Politicians and academics lent their weight to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuing push for simultaneous national and state elections at a national seminar on the topic organised by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini near Mumbai on the weekend.

“Political parties make up the government and if in five years there are other elections, they have to campaign for that too,” said Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of Haryana at the “One Nation One Election” seminar.

He added, “Political parties fight elections to ensure their candidates win. Why should our leaders not campaign for them at the same time?”

Khattar was echoing a view that had been expressed only a couple of nights before by the most prominent leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In a rare interview on Friday, Modi told Zee News: “Our government is such that it is run by politicians, and elections are also fought by politicians, so their energy is divided, which hurts the nation. Take me for example, I do have to pay attention to elections. If they weren’t there, I would be able to concentrate more.”

Others at the seminar included Baijayant Panda of the Biju Janata Dal and KC Tyagi of the Janata Dal (United), Rajiv Kumar, vice president of the Niti Ayog, JS Mathur, secretary at the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Shakti Sinha, director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

Enlisting public support

This is not the first time Modi has suggested the idea of simultaneous elections to both the Central and state governments. In the initial decades after Independence, elections for governments at both the Centre and states were held at the same time. But over time, with governments falling before they had served their entire terms, elections became desynchronised. Every year now, some state or another has an election.

Those arguing in favour of simultaneous elections say it will reduce central expenditure and will encourage better governance. Detractors say that it is a precursor to the Centre consolidating control over the states and will curtail their autonomy.

The idea of simultaneous elections was a part of the BJP’s election manifesto in 2014. In 2016, the prime minister brought up the idea again with Arnab Goswami on Times Now. Now, with the 2019 elections around the corner, various wings of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporters are gathering momentum to generate public opinion in favour of the concept.

“In the United States, if a government loses a majority, people change, not the government,” said Baijayant Panda, a member of parliament with the Biju Janata Dal, on why he supported simultaneous elections. He added: “If we do all this by December, all states can go to polls by 2019.”

As of now, the BJP holds a simple majority in the Lok Sabha, but not a special majority of two-thirds of the house, which along with the support of half the state legislatures is the support it requires to make amendments to the Constitution to institute simultaneous polling.

“In the light of GST and other changes taking place in the country, I think it is possible that states will support simultaneous elections,” said VK Malhotra, member secretary of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, which partially funded the seminar. “We used to view the Centre and states having a rivalrous relationship, but this might become cooperative. The issue is intention, which has to be pious.”

But without the support of the majority of states, the alternative is to make the issue a matter of public debate, said SK Singh, a professor at the Gautam Buddha University in Noida.

“It is important to make public opinion for this and this can happen at seminars and conventions,” Singh said. “And the UGC should give money to fund this.”

The ICSSR responded to Singh’s call.

“We vouch that ICSSR will take the lead in this direction” of funding more such seminars, said Malhotra said, directly in response to Singh. The council funds more than 300 seminars and conferences and 50 to 60 workshops each year on a variety of subjects, Malhotra added in a separate conversation with Scroll.in, explaining that it was not unusual for the council to single out just one topic for intense discussion.

Same tune

The Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini’s seminar is another way of generating public support for the issue. The organisation, founded in the memory of an RSS leader from Thane and Pune who died in 1981, has on its managing committee BJP national vice president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, BJP vice president and prominent builder Mangalprabhat Lodha, and Rekha Mahajan, the wife of murdered BJP leader Pramod Mahajan.

It has been organising regular annual national seminars and conventions since 2014. The themes have consistently aligned with BJP programmes and slogans, including “Swachh Bharat through People’s Participation” and “Jan Gan Man: Good Governance through People’s Participation”.

The first call for papers for the 2018 seminar began in November and the event itself spanned two days. Yet the notes struck at the seminar coincided closely with points raised by Modi in his television interview.

Modi, for instance, cited the expenditure on elections, saying that Rs 1,100 crore was spent on the 2009 election and Rs 4,000 crore was spent on the 2014 ones. These figures were also cited by Amita Singh, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who added that constant elections were deepening the divide in the country.

“During elections, private schools go ahead with classes, but in government schools, teachers are preparing electoral rolls,” Singh said. She added that if elections were held simultaneously, this would reduce the burden on the exchequer and on government officers.

Modi also cited the effect on security forces. “In this country, there’s so much security work, police work, but they’re stuck in election work,” he said.

And reflecting what Modi had noted in his interview to Zee, participants at the seminar also stressed that this was not just an idea of the BJP, but also of others, including Congress leaders such as PC Alexander.

“I don’t see this as a BJP programme,” said KC Tyagi of the Janata Dal (United), which rules Bihar with the support of the BJP. “This is a national election reform.”