[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ONTESTING from two seats during assembly or parliamentary elections is not uncommon in our country. Prominent political leaders like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Akhilesh Yadav among others have done so. In the 2019 general elections, Congress president Rahul Gandhi contested elections from two constituencies, Amethi and Wayanad. He, however, lost the prestige battle in Amethi.
The latent motive behind contesting from more than one constituency is two-fold. At times it is because the candidate is not confident and sanguine about his victory and sometimes, it is done to publicize the extent of one’s influence.
The question as to whether a candidate can contest elections from two constituencies has been raised time and again. Though it is a legitimate game plan and the position is well settled, section 33(7) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 permits a person to contest a general election or a group of by-elections from more than one constituency. Concurrently, section 70 of the Act expounds that if a candidate is elected from more than one seat either in the Parliament or in either house of the state legislature, he must vacate one seat in not less than 10 days, following which by-elections will be conducted in that particular constituency.
By-elections as an outcome of the evacuation of the seat are a burden on the public exchequer. This debate on extravagant expenditure is gaining ground recently. A PIL was filed by an advocate and a BJP leader Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of section 33(7) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 by. It was argued that such a provision is invalid and unconstitutional. It was further contended by the petitioner that by-elections as a result of relinquishment of seat would be nothing but a financial burden. The architects of the constitution were oblivious that the politicians would mould and manipulate the structure to their advantage. The Petitioner also quoted 255th Law Commission report which suggested amendment in the Act in order to put a full stop on the prevailing practice. The petition was later backed by Election Commission of India.
Pertinently, a person who vacates the seat after getting elected also acts in contravention to the ‘fundamental principles’ of democracy. A candidate is chosen from a constituency so that he or she can serve their constituency during their tenure. It is unjust to permit a candidate to relinquish it immediately after emerging victorious. Going by this premise, the provisions of Representation of People Act require overhauling and it is high time to amend them.
Former Secretary-General of Lok Sabha, SC Kashyap opines “that provision simply allowed misuse of electoral system”. Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of the Association for Democratic Reforms uses a more colourful argument, saying, “When bigamy is illegal in India, how can we allow a candidate promising to marry two constituencies when we know that he will divorce one”
The Election Commission has also requested the Supreme Court to amend section 33 to restrict politicians to contest elections only from one seat. The commission alternatively suggested that in case the provision is not amended, then there should be an explicit provision making it mandatory for a person, contesting and winning from two seats to bear the cost of by-elections which will be held after he vacates his seat.
Another idea which is perceived as a possible solution is that in case a candidate wins from both the seats, then instead of conducting by-elections, the candidate securing the second-highest vote should be announced as the winner. This will avoid wastage of hard-earned money of the public and reduce pressure on election machinery. However, these suggestions cannot solve the problem in totality. Monetary penalty cannot render an adequate deterrence effect and apart from money, it is a waste of time and numerous votes. It is also unjust to other leaders who have to vacate space so that big leaders can get another seat.
The prevailing practice of contesting from two constituencies has been an issue of contention. Prior to 1996, there was no bar on the number of constituencies one can contest from. The provision was then amended and a limit of two seats was set. It is the need of the hour to amend the provision again. This self-centred practice is coming heavily on the public purse and brings instability in the electoral system. It leads to wastage of time and is against the spirit of the constitution.
The whole purpose for which a candidate is trusted and elected by the people stands defeated when the seat is vacated. It is highly unreasonable and unpardonable to betray voters primarily due to the fact that a candidate is not certain about his or her victory.
The only legit solution is to declare the candidature of a leader void if he or she files a nomination from more than one constituency. The principle of ‘one person and one vote’ and ‘one candidate and one constituency’ must be strictly adhered to.