The year was 1787. Dr Benjamin Franklin was just coming out of the ‘constitutional convention’ which was deciding whether US will remain under British Crown or will become a democracy. As Dr. Franklin stepped out, a woman asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”. He replied with a serious face – “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
As the election schedules for 5 assemblies were declared today, the election commission also announced its intention to add a ‘None of the above’ (NOTA) option at the bottom of list of candidates. Since last 3-4 years, this ‘Right to Reject’ has caught fancy of many well-meaning citizens. It shows the anger at the present bunch of politicians, and frustration at failure of the electorate to throw up any better options. During last loksabha elections too, the mails requesting each other to make use of some form 17 A at the voting booth circulated all over the net. It promised that if more than half the votes were for NOTA option, the election will get cancelled. The decision by Hon. Supreme Court last week has just added to the credibility of this entire untrue and undesirable proposition.
Let us first go into the truth.
Conduct of Election Rules 1961 always had a section 49 O. It, in essence, said that if a person came to voting booth and declared he does not wish to vote, the officer should ask him to fill up a form and submit the forms so collected along with the ballot boxes or EVMs. It never said anything about counting these forms, and there no mention about any impact on results of the election.
Therefore, if a seat has 100 votes and 99 opt for ‘none of the above’, the person getting the single vote will be declared successful.
The recent decision just asks Election Commission to do away with form and add a button to EVM for this ‘none of the above’. Even this decision says nothing about impact of election results. And today’s declaration about NOTA is also exactly the same. Because neither court nor EC can go beyond what is there in the law book. The possible changes that this new system will bring are, the name of the person making this choice will remain secret, and secondly these votes will be automatically counted. That’s all!
So, if you dream of a sea change in the attitude of voters or political parties, please wake up. Its not going to happen.
And how about the desirability of such negative vote?
Is the ‘No-Confidence-In-Politicians’ vote really an option? We live in a multi-party democracy, and we have only ourselves to blame if we cannot elect good leaders. If a social group is strong enough to convince 50% voters to take the effort of coming to the booth and registering this protest, can they not field a good candidate?
What is the message that the advocates for ‘NOTA’ want to give? That all the present politicians are rogues. This seems to be acceptable to every one. But what is the other option? Monarchy? Military Rule? Aristocracy?, Emergency? Imperialism? Fascism? Iron rule of the proletariat? Is that what we are endorsing?
If we are not satisfied with the present bunch of leaders, that is perfectly acceptable. If we think that the present election system is responsible for this, then may be this is true to some extent. But then, maybe we should be taking effort of studying and suggesting other ‘democratic’ voting systems. May be presidential system, may be proportional representation, may be preferential transferable voting, and may be many other ideas prevalent in democracies all over the world. But let us keep those options within the frame of democracy. It may not be perfect, but it is the available best.
Actually, I think, we as a society are responsible for this mess. And we are just shifting blame to politicians. Let us think how much we all participate in the democratic process. Let us remember the last time we studied a civil issue, and expressed our opinion. Let us remember that the simplest democratic systems in urban India, co-operative housing societies, are crumbling because people are not ready to take responsibility and participate. Let us remember that many of our urban brethren do not bother to vote, even when a ‘good’ person is a candidate, confident that no one else is going to vote for him/ her. Let us remember that many urban voters vote thinking of caste, religion, or ‘son of soil’. Also, urban people have found creative ways to even accept money from candidates. May be they do not like to take cash, but they do not mind a sponsored tirthayatra, a bore well in the society, a coat of paint for the building. And then they go on lamenting that all the slum dwellers and such types sell their vote. Democracy is a government for the people, of the people, and by the people. But if the people are too busy or too lazy to participate in it and supervise it, it will be taken over by some smart people, and used for their own benefits.
Let us better make more effort to improve the good system that we have. Look at the larger picture, and find out how better off we are. Let us start investing a little time in making this country a beter place for our future generations. Let us at least start questioning those in power, and make them answerable and accountable. And let us remember the NOTA option is not going to do this for us. If many elections do get cancelled, the country will be taken over by babudom in the name of emergency or presidential rule. And we will just have a blank EVM next time we are asked to vote! Any day I (and I am sure you too) will prefer an imperfect democracy over perfect dictatorship -be it of a monarch or of a religion or of the proletariat or a military junta. In democracy, we do get a chance to improve it, or at least express our dissatisfaction and anger at its problems. Let us take what we have got, consider ourselves lucky, thank our leaders in independence moment, and try to improve the functioning of the system.