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BJP revives simultaneous polls debate

June 15: The BJP has called for a national debate on the need for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies, reviving a proposal that mandates an uninterrupted five-year term for legislatures.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said in Ranchi today that the party favours, in principle, simultaneous conduct of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

Naidu said such a system, in vogue before 1967, would allow the administration and the political parties to focus on development and reduce expenditure.

“Elections at frequent intervals act as diversion and interruption. Holding of simultaneous polls will strengthen democracy. We want that even elections to panchayats and urban local bodies should be held along with Parliament and Assemblies,” he said.

The BJP president said his party “fully supports” a similar suggestion made by Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in Indore recently. “We invite a national debate on this issue. Only the Centre or the BJP cannot implement this suggestion. A consensus has to be built. All parties should seriously consider this. We are, however, not talking in the immediate terms.”

The BJP’s chintan baithak this week in Mumbai is expected to discuss the issue. A theory exists in the BJP that if the Lok Sabha polls were to be held along with the year-end Assembly elections, the party might be able to “encash” on what it perceives as a “strong anti-incumbency” wave in Congress-ruled states.

Naidu’s proposal goes back a long way in the BJP. At the national council in October 1995 in Mumbai, the BJP had adopted a political resolution which advocated changes in the Constitution to ensure a five-year term for Parliament and state legislatures.

If a government lost its majority mid-stream, the BJP felt an alternative formation must be allowed to take shape before the incumbent government was voted out so that there was no spell of uncertainty, however brief, between the exit of one government and the entry of another.

In other words, the party wanted a vote of no-confidence to be immediately followed by a vote of confidence to avoid keeping an Assembly in suspended animation and leaving room for horse-trading. Naidu iterated the suggestion today.

Later, both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and .K. Advani endorsed this proposal, inspired by a similar model in Germany, in various fora.

The RSS, too, supported the proposal but with its own interpretation. It sought a system of indirect election, according to which only representatives of the lowest rung of the power structure — the panchayats —would be directly elected. Elections to the bodies from the panchayat upwards would be through electoral colleges of elected representatives. But this idea found few takers in the BJP.

Naidu today said people have become fed up with frequent elections and they would welcome just one election in five years. “Governments at all levels, in general, should be allowed to complete their five-year terms.”

Naidu said even if the BJP won a majority on its own in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, it would continue the NDA coalition “experiment”.

“Good governance, development and performance will be our planks during the parliamentary elections. The plank of good governance has helped us win the Assembly elections in Goa, Gujarat and Nagaland. We lost the Himachal polls due to problems inside our party there,” he added.

Naidu said the BJP favours a temple at Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya. “There are three ways of doing this — through the court, through talks between different parties and through legislation. But we cannot bring about a law because the BJP does not command a majority in the Rajya Sabha. Ayodhya will not be an issue for us during the elections,” he added.

The BJP, Naidu claimed, would sweep four of the five states where elections are due.

“We will win in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi. We will make an entry in Mizoram. The BJP extends an open invitation to the minorities to come to the party. We are not anti-minorities,” he added.

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