Suppose a Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi gets fewer votes than the overall NOTA (None Of The Above) votes and based on the post-election outcome, becomes the prime minister of the country – wouldn’t it be ridiculous, wouldn’t it be sacrilegious, when a candidate rejected by the majority of the electorate is given the charge to run a democratic country.

Okay, it is not going to be the case with Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi of the moment, but we should not be surprised, if we get an election result with significant number of seats showing significantly higher share of NOTA votes even in the very first election implementing the ‘Right To Reject’ option. Recently, the Supreme Court made it mandatory and asked the Election Commission of India to introduce the NOTA option on EVMs (electronic voting machines) and ballot papers.

On an average, 30-40 per cent voters do not vote in elections in India we find if we carry a voter turnout analysis of different elections. Reasons vary for not participating in the elections but the major reason has been the voter’s apathy to the electoral process where he finds the political parties or the candidates in fray not worthy of being elected.

As the voter did not have any option to express his displeasure than to go to the booth, complete the formalities like getting the designated finger the ink-marked, approach the polling officer and tell him he did not want to cast his vote as he found none of the candidates were worthy. The officer then would make his entry in a prescribed form and would take his signature or thumb impression. A complex, tedious and repulsive process that didn’t promise the voter secrecy of his decision! And having no secrecy with such decisions, at local level, with a polluted Indian politics, may well have its consequences.

So, the option was there but was not practical. In fact, was illogical. Also, many would not be aware that this option (right? – Section 49-O of The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961) even exists.

But after the Supreme Court order making it easier and thus practical to exercise this right as well as ensuring the secrecy, we can expect significant jump in the voter turnout, and a significant portion of this jump would certainly be the NOTA votes, voters who don’t vote because they don’t approve the candidates.

Yes, this is going to be a long-term process, spread over elections. But an upward trend of surge in NOTA votes would inspire others, who do not cast their votes for similar reasons, to participate in the electoral process.

It is true, India is still not a mature democracy and elections are not fought on development issues but on silly considerations of caste, religion and regionalism. It is true voters do not react maturely when they select candidates on these lines, when they select tainted candidates and candidates with criminal cases against them, when the elect candidates languishing in jails.

But this simple way to empower them with an option to reject all would certainly push them, who waste their vote by voting on silly considerations, to think otherwise, if not tomorrow, then, in the long run, when rejection of candidates would become a sustained trend election after election.

Also, another objection by the naysayers is this ‘Right To Reject’ is not rejection in real terms. Even if the NOTA votes polled are 20 per cent of the overall votes cast, it cannot disqualify a wining candidate even if he gets just 10 percent of the overall votes. True! But, for how long can this irresponsible show continue?

Obviously, there would be voices. And the demands would intensify with increasing share of NOTA votes in the overall vote-pie.

That would set in motion the fight to demand the ‘Right To Recall’ and hence subsequently, the ‘Right To Reelection’, cancelling election process in constituencies with share of NOTA votes dwarfing votes gained by all other candidates, recalling poorly performing candidates and holding the polls again to select the suitable candidates.

Once, the ‘Right To Reject’ becomes a practiced electoral process in the country with voters effectively using it, lawmakers cannot continue with their sham without its visible public consequences.

Yes, it is not going to happen soon. But the best outcome of this Supreme Court decision is it is going to open fronts for further ‘rightful’ demands in the future of Indian democracy.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/


Right To Reject – None Of The Above – Bravo! Cheers!

It is evolutionary. It is revolutionary.

It is so soothing to the ears. It is unlike those so many competitive examinations that every Indian of this generation takes or the future generations are bound to go through where ‘none of the above’ option of the multiple choice questions are, many a time, a hard nut to crack, creating line of thoughts and thus confusion to pin-point the correct one.

Here, it is going to be the natural choice in ‘many cases (many candidates)’ – ‘none of the above’ being the correct and so the chosen answer.

It would be the beginning of such occasions, hopefully, if implemented, where we are going to have the NOTA (None Of The Above) option chosen, and chosen correctly by the majority of the Indians and there would, obviously, be no fixing allegations here.

Right to Reject in polls is a reality now after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision today. Let’s see what innovation (manipulation) is offered by the politicians of India to negate it – the way they are working overtime to shield the tainted, convicted of their lot.

Also, there will be loads of wisdom flowing on its ‘if and buts’, on its ‘theoretical and practical aspects’ and on its maintainability but it is an evolutionary decision that, if survives the fangs of political manipulation, could revolutionize the systemic change in the electoral process, as the bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, P. Sathashivam, said while delivering the judgement on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) demanding the right to negative voting, and so would be a boon to cleanse the political muck in the country.

What is remarkable about this decision is it makes things easier for the voter while maintains secrecy of his decision and so makes his right more accessible to him by introducing a much needed correction.

In fact, there is a provision in the election rules in India (49-O – The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961) on electors not deciding to vote. It says: If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.

So, there was already an option for an elector to reject the candidates in his constituency but the process was tedious and was open to the risk of being targeted by the supporters (including the political goons) of the candidates once the name went public.

The Supreme Court decision would make it easier by introducing the ‘None Of The Above’ button in the electronic voting machine (EVM) or option on the ballot paper. The elector can easily exercise his Right To Reject without the requirement to approach the presiding officer of the poll booth putting his decision on paper and so risking being targeted later on. The Supreme Court has also ruled the secrecy of NOTA votes ‘must’ be maintained.

Though the apex court has not set any deadline for it, we can expect it to be rolled out in the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram this November-December with a pro poll-reform guard at the Election Commission of India.

Implementation of the Right To Reject option in the electoral process cannot change the disturbing political reality of India in one go but it is potent enough to initiate a chain reaction for further demands of electoral reforms and probity in public life.

Until now, very few politically conscious people have been using this right but with increased ease and accessibility, it can be expected that there would be a ripple effect, a ‘Spiral of Silence’ pattern of outcome where a silent but increasing number of the NOTA votes would inspire others to join the voice of conscience. It would bring the voters to the polling booths who otherwise don’t vote because they don’t approve any candidate in the fray.

Okay, this individual right to reject all the contesting candidates in a constituency by voting negatively is not going to result in the rejection even if the overall NOTA votes outperform the votes received by the winning candidate. But, for how long?

Imagine the scenario where every concluded election registers an ever increasing number of constituencies opting to reject all the candidates with the NOTA votes outdoing votes received by all others.

The would be the natural ground to demand the Right To Recall the ‘wrongly’ elected candidates and the Right To Reelection to get a better people’s representative.

How long can such legitimate demands be ignored or ‘suppressed’ in the changed scenario?

Politicians! Beware!

Though rare, it’s the real democratic tango of Indian democracy!

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/


There should be no second thoughts to this observation that, we, the Indians, are living (or forced to live) in a pseudo-democratic set-up in the world’s largest democracy.

It is true democracy doesn’t mean unrestricted freedom. The restricted freedom that it provides with some fundamental rights is intended to maintain a healthy socioeconomic growth in the country and its tenets are uniformly applied (in theory), for the high and mighty as well as for the low and feeble.

But that is not so in India, the world’s largest democracy. The clear divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, between the politicians and the voters and between the bureaucrats and the ordinary men is getting wider.

And that is why some recent developments to restore the true spirit of democracy by pushing and promoting probity and transparency in Indian politics give stimulus to the grey-matter to think positively though there exist the pertinent questions that such developments are not free from the tentacles of the political manipulation. Politicians are already on the job to undo the good for the country (but bad for their convoluted reasons) that these decisions can bring.

On June 3, the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled that six major political parties were public authorities and thus were under the purview of the Right To Information Act (RTI Act).

A major setback for the ‘corrupt type’ of politicians but the decision was a relief to a democracy forced to function in a suspended animation. With funding, earnings and expenditure running into billions of Rs and with enjoying multiple facilities from the government agencies, the indiscriminate run of the finances of the political parties must come under the public scrutiny to ensure transparency. Answerability to the public – it becomes all the more important with an Indian politics that is deeply soaked in corruption.

On July 5, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines as early as possible to regulate the poll manifestos of political parties. The court observed that freebies and promises like laptops or TV sets or gold ornaments ‘shake the roots of free and fair elections to a great degree’.

It was indeed a step overdue and must have been taken a long ago. It is silly to make promises like giving free laptops or TV sets when there is no electricity to use them. It is inhuman to promise gold ornaments when millions of the families cannot afford the basic minimum education and health expenditure. The fund that should be diverted to build resources to bring long term prosperity and so self-reliance is wasted by the politicians in these silly and senseless acts.

On July 10, the Supreme Court upheld a 2004 Patna high court ruling that had invalidated a provision made in the Representation of Peoples’ Act (RPA) to give undue benefit to the politicians. Part of the ruling by the apex court also debars politicians from contesting elections while in jail.

The provision (Section 8(4) of the RPA) by the lawmakers was a farce aimed at enabling the convicted politicians to contest elections until they had exhausted all the legal avenues like their sentencing being upheld by the Supreme Court. And given the pace of the judicial process, the political career of a politician gets over before he is sentenced ‘finally’ by a court.

There would be parleys among the politicians and sure, we are going to see the review appeals but even if we don’t analyse the long-term opportunity window that this decision would provide, even in the short-term, it is going to pay handsomely as the country is going to have important assembly and parliamentary elections in the coming months. The SC decision is going to be a milestone in checking the rapid criminalization of Indian politics.

On July 11, the Allahabad high court, in yet another landmark ruling, came down heavily on political parties holding caste-based political rallies.

The Lucknow bench of the high court banned the caste-based rallies in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state where the development politics has not been on play for quite some time to act as the call to fight the electoral battles.

Politics of India’s electorally most important state is riddled with the divisive elements of caste, religion and sectarianism. Though the court has banned such rallies in Uttar Pradesh in its decision, it is only natural that, being a high court decision, it is going to be a precedent for whole of the country.

Politicians, as they are, will try to scuttle these moves, especially the first three, in every possible way. We are already hearing the reports about an ordinance to amend the RTI Act to keep the political parties out of the ambit of the RTI Act. Then there are reports saying the government is to consult political parties on SC’s decision on ‘disqualification of lawmakers’ before approaching the top court with a review appeal.

But there indeed is hope where the courts are involved, especially the top courts like the high courts or the Supreme Court. No doubt politicians can go to any extent to manipulate the system for their selfish goals, but encroaching over the rights and decisions of the top courts, at a time when the top courts are seen as the only recourse for justice and hope available to the common man in the tidal wave of the political corruption, would be electorally unpleasant and so a tough call that no political outfit would like to take openly in the election season.

But it doesn’t mean they would take it as it comes.

Obviously, the Brethren council of politicians would keep on meeting clandestinely to see how they can still kill the spirit of these important landmark decisions.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/