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A Case for Simultaneous Centre-State Polls in India

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The Republic of India is the world’s largest democracy. More than 800 million voters are eligible to exercise their right to elect a government. Democratic decentralization has ensured that every voter has a chance to elect a representative of his choice at a national, state and local level.

The Indian democracy, in spite of large size, is highly stable and there has always been a peaceful transition of power between governments. Aside from Indira Gandhi’s brief flirtation with emergency, the democratic institutions of India have, are and will remain strong. The Election Commission of India (ECI) is an independent institution charged with conducting free and fair elections. One of the most famous Chief Election Commissioner of India, T.N. Seshan is credited with making the ECI free, ruthless and a highly competent body. During elections to the national or a state level, a mode code of conduct (MCC) is enforced in the region. During the MCC, all officers are under the jurisdiction of the ECI and the current dispensation cannot make any declarations or promises to sway the electorate. MCC ensures, a level playing field for all, taking the throne away from the king and forcing him to slug in the mud with his competitors. But on the flipside, during MCC, the entire government machinery is geared towards the successful completion of the elections, at the cost of their core responsibilities i.e. administration and execution of government schemes. Also, constant elections (1 National, 29 State and 2 UTs) ensure that the country is perpetually in a state of election mania and no party, ruling or otherwise can risk to take a stand contradictory to the voting patterns of the state about to go to voting. This has prompted a few leaders and thinkers to propose the need for simultaneous elections in the entire country.

The year 2014 heralded a new chapter in the Indian Politics. An ambitious leader, Narendra Modi supported by able and energetic supporters took the entire country by storm and won the first simple majority in the Indian lower house in over 30 years. It was no mean feat and considering the odds stacked against Narendra Modi, nothing less than a miracle. However, the leader (or more aptly the General) never halted his cavalries after this victory. His army fought battles after battles, for them every battle was a battle of survival. With his guns never stopped blazing, his horses ever on a gallop, his men ever on the move, the General found or had very little time to consolidate his victories. Consequently, very less time was actually devoted to administration and most of the time and energies spent on discussing the battle plans for the next fray. Three years on, with elections due every 6 months, Modi’s army is showing signs of fatigue. His army has bloated in numbers but is fast losing its edge and thus, needs new weapons and some much needed rest. Modi needs to put together newer weapons (programs & schemes for development and implement them on the ground) before his forces are led to another major battle. It thus comes as no surprise that one of the strongest proponents of the simultaneous polls is the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.    

It would be interesting if the polls for the India’s lower house of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Indian State Assemblies are help together. The ECI has claimed that it is well equipped to handle simultaneous polls. However, there are a few challenges that need to be solved before such a change can be implemented nationwide. The primary motive of this article is to explore the possible shortcomings of the idea and explore suitable solutions to it.

One of the primary shortcoming of such a system proposed by the detractors of the proposal is the lack of political consensus needed for such an arrangement. Yes, this is true. Barring a few parties, not many parties are keen on this idea. While political consensus on such an issue will be difficult to establish for the proponents of the proposal, the detractors seem to forget that the strongest political party in India, the BJP and its undisputed leader, Narendra Modi is firmly behind the proposal. The deft maneuvering of Narendra Modi and the political compromises made by his team to ensure a speedy passage of the Goods & Service Tax is not only laudable but also a template for how Modi & his team can ensure the passage of any sensitive matter or bill of importance.

Also, if we are to have simultaneous polls for the Centre & the State the terms of the various state assemblies will likely to be shortened or extended in order to accommodate such an arrangement. Possible candidates for start year of such an implementation are either 2019 or 2022. While it is too soon to comment on 2019 (Modi government lacks the critical numbers it needs to push forth various bills in the Indian Upper House), 2022-2023 appears to be a logical choice. Modi government can provide extension to all state assemblies going to polls in 2021 to the year of the poll and shorten the duration of election of the states that went to polls in 2019 or 2020. Also, there would be a need to shorten the duration of the National Lower House by a year or two if we go for this arrangement. While there are constitutional precedents for these type of arrangements, it would be interesting to see how this can be implemented nation-wide. Modi must need to win a simple majority in all the elections upto 2019 to see his dream pass else he would lose the numbers needed to pass for the constitutional amendments. Also, the term of the J&K assembly will have to reduce from 6 years to 5 years to bring it to the same length with the rest of the country.

Elections are a biggest celebrations of the human freedom and it is imperative that adequate security be put in place that all voters be at a peace of mind when the voting takes place. There needs to enough companies of paramilitary forces deployed so that voting can take place smoothly and free of violence. While it is true that Indian Paramilitary comprised of several different forces is stretched thin and has its hands full, with proper management and conducting the elections in multiple phases, the Indian Paramilitary forces are sufficient to conduct the elections smoothly. Also, since polling for both state and national assembly would be carried out in the same go, a single deployment of troops can ensure the protection without any hassles. This will also reduce the manpower requirement for the conduct of elections.

Now, a major question which arises is that what if any state assembly or worse, the national parliament are unable to reach a consensus on a new government or an elected government falls midway. In this case, by-polls for the region in question can be conducted and the newly elected government can hold charge for the remainder of the total duration, just like a constituency bypoll, only on a larger scale.

Hence, while it is true that simultaneous polls are a radical idea and its implementation, an uphill task but it nothing other the ordinary and the present dispensation can easily ensure its acceptance. However, if Narendra Modi loses in 2019, this idea will die a silent and quick death.

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South Asia

Abrogation of Article 370 and Pakistan’s Pathetic Response

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Pakistan, which is a party to Kashmir dispute could not make significant move after the Indian decision to scrap Article 370. The fragile economy, conventional military asymmetry and limited influence in international community restrict the options for Pakistan to take any strong stance against Indian illegal decision.

A month ago the government of BJP illegally dissolved the special status of Jammu and Kashmir through demolishing the Article 370. The article provides immunity to Jammu and Kashmir from Indian laws except foreign affairs, finance and communications. The decision is profoundly rejected by masses of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. In the mean time the opposition parties in India also expressed strong dissatisfaction against decision and predicted severe repercussions for Indian state. The decision has also been challenged in the Indian Supreme Court and hearing has already been started. Yet, since the 5th August Kashmir is under siege, curfew has been imposed, communication network, medical and health facilities have been blocked. The international human rights organizations and defenders issued a genocide warning and warned India not to commit genocide.

In this critical situation which is developed by India, Pakistan took stance to stand by Kashmir. Pakistan highlighted the violent action which engulfed the rights and lives of Kashmiri people’s. Although Pakistan expressed strong resistance and proclaimed to use all the means to give Kashmiri’s their right, but there is a huge difference in words and deeds. On behest of Pakistan, China called UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue and Chinese ambassador strongly condemned the Indian action and urged both parties to resolve the dispute through peaceful means. Yet it is important to point out that permanent members of UNSC refused to issue a post meeting joint   statement.

Here it is wise to highlight that the international politics is dominated by the self-interests of dominant powers and weak states have no say in the system. Pakistan could not compete with Indian power in international relations. After scrapping the article, India immediately sought foreign support and Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to different states. Modi visited France, Bahrain and UAE, while Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan only made phone calls to seek support against Indian action. This clearly disclosed the inefficiency of Pakistan to counter the Indian narrative.

Indian economic and investment potential is another factor behind cool response of international powers. India is trading partner of many countries and most prominent among them are USA, UK, UAE, China, European Union and Australia. The US has invested 9 million in India during the 2016 and UK has signed the commercial deals of 9.3 million recently. Australia is benefitted from Indian students and its education export is 2 billion dollars. EU a group of 27 independent states is another major investor and trade partner of India with 2.5 % international shares.

In contemporary international politics, diaspora is a backbone of any nation and same is true for India. It is observed that Indians are residing almost every influential state. More than 3.5 million Indians are working in UAE. During the 2015, Indian share was 16% in expats residing in the US, and Saudi Arabia host 1.9 million Indians. Kuwait having 1 million Indian workers and Oman 777,632 Indians. Europe also host the 1.2 million Indians.

The bilateral trade of India with US, China, EU, Japan, and Australia is impressive. In 2019, bilateral trade of India-China crossed the 100 billion, which expects to grow further. The US is second largest trading partner of India in goods, and the single largest export destination of Indian exporters. The bilateral trade has been grew at 7.59% annually from 68.4 billion in 2008 to 142.1 billion in 2018.

The 8.8 million Pakistanis are residing in western states, 4.7 million are living in EU and 1.2 in U.K. But Pakistan failed to activate its diaspora to promote national interests of the state. The Pakistani leadership never paid serious attention to engage diaspora, which resulted in poor representation of Pakistan in international community. On the other hand, Indian diaspora is much influential and have strong say in policies of US and EU. Their skills and education help them to climb the ladder of success and influence. So, it is high time for Pakistan to devise an effective strategy to lobby the national interests and engage diaspora. The diaspora is considered the defense line as they bridge the gap between their parent and host state. 

Pakistan’s economic structure is fragile with rising debt and prices of commodities. The country is dependent on international monitory institutions to repay its debt which crossed over 100 billion dollars. It is on 150thposition in poverty index among 189 countries according to UN Human Development Indicators. The value of rupee is decreased to lowest level and government is losing its credibility. Pakistan is spending its 20% budget on Army which is higher than education, health and social development allocation. The fragile economy, poor coordination in policy making and influence of military in foreign policy making has reduced the role of other state institutions. Although, current civilian government claims that civilian and military leadership is on same page, but the poor and ill-coordinated response exposed the fault lines. The top hierarchy of civilian and political leadership did not bother itself to convey Pakistani position on Kashmir, except making statements.

If Pakistan really want to influence the international community, then it needs to fix its poor economy, to improve its human and social system, engage diaspora, make effective and inclusive foreign and security policy. The economic, political and military power can guarantee the national interests of the country. So Pakistan work tirelessly on all the fronts to achieve the status of major power.

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Pakistan’s peace-loving gestures are considered its weakness, unfortunately

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Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and a responsible state. The leadership, civil and military. Both are visionary and rational very much. Pakistan was the hub of western tourists in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, due to its natural beauty, friendly and hospitable environment, and affordable living. Economic growth was one of the highest in this part of the world. But suffered a lot since the 1980s, due to the situation in Afghanistan. It was not our war, but unfortunately, we were pushed into this war. As a result, Pakistan offered 80,000 precious lives of Pakistani nationals, an economic loss of estimated up to 250 billion US dollars. In addition to it, extremism, terrorism, trafficking, smuggling, ethnicity, intolerance, gun, and drug culture, etc. were a gift. Due to the war-like situations during the last 4 decades, nations spared all resources, including human resources, financial resources etc on imposed war-front. As a result, industrial agriculture, infrastructure development, education, SW&T, R&D, Innovation, Commercialization, Health Sector, etc all walks of life suffered a lot and as result, today facing the worst economic crisis with over 100 billion foreign debt.

But, after having so many bitter lessons, the nation is even more mature and trained to survive under any circumstances. In fact, has emerged one of the most resilient nation. India staged the drama of “Pulwan” on 14 February this year, and without collecting evidence and investigation, just within hours, blamed Pakistan and threatened Pakistan. Pakistan offered to extend full cooperation in investigation and punish the responsible. But, India, according to pre-plan, attacked Pakistan on the 25th of February and dropped bombs in Balakot a city deep inside Pakistan. The leadership of Pakistan is very much sensible and rational and noticed that India is pushing Pakistan into full-scale war. The visionary leadership in Pakistan realized the consequences of war, especially when, both India and Pakistan, both are nuclear states, possessing enough piles of lethal weapons to destroy each other completely, and its impact on the region as well as global. Formulated a smart strategy to respond on the 27th of February, giving a message to India, that although Pakistan has capabilities and enjoys supremacy over India, it still sticks to “Love-For-Peace” and does not wish to opt for war, successfully averted to escalate to a full-fledged war. Even that, Pakistan released the captured pilot of Indian air force inside Pakistan territory, as a good-will gesture.

India revoked its own constitution on the 5th of August and imposed curfew in Kashmir. It is an act of war and violation of UN charter, Simla Agreement and all norms & practices of civilized world. Siege of Kashmir, complete black-out by suspending Internet, mobile phone services. Cutting all modes of communication, evacuating all foreigners and visitors from Kashmir. Keeping people under house arrest. Occupying forces are killing, arresting, detaining and raping on a mass scale and draconian laws imposed empowered the security forces to shot at a spot on suspicion only, with any judicial process. After 42 days of curfew, people are facing a severe shortage of food, fuel, electricity, medicines, and life is completely at a halt, stand-still status. It is the largest curfew in the known-history of human beings, as around 8 million people are under siege, and Kashmir has been turned into a big jail, people are treated as prisoners. India’s atrocities and brutalities have crossed all records of human rights violations.

UN, Human Rights Organizations, Mainstream Media, International organizations, NGOs, the whole International community have shown deep concerns on Indian atrocities. Protests, agitations, rallies, and demonstrations, all around the world as solidarity with the people of Kashmir have been witnessed. European Parliaments, UNSC, OIC, SCO, and all other international organizations are worried about the deteriorated situation of humanity in Kashmir.

Kashmir is a dispute between China, Pakistan, and India. India has illegally occupied a part of Kashmir known as Indian Occupied Kashmir. But people of Kashmir are spread all over three parts, i.e in Pakistan known as Azad or Free Kashmir and China. Kashmir is one nation and having blood relations in all three parts. They are charged at peak to enter into India Occupied Kashmir and help their brothers and sister in Indian Occupied Kashmir. They wanted to provide them food, medicines and basic necessities of life. The government of Pakistan is trying its best to stop them to march toward Indian Occupied Kashmir, as they are unarmed and simple villagers, they might have the high spirits to rescue the lives of their brothers and sisters in Indian Kashmir but might face firing by Indian Army. I am afraid, the public pressure is growing with passing each day and they might march toward Indian Occupied Kashmir, and Pakistani Security Forces may not be able to stop them, then they might come under the Indian forces firing range. It might complicate the situation. The government of Pakistan is committed to observing restrains and avert any war, with India, but if its civilians are killed, it may create an unexpected situation, difficult to predict the reaction.

On the other hand, Indian military deployment along the line of control and frequent violations of line of control, use of cluster bombs on civilian population inside Pakistan, and war-preparations are alarming. Indian Army Chief announced that The Indian Army is well prepared to Attack Pakistan and just waiting for a signal from its Government in Delhi.

Pakistan is trying its best to observe restrains and showing maximum tolerance and patience. But India considers Pakistan “Love-For-Peace” as its “weakness”, Unfortunate! Very Unfortunate!

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South Asia

Webinar: Kashmir Outside the Crosshairs- Does Anyone Care about Kashmir?

MD Staff

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Join Modern Diplomacy and our Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Matthew Crosston, for a Live Intelligence briefing / Webinar, on Sunday September 29 at 18:30 (IST) to learn:

* Why does the US continue to ignore Kashmir but give loads of attention to every country around it?

* Is it necessarily a positive if the US DOES start paying attention to it? 

* What would be GOOD attention and what be BAD? Which one is the US likely to give?

* Can Kashmir ever be left alone to develop independently and not be a pawn of regional neighbors?

These and other controversial but critically important questions will be covered in an exciting intelligence briefing that will still allow for a dynamic, open discussion exchange with one the world’s most recognized, accomplished and sought after Intelligence experts, Dr. Prof. Matthew Crosston, Executive Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy.

Reserve your seat here

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Director over all Intelligence programs and Professor of Strategic Intelligence and Global Security in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University. He is an acclaimed author and international speaker who consults with governments, media organizations, and academic institutions on a range of issues covering peace mediation, human rights conflicts, resource dilemmas, intelligence, change leadership, and education innovation. His works overall have been translated into Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Hebrew, Spanish, Turkish, Farsi, Greek, and Uzbek. He has a BA from Colgate University, MA from the University of London, PhD from Brown University, and completed his Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto.

Modern Diplomacy and Center for International Strategic Analyses

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