Rule 49 (O) April 27, 2006Posted by scan man in Life in India, Politics.
It is election time again in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu State Assembly Election of 2006 is scheduled for May 8. The outcome will determine who governs us for the next five years.
The sitting member of the Legislative Assembly for my constituency is from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Communists, who are part of the DMK-led alliance have entered a fresh face into the fray this time. The candidate for the main opposition alliance led by the AIADMK is not well-known. There are about ten other candidates, most contesting as 'Independents' and a few from some of the minor parties.
The general opinion in the constituency, which has many industries and a strong trade union base, is that the Communists will hold on to the seat. The other candidates do not seem to have any realistic chance of winning.
My problem: I do not like any of the contestants in my constituency. I am never going to vote for a Communist. I don't like any of the other candidates. I don't want to vote for any of the others anyway as they are openly being talked of as potential losers. So I resigned myself to not exercising my democratic privilege in this election.
I learnt recently that there is another option open to voters like me. Rule 49 (O) of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 gives the voter the right to register at the polling booth, get his/her index finger inked, but refrain from casting the vote. The electoral officer then has to make an entry under the rule.
The Indian Democracy reveals such surprises sometimes. And here is the really good part. If the rejections exceed the number of votes polled, a re-election is ordered, but the rejected candidates do not have the right to contest again.
But there is a fundamental flaw in this. The fact that the voter opted for Rule 49 (O) will be known to everyone in the polling station. The secrecy of the ballot – one of the few unalienable rights of an Indian citizen – is lost. The Constitution bars even the courts from knowing a voter's choice of candidate under section 94 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1954.
Rule 49 (O), though flawed, works – whether we use ballot papers or Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). We don't use ballot papers anymore in Tamil Nadu. All the polling stations (4824) for all the constituencies (234) in the state will use EVMs.
It would be technically very easy to mark one of the buttons as 'None of the Above' to facilitate negative or neutral voting. This would also maintain the secrecy of the ballot. Our highly efficient and fiercely independent Election Commission had recommended such a change in 2001. It also figures prominently in the current proposal for electoral reforms put forward by the commission. (you can download a pdf file of the proposals here). A petition by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties seeking such a provision filed at the time of the last Parliamentary election (2004) is pending before the Supreme Court.
I am not surprised at the delay in implementing the change. I cannot imagine any of our current politicians supporting it. In fact I have not heard of even one politician mentioning this. At least some of the politicians keep mouthing platitudes about '33% reservation for women in the legislature', 'Uniform Civil Code' etc.. But I believe that no politician in his/her right mind would ever support a change in the electoral process which has the potential to make his/her election ineligible.
I can only hope that something of this sort will be implemented by the time the next election comes around.
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. – George Orwell.