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NEW DELHI: President Ram Nath Kovind’s pitch for simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls in his address to the joint sitting of Parliament on Monday — a subject repeatedly raised by PM Narendra Modi — rekindled speculation of the 2019 elections being brought forward to align with the assembly polls due in end-2018.
In his first address to Parliament, Kovind argued that frequent polls hurt the economy by imposing a huge burden on human resources while the ‘model code of conduct’ impeded development activities. The address, which is written by the government, said a “sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue”.
The buzz was reinforced later on Monday at a meeting of NDA leaders where Modi reiterated the point, saying leaders could start debating the matter and create a positive atmosphere for the proposal. As he has done before, the PM emphasised the need for holding polls together, saying a continuous cycle of elections hurt development and was a huge financial burden.
While Modi has often advocated simultaneous polls, the opposition led by Congress has been cold to the idea so far. In fact, when the Election Commission chose to delink the polls in Himachal Pradesh from Gujarat, Congress leaders questioned how it squared with Modi’s push for simultaneous polls. The opposition has been wary of simultaneous polls, suspecting that this might be a ploy to mask the incumbency of BJP governments in major states like Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, which are due for polls at the end of the year by subsuming state issues with a larger national referendum on the Modi sarkar.
As things stand, simultaneous polls are unlikely for political reasons as well as the different terms in office of various state governments. But BJP does have the option of bringing forward the Lok Sabha elections to coincide with polls in the three north Indian states. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha go to polls along with the Lok Sabha elections and these could be curtailed by a few months if the incumbent parties agree to such a proposal.
After the PM made a fresh push for simultaneous polls recently, newly appointed chief election commissioner O P Rawat said creating a “legal framework” to facilitate national and state polls together would take a lot of time. He underlined that it would also require a constitutional amendment.
Flagging the triple talaq bill at the very start of his address, Kovind said, “For decades, dignity of Muslim women has remained captive to political cost-benefit” and added that it was time for their emancipation. The President introduced government schemes for welfare of minorities as “empowerment and not appeasement”.
Detailing various central schemes and their results as aimed at creating a “New India”, Kovind said attaining the goals by 2022, the 75th year of independence, would fulfil the dreams of the founding fathers. “Dream of a new India does not belong to one political party or organisation. It is an embodiment of the aspirations and expectations of 130 crore countrymen,” he added.
Among those present in Central Hall of Parliament were PM Modi, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, BJP chief Amit Shah and veteran L K Advani, besides Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Kovind said internal security situation had improved and termed the terror attacks in the interiors of Jammu and Kashmir as “directly related to cross-border infiltration”.