It’s been quite some time since Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination papers from Wayanad and Amethi. Even though election dates in the two constituencies are around the corner, the controversy of him not contesting exclusively from Amethi, the Gandhi-family stronghold, has still not died down.
I wonder why there is so much furore around this. It’s not the first time that someone has filed nomination from two seats. The Prime Minister himself fought from two seats in the last general elections that enabled him to rise to the top position. As a matter of fact, this has been in practice for decades. Way back in 1957 when there was no upper limit of two seats like today, Atal Bihari Vajpayee fought from three seats. In fact, there are many more examples of politicians fighting from multiple seats across parties.
So, why does this happen? How does it benefit the candidate, or the party, or the poor voter who doesn’t even know if the person whom s/he is voting for will actually be in power if elected? The first and foremost reason is obvious. The objective of filing nomination from two seats is to mitigate the risk of losing. The candidate knows in advance his/her preference, however, s/he keeps a backup plan ready.
Another reason could be plain politics or vanity. The candidate or the party may want to showcase its strength or popularity across states. For example, when in 1999, Sonia Gandhi won from Amethi and Bellary, she proved to her opponents that she was popular both in the north and south. Similarly, in 2014, when Narendra Modi won from Varanasi and Vadodara, he not only proved his popularity beyond Gujarat but also marked his presence in the state of Uttar Pradesh that has always been one of the most important states for winning elections.
So far, so good. The candidate and the party benefit from this system. What about the voters? Do they like this system? What’s in it for them? Well, the voters can never like this system. They have every right to feel cheated. When somebody votes for a particular candidate, then s/he expects that candidate to come to power. The voters of Amethi are a case in point. They have always been loyal to the Gandhi family. The act of Rahul Gandhi not having faith in the voters of Amethi would not have gone down well with them even more so because there is no assurance that Rahul Gandhi would select them if voted. This reminds us of 2014 when Narendra Modi gave up his Vadodara seat for the politically advantageous state of Uttar Pradesh while it was Gujarat that propelled him to prominence. Therefore, the voters of Amethi have every right to feel insecure or cheated.
Come to think of it, filing nominations from two seats do not paint a very good picture of the candidate. It could be construed to mean that the candidate is not sure of his/her popularity and needs a backup plan, thereby giving some ammunition to the opposition.
Apart from the voters feeling short-changed when a candidate gives up one seat on winning both the seats that s/he contested from, the situation calls for a by-election. Not only is it a burden for the exchequer, but also for the voter who is forced to participate in yet another election.
One solution that is often suggested for this type of situation is that the candidate pays for the by-election. However, I don’t think this is the appropriate solution. Wastage is a wastage, irrespective of who pays for it. The money that the election commission or the party or the candidate uses ultimately comes from the common man. So, this solution is not really in favour of the voter.
An alternative solution could be that the candidate specifies in advance who will be the second-in-line candidate if s/he gives up the seat. This way, there would be no need for a by-election. The voter would make an informed choice and not feel cheated at the end.
This system will have other benefits too. The first-in-line and the second-in-line candidates can be chosen in such a fashion that they both attract different types of voters. For example, if the first-in-line candidate has an appeal across the urban class, then the second-in-line can be such that s/he is popular with the rural folks. This way, the party can double the chances of winning.
If some state does not have a winning candidate, the party can make a popular candidate the first-in-line, who would anyway win from another seat and therefore give up this one, paving way for the not-so-strong second-in-line candidate. This may seem unfair, but if the voters would know in advance, they can make an informed decision. The second-in-line can always perform when in power and become a winning candidate in the next elections. Similarly, there can be many other permutations and combinations of this arrangement.
To conclude, contesting from multiple seats may not be the best option. However, since it is a reality at least in the near future, it is up to us how we make the best out of it. After all, democracy is all about finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.