NOTA to Netas: Flip side of Right to Reject
The Supreme Court judgement on September 27 gives a birth of an android in Indian democracy because it may win and lose in the electoral processes and if it happens as it is construed now, it may also decide the fate of Government or even go far.
At the official level, the judgement of Supreme Court is an extension or re-interpretation of the provisions available under section 49 (O) of the Conduct of Election Rules under the Representation of People Act. Under this provision, a voter who after coming to a polling booth does 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. Now the Supreme Court ruled that the right to register a “None of the Above” vote in elections should apply. The court said that negative voting would lead to systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. Therefore, this new “Right to Reject” is really the version 2.0 of already available provisions for negative voting.
However, this new “None of the Above” only indicates that even Supreme Court has also become part of the incremental or piecemeal process of electoral reform though there is need of directions for fresh approach of electoral reform in the changing situations of the country. Under the existing “First Past Post System”, a candidate wins the election without getting more than 50 per cent votes. If the votes of “None of the Above” will be set aside while deciding the result of an election, a candidate can win the election with mere 5 per cent votes out of all 10 per cent active votes when “None of Above” would have taken 90 per cent votes. This practice is prevalent in the State of Nevada, USA but in this case in India, our election process will cause such representation which is not at all representation.
The expectation of Supreme Court from this “Right to Reject” forcing political parties to project clean candidates is only possible when the country is ready for re-election in many seats because in case of winning the “None of the Above”, Election Commission has to conduct again the election on that seat and all existing candidates will be barred to contest again in the re-election. But it is difficult to ensure that political parties will come up with clean candidates in the re-election. Besides, if candidates will be restricted to contest in re-election, it will again be an issue of violation of someone’s fundamental rights.
It is now sensed that there are people in the Government who are ready for re-election if “None of the Above” will get more than 50 per cent votes. It may be safe in the States where the political processes are imbedded in the society but in some parts of North-East and Jammu & Kashmir, there are many potential Assembly constituencies where this provision may cause more than 50 per cent votes to “None of the Above” again and again. In this case, our national security in terms of claim over territory and hearts of people in sensitive areas will be compromised, which will be major embarrassment for India in the entire world. Pakistan may get some boost if it may happen in Kashmir.
In the case of re-election, number of central forces will be engaged only in elections and such elections will be very costly for public exchequers and political parties. The model code of conduct will be in full force till the completion of election, which will jeopardise all developmental works. In the long run, frequent elections may lead to disinterest in many sections of electors.
Therefore, there is a need of all out electoral reform with stringent provisions to restrict criminal background people to be elected. In this direction, the recent judgement of Supreme Court to disqualify the members of Legislature after conviction and punishment is a welcome step. But just invoking “Right to Reject” or giving birth to an android “None of the Above” will not solve the problems in electoral processes.
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) demanded a serious debate on Right to Reject. Commenting on the Supreme Court decision on this issue, ABVP national general secretary Shri Umesh Dutt welcomed the Court’s step for election reforms, but said it should be implemented only after conducting a serious debate on it.
In a statement issued on September 27, Shri Dutt said the ABVP has been taking up the issue of change in system for long and it educated the countrymen on it through Youth Against Corruption (YAC) also.
Shri Sunil Bansal, national convener of YAC and joint organising secretary of ABVP said to strengthen the democracy, 100 per cent polling should be ensured. He said the dire need of the hour is that people are educated to go to the polling booth and use their voting right positively. “What we need today is to Right to elect. Only then the question of Right to Reject comes into the picture,” he said.
Shri Bansal however welcomed the Supreme Court initiative in this regard. He also stressed the need to take similar steps for police, administration, judiciary and educational reforms.