Combination polls: A dream that sours

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat virtually ruling out the holding of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies, PM Modi’s idea of making the next round of polls as close to his favoured presidential system will appear to remain a stillborn. The poll panel has, of course, pointed out the logistical problems in holding simultaneous elections, citing the near-impossible task of procuring double the number of voting machines with paper trails that it has currently planned for holding parliamentary polls separately.

But the option of combining a select number of Assembly elections with the Lok Sabha polls may still be possible, although the BJP leadership has ruled that out. The biggest hurdle to combining the two is that it would require the tenure of some Assemblies to be curtailed before time and that of some others delayed by imposing President’s rule in those states. Both could invite legal challenges. Although three of the four states that will require curtailment of tenure are ruled by the BJP, such a move could prompt Opposition members of those Houses to go to court challenging the step, as completion of five years is mandatory for entitlement of full benefits as a past MLA.

The second part of the requirement to delay elections in some other states to make those coincide with the others is even more tedious as there is no provision for the imposition of President’s rule in a state without there being a constitutional breakdown. Modi knows more than anybody else that making up a constitutional breakdown would be most counter-productive, especially considering the plunging popularity of the governments in question.

In ruling out forcing the issue on simultaneous elections, the BJP leadership may also have weighed in the waning magic of the Modi name, compared to what it was during, and after, the 2014 elections. With a track record that is hardly flattering, after the fiasco of two intended big-ticket reforms, such as demonetisation and GST, it would take much more than self-confidence for Modi to go back to the people with the same sense of authority and assurance that he exuded in the run-up to 2014. In fact, his government has still got to cover a long distance to prove its credentials for a repeat mandate from the people.

But that Modi is an incorrigible optimist was clear from his Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort, which he virtually made to sound like an election speech. His last chance to regain lost ground is to do something dramatic between now and the time his tenure ends. It is most unlikely that he will like it cut short, which, in effect, rules out the possibility of early elections.