THE Supreme Court judgement on September 27 gives a birth of an android in Indian democracy called None of the Above (NOTA). The Election Commission of India (ECI) which was already mooting the idea, immediately implemented it in the assembly elections. The real question is whether it is ‘right to reject’ as claimed by many sections of society and in turn, will it make the election process fairer.
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 be made available on EVM, which will allow the voter to keep his/her identity secret. As of now there will be no impact of this option on the electoral outcome but eventually it will. 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 ‘NOTA’ option is the version 2 of already available provisions for negative voting.
IS IT NEW or NEW Version of Older Option?
WHEN we think about its long term implications, it raises serious questions on the health of our polity. First, democracy is the process of positive election rather than rejection. Adding this negative vote in electoral outcome will vibrate the positive foundations of electoral democracy. Under the existing “First Past Post System”, a candidate wins the election without getting more than 50 per cent votes. If the votes polled in favour of NOTA are set aside in finalising the results, a candidate can win the election with mere 5 per cent votes out of all 10 per cent valid poll votes when NOTA is opted by 90 per cent voters.
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 in case of NOTA is opted by more than 50 per cent voters. The re-elections will bar all the earlier candidates from contesting. Whether it is constitutionally and practically feasible and political parties will be ready to accept it, needs further deliberation. That is why 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. Shri Sunil Bansal, national convener of Youth Against Corruption (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.
When we think of applying NOTA option in the militancy affected parts of North-East and Jammu & Kashmir, it is more problematic. In this case, our national security in terms of claim over territory and hearts of people in sensitive areas will be compromised. Therefore, Congress ministers in J & K have cautioned against adopting it in the state. “The NOTA option for voting would only strengthen the hands of the separatists,” Medical education minister Chowdhary Taj Mohiuddin said at an official function in capital Jammu.
Apparently, it is an experiment to work on. However, if we seriously want to ensure free and fair elections with clean candidates, larger participation of all sections and all over corruption free system is the option. Electoral reform is just a part, though very significant, in this process. Unless we ensure positive voting, NOTA will take us to re-elections and political apathy.
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.