Indian PM’s ‘one nation one poll’ project stalled

Indian PM Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, center, and Indian Home Minister Amit Shah during the all-party meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 19 June 2019

Indian PM’s ‘one nation one poll’ project stalled

  • Top parties boycott meeting held to discuss the initiative
  • Presidents of 40 political parties had been invited to the meeting but only 21 attended

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to forge a consensus on his “one nation one poll” agenda on Wednesday received a setback after key opposition groupings boycotted an all-party gathering to discuss the issue.

At the end of a three-hour meeting, a decision was made to “set up a panel to give suggestions” on the matter.

“Most parties which attended the meeting chaired by PM Modi assured support to the proposal of simultaneous polls,” said Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh following the talks.

He revealed that the presidents of 40 political parties had been invited to the meeting but only 21 attended, with three parties submitting their opinions in writing.

India’s main opposition Congress Party and a number of important regional players were among those who failed to show up. One significant absence was the Trinamool Congress Party, the ruling group of the largest eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Representatives from the north Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh also boycotted the meeting along with major regional groupings from the country’s southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Although the Congress Party gave no official reason for staying away, media reports quoted it as saying the meeting had only been called to advance “the BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) expansionist agenda and bypassing the real issues of electoral reforms and curtailing escalating electoral expenses.”

While some left-wing parties responded to Modi’s invite, they opposed the idea of “one nation one poll” in principle. “Holding simultaneous polls to Parliament and state assemblies is fundamentally anti-federal and anti-democratic and thus against the constitution,” said Sitaram Yechury, secretary-general of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

Modi and the ruling BJP have long talked about “one nation one poll,” which would allow one single election for India in which the poll for both the center and all the 29 states would be held together. The BJP believes a simultaneous poll would save vital resources, time and manpower.

In its 2019 election manifesto the BJP said the idea would “ensure efficient utilization of government resources and security forces and effective policy planning.”

BJP parliamentarian Rakesh Sinha said: “The idea of a ‘one nation one election’ is in the interest of the country. It is good for the economy of the country and it will be good for governance.”

The former chief election commissioner of India, S.Y. Quraishi, said that the idea sounded good but there were lots of “hurdles” to clear.

Political analyst Urmilesh said there was a larger game plan than just expenses and manpower. “If the BJP is serious about containing electoral expenses then why are expenses increasing at every election? How come the BJP has managed to mop up such huge resources to spend in the just concluded elections?”

“There are many democracies in the world where national elections and state elections are conducted separately. So, the idea of ‘one nation one election’ is against the dynamism of democracy,” Urmilesh told Arab News.

“When the electoral process started in 1952, the elections to all the states and the center were held simultaneously and it continued for a few elections. But it could not work that way. You will always have a situation in a democracy where a state government will fall or get dissolved, then how will you handle the situation when you have a ‘one nation one poll’ concept?”

Urmilesh added: “The constitution makers did not make simultaneous election a constitutional obligation. That shows that they understood that in democracy you cannot work with an absolutist mind. I see some ulterior motive in promoting this kind of agenda. The opposition parties should oppose it with all their might.”


Trump sends $4.5 million aid to Syria’s White Helmets: White House

Updated 22 October 2019

Trump sends $4.5 million aid to Syria’s White Helmets: White House

  • Trump ordered the funds for what is formally known as the Syria Civil Defense group
  • The White Helmets have received global recognition for dashing into heavy bombing to pull victims from the rubble

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump has authorized $4.5 million in aid for Syria’s White Helmets group, famed for rescuing wounded civilians from the frontlines in the civil war, the White House said Tuesday.
Trump ordered the funds for what is formally known as the Syria Civil Defense group “to continue United States support for the organization’s important and highly valued work in the country,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
The White Helmets have received global recognition for dashing into heavy bombing to pull victims from the rubble and get them to hospitals, which themselves have frequently been bombed or shelled.
The Syrian military, which is backed by Russia, has repeatedly targeted White Helmets activists, saying they are not independent but support anti-government insurgents.
Trump’s humanitarian gesture came amid a firestorm of criticism at home and abroad over his abrupt decision to withdraw a small but politically signficant contingent of US troops from Kurdish areas near Syria’s border with Turkey.
The withdrawal effectively opened the door for Turkey to launch a cross-border operation against the Kurds. Turkey sees them as a security threat but until now they had been a crucial ally of the US troops in fighting jihadist militants with the Daesh movement.