CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury’s reply to the Law Commission of India’s letter seeking the opinion of the Party on the issue of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies

I am writing to you in response to your letter of 14 June 2018 where you have sought the opinion of Communist Party of India (Marxist) on the  issue of holding simultaneous elections  to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures.

In response to your letter, I am enclosing a note which contains the considered objections of the CPI(M) to such a proposal. 

In our opinion, the consideration of the proposal for simultaneous elections goes well beyond the ambit of a law reform and would entail major amendments to the Indian Constitution.  This, in our opinion, would run against both the letter and spirit of our Constitution.

The Indian Constitution defines the centrality of the will of the people.  The preamble defines this most eloquently by stating, “We, the People of India” and “Do hereby Adopt, Enact and Give to ourselves this Constitution”.  People exercise their sovereignty through their elected representatives who are accountable to the people and the Executive, or, Government that assumes office as a consequence of elections is, in turn, accountable to the legislature.  These aspects of our Constitution, we believe, cannot be undermined, or tweaked. 

Further, we believe that such a proposal is inherently anti-democratic and negates the principles of federalism which is a fundamental feature of our Constitution.

Since the enclosed CPI(M)’s note is self-explanatory, while thanking you for inviting us for a personal interaction, we feel that, that may not be necessary.

CPI(M) Stand on Simultaneous Elections

The argument against enforcing simultaneous elections for Parliament and the state legislatures is not only technical in nature, or, that it is impractical.  The basic objection to the concept is that it is fundamentally anti-democratic  and strikes at the root of the parliamentary democratic system as ordained in the Constitution.

To hold the Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections together would require  tampering with the Constitutional scheme of accountability of the government to the legislature.   Article 75 (3) states that the collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers is to the House of the People.  Similarly, Article 164 (1) concerning the Council of Ministers states that it is collectively responsible to the legislative assembly of the state. 

Under the Constitution, if a government loses the confidence of the legislature either by being voted out on a no-confidence motion, or, losing a vote on a Money Bill, it is bound to resign. If no alternative government can be formed, the House is dissolved and a mid-term election held. 

There is no fixity of tenure  enshrined in the Constitution either for the Lok Sabha, or,  for the state legislatures.  Both Article 83 (2) and Article 172 (1) specify that the term of the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assembly will be for five years “unless sooner dissolved”. 

Any attempt to prolong the life of the Lok Sabha, or, legislature will be not only unconstitutional but anti-democratic.  It is the will of the people through their elected representatives that must prevail. 

In order to bring about simultaneous elections, there are various suggestions being made to amend the Constitution. One of the suggestions made by a discussion paper released by the Niti Aayog is that if the dissolution of the Lok Sabha  cannot be avoided and the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long, then  a provision can be made for the President to carry out the administration of the country, on the aid and advice of a Council of Ministers to be appointed by him/her till the next House is constituted.  This outrageous proposal would make the President head the executive.  This is bringing an executive Presidency through the back door. 

The other suggestion is that if, at the time of the dissolution of the House, the remaining period is long, then fresh elections would be held and the term of the House would be only for the rest of the remaining period, i.e., if the dissolution of the House takes place say after two years of its term, then, the subsequent election will be held for a three year term.  So, actually, there will be more frequent Lok Sabha elections, which defeats the purpose, for which simultaneous elections are being advocated. 

The other casualty of the efforts to straightjacket simultaneous elections will be federalism.  One of the proposals for aligning the Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections made by the 79th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, 2015 and the Niti Aayog  paper is to extend the life of some of the assemblies, or, shorten the tenure of some in a phased manner.  Both reduction of the tenure of the assembly, or, its extension are an assault on the rights of the states and circumscribes the rights of citizens to elect  their legislators. 

Another suggestion in the case of state legislatures is that if dissolution takes place after the major part of the term is over, the Governor could run the state for the rest of the term of the House. This, again, would mean Central rule.

Various proposals are put forth to circumvent the accountability of the legislature and to ensure fixity of tenure of the House. One of the proposals mooted, including in the Draft Working Paper of the Law Commission of India, is that when a no-confidence motion is moved, it must be accompanied by a motion to elect a new leader of the House. This means that the right of the legislators to vote out a government is circumscribed and conditional to their electing a new government. 

The right of elected legislators and members of the Lok Sabha to vote out any government cannot be circumscribed, nor can the  right of a ruling party which has a stable majority in the House to recommend dissolution of the House and hold early elections be also curtailed. 

All the proposals to bring state assembly elections in alignment with the Lok Sabha election reveal a disregard for the federal principle and the rights of the states.  It should not be forgotten that, in the first place, many of the elections to the state assemblies got detached from the general elections due to the arbitrary misuse of Article 356 by the Central government.  The process began with the dismissal of the Communist Ministry in Kerala in 1959.

In the name of ensuring simultaneity of elections, all these proposals would enhance the role of the Governor and Central intervention. 

India is a vast country with myriad diversities and only a federal set-up can  sustain political democracy. Having elections in states at different times is one aspect of the federal system. 

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is, therefore, totally opposed to any artificial attempt to bring about simultaneous elections which can only be done by trampling upon the existing Constitutional scheme of parliamentary democracy.