If democracy was a euphemism for prudent accountancy, the suggestion of the deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani, to synchronize all assembly and Lok Sabha polls would be enthusiastically endorsed. Not only would there be a net saving for the exchequer, but governments could get on with what they should be primarily concerned with ó governance ó instead of constantly attending to potential electoral deficits. Political parties, on their part, could also be extended the luxury of operating their resource mobilization schemes according to a fixed timetable. The knock-on effect this, in turn, could have on standards of political integrity and overall business confidence is immeasurable. Tragically, democracy, particularly its Indian variant, is not governed by clinical precision. It is, as Mr Advani knows too well, never uncluttered. More important, Indiaís is a federal system and the post-1967 disaggregation of state and national polls has actually contributed to strengthening that process. An enforced exercise in synchronization, with all the infuriating problems of a constitutional amendment, would make life more orderly but could, in the process, distort the heterogeneity of the evolving democratic system. Mr Advaniís proposal, while creative, has too many far-reaching implications to warrant an immediate decision. In purely practical terms, it cannot be put into place between now and February 2004.
Not that it was the deputy prime ministerís real objective to bring about a constitutional revolution. As was clear from his assertion two days later, Mr Advaniís synchronization plea was merely the occasion to test the waters for a snap Lok Sabha poll, to coincide with the five state assembly elections due later this year. From the Bharatiya Janata Partyís point of view, cutting short the tenure of this government by some 10 months makes sense. For a start, there is an economic feel-good mood among the middle classes, the BJPís core constituency. Secondly, since the Congress has yet to get its coalition arrangements in place, there are grounds for the BJP to believe a Lok Sabha poll can be turned into an Atal Bihari Vajpayee versus Sonia Gandhi contest. If opinion polls are to be believed, the NDA would have a clear edge in such a battle. It would be particularly handy in Uttar Pradesh where the leadership is anxious to enter the battlefield before the strained relations between the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party degenerates into open hostility. Finally, a general election before the end of the year cannot be opposed by a pesky Election Commission because all electoral rolls have been revised for this year. In terms of pure timing, the National Democratic Alliance could not have wished for more. The only imponderable, as always, is the voter.