the government has been trying to implement policies such as "one nation, one ration card' for subsidized grain, as well as proposing other schemes such as "one nation, one tax," "one nation, one market," and for police officers, "one nation, one uniform."

The committee is expected to assess the requirements regarding personnel and logistical support, including electronic voting machines and other resources necessary for conducting such simultaneous elections.

Edited by: Keith Walker

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11