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  • Raghav Sand

Is a Four-Year Term of Government Ideal for India?

If India were to adopt a four-year term for the parliament and state assemblies, then over a period of 20 years, it needs to conduct one extra election. There are many benefits in capping the term to four years, while a strong argument against this system could be the extra financial cost and logistics management of holding the election. The advantages can be manifold and will subsume any perceived disadvantages.

Honeymoon Period and the Home Stretch

Most governments and their ministers have a 100-day agenda after assuming office. They try to fulfil some of the poll promises and initially target the low hanging fruit. As the months and quarters pass, the ministers and other members of parliament and state assemblies adapt to a slower pace. For the middle part of their tenure, elected representatives seem lethargic and lack creativity.

Time churns at its regular pace and as re-election is round the corner, the voters experience a slew of schemes and promises. These events repeat like a well-rehearsed routine and no one is bothered as everything seems like the norm. Ideally, if we were to have smaller tenures – i.e. four-year term – then it may be possible to get more things done. Will the politicians become more accountable and stay awake for their entire term? Can having an extra election in a twenty-year period be the vaccine for inconsistent governance? Democracy is an ongoing experiment. It has no template and trial-and-error is used extensively.

Any idea that has worked for a couple of generations may require a reboot. Democracies try new methods and policies at a smaller scale before rewriting or revising the statute. Even after getting promising response at the district or state level, there can be hiccups while taking an idea national.

Getting Rid of Complacency and Incompetence

There are many ways or reasons for a person to be elected to represent the people of a constituency. Money, muscle, and method are some of the primary reasons. Some may get chosen due to personal influence or proximity to the party hierarchy. Voters may sometimes give chance to a complete outsider and register their protest against the patriarchy. There is no certainty regarding the future performance of a person chosen by popular vote; he or she may underperform or outperform expectations.

The competence and capability of a person, either good or bad, will eventually be a part of public discourse. A smaller tenure will weed out non-performers and democracy will be set in motion again with new elements and apparatus.

Cost-Benefit Analysis and Proposition

India’s general election in 2019 had 91.05 crores (910 million) registered voters. Out of these 67.04 per-cent exercised their voting franchise. These diligent and dutiful citizens participated in the biggest democratic exercise in the world. The logistics and budget of holding these elections was huge. By some estimates it costed ₹6500 crores (65 billion) to the national exchequer; per-capita cost by another estimate came close to ₹72 per voter – a jump of 57 percent in comparison to 2014 general election.

Political parties spent astronomical amounts of both accounted and unaccounted money to engage and entice the voter. This is just a glimpse of the monetary side of a general election. India has 28 states and two (out of the eight) union territories which witness an election for state legislature every five years. The cost of these elections is also borne from the consolidated fund of India. Having simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and state Vidhan Sabha is the best way to average out the cost of holding an election. It will reduce the burden on resources and keep the cross-country movement of security personnel at sustainable levels.

We must have faith in the acumen of our fellow citizens while taking this idea forward. As past elections have shown – the Indian voters have clarity with respect to state and national issues. They can figure out which button to press for a particular election. Four-year terms and simultaneous national and state elections will bring vibrancy to governance. Until then, our nation is in constant election mode.

Finality and Clarity

Never-ending election campaign and allocation of scarce resources – both human and financial – is a missed opportunity for a nation that has a long way to go before the fruits of development are distributed in a more equitable manner. Inaugurating infrastructure projects and announcing welfare schemes is a well-known strategy deployed prior to announcement of polls. It is amusing to see politicians on campaign trail who are otherwise absent from parliament sessions. It is not the best allocation of ministerial time when cabinet ministers parade across a state. These star campaigners should be busy in changing the fortunes of the people of India.

After evaluating the pros and cons of practices followed by some of the biggest democracies, the readers should make-up their own mind about what is an ideal term of an elected head of state or representative. Constant tinkering may disturb status quo, but not changing with times may turn an idea or for that matter a nation into a relic.

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