Should Politicians be allowed to contest from more than one seat?
Dr. Devajit Mahanta
On March 14, 2014 filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking to declare as ‘null and void’ the nomination papers of any candidate contesting election from more than one constituency. A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice N V Ramana issued notices to Centre and Election Commission (EC) on the petition which also sought direction to candidates not to file nomination papers and contest election from more than one constituency for the same legislative body. If it is accepted, it will be a major change in the election reforms in the country. It might not happen before this year’s Lok Sabha elections but it’s a change for the future.
If Indira Gandhi could run from Medak and Rae Bareli and Sonia Gandhi could run from Bellary and Amethi and Lalu Prasad Yadav can run from Chapra and Madhepura, why should Modi not spread his affections between two seats as well? Apparently Mulayam Singh Yadav is pondering the same strategy for this election. There are instances where supreme leaders of parties have exploited this flexibility. N.T. Rama Rao, actor-turned-politician and founder of the Telugu Desam Party, contested in multiple seats in all the four assembly elections of his political life.
Biju Patnaik, the veteran leader from Odisha, earned the dubious distinction of contesting the most number of seats simultaneously, running for four assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat in 1971.
Now, some of you may be wondering if contesting from two different constituencies is legal. Section 33 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, allows a person to contest a general election or a group of by-elections or biennial elections from a maximum of two constituencies. Section 70 of the Act, specifies that if a person is elected to more than one seat in either House of Parliament or in the House or either House of the Legislature of a State (some states have a Legislative Council or Vidhan Parishad as well, along with the Vidhan Sabha), then candidate can only hold on to one of the seats that won in the election. If the candidate wins from both the seats then candidate have to vacate one of these seats and that constituency will have elections again It's like openly running for two jobs knowing full well you cannot do both. Generally, prime ministerial or chief ministerial candidates do it as a safety measure. To be elected, they need to win one out of the two constituencies.
The rule of limiting the candidate to contesting from a maximum of two seats was introduced in 1996 through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act (RP Act) of 1951. Before this law, leaders were allowed to contest from as many seats as they could.
In a country like India, where people vote for a party rather than for a candidate, such tactics might not harm the chances of the party. If people voted for candidates and not parties, the situation would have been very different. Supporters of the law argue that sometimes if a person if a very strong candidate, it works in the party’s favour to field at two seats. One of them is the safe seat and the other one is the tricky seat. If candidate wins the tricky seat, then will resign from the safe seat and the party can win it back later. If loses the tricky seat then the party will have the satisfaction of knowing that they fielded their best at that seat and in spite of losing, their best candidate is still in the parliament.
The expenses incurred in conducting elections are also massive. It might not seem large in the big scheme of things but it is not insignificant. According to government records, in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the per-constituency cost for conducting the poll was Rs 2-3 crore. The estimates for this year’s Lok Sabha elections are approximately Rs 5 crore per constituency. Also, citizens in our country barely take out time to vote once in five years. If you ask them to vote twice in a month then participation might be affected. In 2011 when Trinamool swept to power in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee was still an MP in the Lok Sabha. So a Trinamool MLA stepped aside so she could run for that seat. Then her Lok Sabha seat was vacated by her stepping down. In the space of a few months, Kolkata saw three elections happen in rapid succession.
Stand for election from two constituencies does not seem morally right. But our politicians are used to stuff which is legally right but morally wrong. When the electoral rules clearly state that an elected member can represent only one constituency and fresh elections should be held in the constituency vacated by a multiple seat winner within six months. So allowing candidates to stand from multiple constituencies results in a waste of resources and does not serve any useful purpose. It is only allow our leaders to exploit the electoral system by making a mockery of democracy. I wish to see the following amendments in our Constitution. First, candidates shouldn’t be allowed to contest from multiple constituencies. Second candidates should not be allowed to contest for either Parliament or the Assembly if they are already a member of either house. Third, if both the above rules cannot be implemented due to any technical reasons, then a candidate winning from more than one constituency should pay for entire re-election expenses. Plus, twice the expense amount towards public and government inconvenience. Fourth, in addition to the third point above, such person should not be allowed to contest any election in future.
The solution to this does not lie in asking the winning leader or party to pay for the by-election. A monetary penalty will not deter these so-called larger-than-life leaders from contesting from multiple seats. But apart from money, it is a waste of time for lakhs of voters. It is also not fair to upcoming leaders, who have to vacate space to so that the bigger leaders can get their second seats. Like “one person, one vote”, the principle of “one leader, one constituency” should also be followed.