When a candidate contests from two different constituencies for the same election, it primarily sends across two messages
– either the candidate is nervous of winning an election from one particular constituency or the candidate is supremely confident of winning from both the constituencies. In the latter case the candidate helps his or her party to rev up the support base.
In 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi did contest from Varanasi in UP and Vadodra from his home State Gujarat and won both the seats but vacated Vadodra to retain Varanasi. Talks in the political circle are also rife that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too may contest from two constituencies apart from his Amethi seat where Union Minister Smriti Irani is breathing down his neck.
In the past, several senior leaders have contested two constituencies in Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections. Prior to 1996, some have even contested from three constituencies. Post 1996, an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, restricted the candidates to contest from a maximum of two constituencies in the same election. This has surely curtailed expenses and by-polls which resulted after a particular candidate wins from the all the constituencies he or she may have contested.
When a candidate contests from two seats and wins both, it is legally imperative that he or she has to vacate one of the two seats. This, apart from the consequent unavoidable financial burden on the public exchequer, government manpower and other resources for holding by-elections against the resultant vacancy, is also an injustice to the voters of the constituency which the candidate is relinquishing from.
Ideally to save on expenses and government machinery, one candidate should only be allowed to contest from one constituency. The Election Commission also had conveyed to the Supreme Court in an affidavit that Section 33(7) of the Representation of the Peoples Act should be amended to restrict any candidate to only one seat in one election. This was after the court had sought the EC’s response to a public interest petition challenging the validity of the provision that still allows a candidate to contest two seats simultaneously.
In 2004, the Election Commission had proposed an amendment of Section 33(7) to ensure that a candidate cannot contest from more than one constituency in the same elections. However, in case the existing provisions are to be retained, a candidate contesting from two seats should bear the cost of the by-election to the seat that the contestant decides to vacate in the event of he/she winning both seats. A suggestion was also made that the amount in such an event could be Rs 5 lakh for State assembly and Rs 10 lakh for the general election. However, this cost would have multiplied in several folds. The latter proposal, if put into practice, would have allowed only candidates with resources to contest two seats, and then bear the cost of a resultant by-elections in the event of their winning both.
Also, the Law Commission was in agreement with the proposal not to allow a candidate from contesting from more than one seat in the same election but has not come out with an alternative proposal that winning candidates also bear the cost of ensuing by-elections. Earlier, the Dinesh Goswami Committee report in 1990 and the 170th report of the Law Commission on “Electoral Reforms” in 1999 had included recommendations for restricting one contestant to one seat.
As far as the original Representation of the People Act of 1951 is concerned, Section 33 permitted a candidate to contest from more than one seat, while Section 70 of the Act prevented him or her from holding on to more than one seat in the State Assembly of the Lok Sabha. During the 1952 elections when Bharatiya Jana Sangh was trying to make its political headway, former Prime Minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried his luck and finished third in Lucknow.
In the 1957 Lok Sabha election Vajpayee, then 32, contested from three constituencies in Uttar Pradesh – Lucknow, Mathura and Balrampur and got elected from Balrampur, finished second in Lucknow and forfeited his deposit in Mathura.
Also, soon after emergency was lifted in 1977, Indira Gandhi suffered a surprise defeat and created a record of sorts that she became the first Prime Minister in chair to lose in her well-nursed constituency, Rae Bareli to Raj Narain. However, in 1980, she did not want to risk that again. She filed her nomination from Medak (now in Telangana) and Rae Bareli. She won from both constituencies and retained Rae Bareli.
Several tall leaders continued this trend, both before and after the 1996 amendment that set the limit at two seats. Atal Bihari Vajpayee contested from Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh in 1991, Lal Krishna Advani contested from New Delhi and Gandhinagar (Gujarat) in the same 1991 elections, Sonia Gandhi Bellary (Karnataka) and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh in 1999, Mulayam Singh Yadav from Azamgarh and Mainpuri in 2014 and Lalu Prasad Yadav from Saran and Pataliputra in 2009. But little did these leaders ever give a second thought over the by-poll expenses and wastage of taxpayers’ money. Surprisingly, no political party is eager to set this trend straight and make a move for this electoral reform.