Combining state and general elections a good idea
Now that the Election Commission supports simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly elections across India—prime minister Narendra Modi is also said to be in favour of Lok Sabha, state assembly and local body polls together—the stage is set for working towards it. Apart from the fact that valuable money will be saved if the elections are held together, the bigger benefit will be the reduction in what is best called electoral paralysis, or the lack of decision-making by the central/state government because some state assembly or local body election is due—during the UPA tenure, for instance, the monthly diesel price hikes were put on hold due to an election taking place in one state or another on occasion; often enough, reforms were put on hold because there was no large enough window between elections to assemblies. This becomes even more problematic where, as now, the prime minister is the main campaigner for the party in assembly elections as well—in which case, the hectic campaign schedule distracts from running the government. Once all elections are held together, after the mammoth election process is over, the government will get a clear four years in which to carry out important reforms—and since this is also a large enough window for their results to be visible, it will make life easier for the political class.
Indeed, in the first two decades after Independence, such simultaneous elections were held in 1950-51, 1957, 1962 and 1967. That changed with state assemblies dissolved in 1968 and the union elections advanced to 1971. Combining all state assembly elections, and synchronising this with the general elections, will now pose a challenge since most have a different electoral cycle but a solution can be found. One view is that assemblies where elections are due either six months before or after the term of the current Lok Sabha be combined with the 2019 general elections. If this is done, elections to 10 states—Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Telangana—can be combined with the 2019 general elections.
Will voters get confused since national and state-level elections are quite different? Ideally, that shouldn’t happen since voters are quite savvy—in 2014, in any case, elections to Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim took place along with the general elections. But if that is a consideration, elections to states can be clubbed together but held within six months of the general elections. A larger discussion will throw up more solutions, but the larger point is that if electoral paralysis can be avoided, all attempts have to be made to ensure this.