The recent flurry of activity within the Narendra Modi government has raised eyebrows and stirred the political pot. With the unexpected convening of an out-of-turn parliamentary session and the formation of a panel led by former President Ramnath Kovind to explore the feasibility of implementing a one-nation policy, one can’t help but wonder if this is more about “shock and awe” politics than a genuine intent to introduce such a contentious proposal. These bold moves are widely perceived as a prelude to positioning for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, yet their practicality remains questionable. The timing, strategically synchronised with the Mumbai session of the INDIA bloc of opposition parties, is undoubtedly designed to disrupt the steady progress of opposition unity – a development that has been causing unease for Prime Minister Modi and his ruling party.
The term “shock and awe” may have originated in the military realm but seems aptly applicable here. It was famously used by former US defense secretary Ronald Rumsfeld during the American invasion of Afghanistan, a move that triggered a series of events reshaping contemporary world history, albeit not for the better. The consequences were dire, destabilizing nations and creating fertile ground for terrorism. Whether the Modi government’s “awe and shock” strategy will lead to similar consequences remains to be seen, but the intent is clear: sow confusion and chaos to disrupt opposition unity. In response, the Mumbai session has had to adjust its agenda, prioritizing seat-sharing negotiations ahead of less critical matters, such as selecting a national convenor and a common PM candidate. Thus far, the shock-and-awe tactics seem to be working.
However, the odds are stacked against swift adoption of a one-nation, one-election policy. The limited timeframe, coupled with the extensive deliberations and legislative processes required, make significant progress in the special session nearly impossible, except for generating noise. The ruling party could choose not to wait for the current Lok Sabha’s full term to expire, but achieving simultaneous elections, even in several states, would entail extending or abbreviating some state assembly tenures – a process requiring constitutional amendments ratified by at least half the states. This appears impractical. Still, it’s plausible that elections might be synchronised in a group of states to coincide with the parliamentary elections, although nationwide simultaneous elections seem far from reality. Elections are scheduled for five state assemblies this year, while seven more will see their tenures end next year, concurrent with the Lok Sabha. Some of these states, such as Maharashtra, Haryana, and Arunachal Pradesh, are governed by the BJP, while Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have parties open to cooperation with the BJP. The Law Commission had previously proposed aligning all states with elections in the same year.
Yet, the political landscape has evolved since the era of simultaneous elections up to 1967, marked by Congress dominance both at the Centre and in the states. Today, powerful regional parties with divergent interests often clash with the ruling party at the Centre, creating instability and thwarting consensus. The shift towards regional politics has shattered any hope of uniform state assembly tenures. One positive aspect of these discussions is the proposal to link traditional no-confidence motions with resolutions expressing confidence in a new government, mitigating the risk of premature dissolution. While legislators typically resist shortened tenures due to their financial implications, the prospect of a new government assuming office without dissolving the incumbent one could foster stability, particularly at the state level.