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On R-Day eve, President bats for simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 25 January 2017, 22:56 IST

At a time when Assembly elections in five states are just days away, President Pranab Mukherjee batted for simultaneous polls and urged the Election Commission to consult political parties on such a possibility.

While addressing the nation on the eve of India's 68th Republic Day, Mukherjee sought a return to the practice of the early decades after independence, and urged political parties to come together to debate such a possibility.

"The time is also ripe for a constructive debate on electoral reforms and a return to the practice of the early decades after independence when elections to Lok Sabha and state Assemblies were held simultaneously. It is for the Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties," said Mukherjee.

"It is for Election Commission to take this exercise forward in consultation with political parties"

Interestingly, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had earlier said that there was very little the commission could do, as it was for Parliament to bring in amendments to several articles of the Constitution to pave the way for such an exercise.

In an exclusive interview to Catch, Zaidi had said the commission had given its response to the Union Law Ministry on the issue, and would only act if these amendments were carried out.

In these circumstances, the role of the commission remains very limited, and the President should have exhorted politicians and the poll body to start a debate on simultaneous polls .

Earlier in the day, the President, in his address on the occasion of National Voters Day (which marks the establishment of the Election Commission this day in 1950), had stressed on how simultaneous polls could remove lot of inconvenience, both in terms of expenditure and management.

Even in 2015, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law backed the idea of simultaneous polls, and had sought the commission's view in this regard. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi and politicians from other parties supported such a move.

However, no such dialogue has been initiated by any political party till date.

On pluralism

Calling India's pluralism its greatest strength, President Mukherjee claimed that the nation has to work harder, because the pluralistic culture and tolerance are being put to test by 'vested interests'. He pointed how Indian traditions celebrated the 'argumentative' Indian, and not the 'intolerant' Indian.

"A wise and discerning mind is necessary for democracy to flourish. More than the unison of ideas, a healthy democracy calls for conformity to the values of tolerance, patience and respect for others. These values must reside in the hearts and minds of every Indian; inculcating in them a temperament of understanding and responsibility," he said.

On demonetisation

Meanwhile, in his address to the nation, the President backed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's note ban exercise, and claimed that the temporary slowdown will lead to greater transparency in the economy.

"Demonetisation, while immobilising black money and fighting corruption, may have led to temporary slowdown of economic activity. As more and more transactions become cashless, it will improve the transparency of the economy," he said.

On disruptions in Parliament and Assemblies

Further, the President spoke about the strength of India's 'noisy' democracy, while lambasting legislators for frequent disruptions, which he said often leads to the loss of sessions.

He said that instead of these disruptions, legislators should be debating and legislating on issues of importance. "Collective efforts must be made to bring the focus back to debate, discussion and decision-making," he mentioned.

On economic growth

Giving a thumbs up to the country's economic growth, Mukherjee, whose tenure ends this year, pointed out that despite the challenging global economic conditions, the fiscal consolidation and inflation level is within a comfortable zone.

He said: "Our economy has been performing well despite the challenging global economic conditions. In the first half of 2016-17, it grew at a rate of 7.2% - same as that last year - showing sustained recovery. We are firmly on the path of fiscal consolidation and our inflation level is within comfort zone. Though our exports are yet to pick up, we have managed a stable external sector with sizeable foreign exchange reserves."

On govt schemes

Praising the flagship initiatives of the government, the President said they had been designed to promote the well-being of the society.

In his address, he heaped praises on government schemes like the Swachh Bharat Mission, MGNREGA, Digital India, Skill India, Startup India and the Atal Innovation Mission.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 25 January 2017, 22:56 IST