All landmark judgments needn’t make life simpler. The one by Supreme Court Friday, holding that we, the citizens, have the right to cast negative vote rejecting all candidates contesting a poll, is fraught with serious limitations.What if Right to Reject, a new ‘android’ category enshrined by a bench headed by chief justice P Sathasivam polls the highest number of votes?
Preliminary accounts of what the court chose to read from the judgement have deafening silence on a situation in case votes cast under “no option” outnumber the votes got by the next human candidate.
I hope clarity on this important point emerges from the actual copy of the judgement; but if doesn’t a seemingly ridiculous question will haunt us. Will ‘Mr or Ms’ Right to Reject be declared the MP (or MLA)? Obviously not! But it does follow that in such an event the actual human candidate, polling the second highest number of valid votes can’t be pronounced winner either. And if he or she is, what moral authority will the person enjoy?
“Have a reelection,” I can almost hear my detractors say. To them, let’s pose a simple counter question: What if ‘Mr or Ms’ Right to Reject wins the second time too? Also would all “rejected” candidates in the initial poll be denied the right to stand in the repoll?Perhaps not. For if a winning candidate walked under a bus a minute after victory, none of the “rejected” candidates are debarred from throwing their hat in again!
Having posed an inconvenient question, my hunch is that their lordships are much too sagacious to have left out these very simple questions unanswered. Nor it would be their intention to encourage those of us not satisfied with contestants to turn up for voting. If they’ve not done that, surely Kapil Sibal’s law ministry would.
My chat with SY Quraishi, the immediate chief election commissioner before VS Sampath, gave me context which he authorized me to share. Since 2001, the Election Commission (EC) has been waiting for a reply on their reference to the Union government to get an okay to include a ‘none of the above option’ in the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and ballot papers.Guess what happened! The Government has sat on it since the last 12 years. So, why didn’t you simply stop waiting for government and simply order a ‘none of the above’ option in EVMs, I asked Dr Quraishi. “We were like the man trying to cross the street who asked the policeman whether he could. Obviously, the policeman said ‘no’ and we couldn’t do anything because we have had asked!” the former CEC answered, using the oft-repeated story on how Indian babudom penalizes the upright.
There is a more sinister dimension of ‘Mr or Ms’ Right to Reject, winning: What if two parties or formations had exactly equal number of seats and 0nly one seat, ie, the 543th seat in the Lok Sabha had this “android MP” winning. What decision is the President of India supposed to make about formation of government? Must the President wait for reelection in this constituency? If so, what happens in the interim…and what if the android wins a second time over?
That said, the spirit behind the limited point read out in court Friday fosters purity and vibrancy of elections and ensures one less excuse for those of us who are not satisfied with the candidates in the fray not to turn up to express our discomfiture.
Negative voting can indeed bring a systemic change in the election process as even major political parties will be forced to project clean candidates in polls. And minor ones with a dearth of funds to fight across the country can paint the town red with creative campaigns around making the android win.
For the record, the concept of negative voting in elections is prevalent in 13 countries.
What requires greater highlighting is that the SC on Friday maimed a rather silly concept called “49(O)” in the present system. Under this rule in the Representation of People Act, a voter who after coming to a polling booth not want to cast his or her vote, has to inform the presiding officer of his intention not to vote, who in turn would make an entry in the relevant rule book after taking the signature of the said elector. (Defacing the ballot paper is a crime, mind you).
In its surveys to assess voter feedback, EC too had found dissatisfaction among voters with the 49(O) facility. In fact, Quraishi found voters either simply stayed at home negating his objective of increasing voter participation. And those who showed up looking for the 49(O) register were always in danger of being found out by bullies. The dispensation clearly bolstered unscrupulous elements and impersonators. Ironically, while big hitter on twitter like Kiran Bedi and Janlokpal are sharing their delight on the SC judgment, there have been very few RTIs or media centimeters devoted to how many voters ever exercised 49(O). But Friday’s change is destined to make “Right to Reject,” the version 2.0 of 49(O) the biggest star in the next election season.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the civil rights group that dragged the Union of India to the SC in this matter, therefore rightly argued that Rule 49(O) is violative of the constitutional provisions guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) (Freedom of Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Right to Liberty) and violated the concept of secret ballot.
Only the backing of proper rules on the “what if” scenario, would an extra button in the EVM, formalizing the concept of negative voting, will empower those of us who are dissatisfied with the candidates in the fray. We need all the push we can to turn up in large numbers to truly express ourselves as “we, the people.” Only if we vote, including shaming the goondas by making an android win, can we hope to be Bharat’s Bhagya Vidhatas (#BBV).