By Tushar Singh
Guess who was the third most voted in the Gujarat elections? It was not the Janata Dal United or the Nationalist Congress Party. It was not even the Aam Aadmi Party.
It was NOTA- None Of The Above.
If Gujarat polling 1.8% NOTA is a big shock, then how would one react to nearly 3% people voting NOTA in Puducherry and Meghalaya? NOTA, ever since being introduced in 2013, has shown that voters many-a-times do not want any of the candidates listed by all political parties. This is particularly important in India as we have a history of criminals accused of high-end crimes like rape and murder amongst others getting tickets and also winning the elections (Read: Bahubalis in Bihar and UP). Therefore, NOTA should, as the Supreme Court hopes, force parties to field candidates known for integrity.
Not a problem-free alternative
However, the problem with NOTA is that it is not equivalent to the Right to Reject. As former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi said, if out of 100 votes, NOTA gets 99 votes, the candidate with just one vote will be elected. Therefore the NOTA option we have is not potent enough to reject all candidates. It merely helps us to register our dissatisfaction.
Even though NOTA does help in increasing voter turnout and taking away votes from undeserving candidates, it cannot prevent undeserving candidates from becoming a public official. There is no doubt that if NOTA had the power to reject all the candidates, a lot more people would have voted for it. This is where the question of ‘Right to Reject’ comes in. Should NOTA be given enough ‘teeth’ so that if most people go for NOTA, a re-election is called with new candidates?
A case study of the 2009 by-poll of Tamar constituency in Jharkhand may help crystallize the argument. People celebrated the defeat of the CM Shibu Soren who had been charged with murder and corruption. However, what must be noted is that Gopal Krishna Patar, who defeated Soren, was an accused out on bail and faced a criminal case under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including ‘attempt to murder’. Therefore, for the poor voters, it was the case of choosing the lesser evil. Had there been a Right to Reject, many voters, if not the majority, would have opted to reject both the candidates and call for a re-election with new and hopefully cleaner candidates.
Powerlessness of the Right
In many cases in today’s India, voters have to make a ‘forced’ choice. The Right to Reject, if provided to the voters, will represent the true choice of the Indian electorate. However, with 34% of MPs facing criminal charges when elected in 2014 (highest in 21st century India), one wonders whether any political party will be willing to bring in the Right to Reject, risking their own candidates’ future. Right to Reject is a step towards voter empowerment and was one of the demands by Anna Hazare during his India Against Corruption campaign. Right to Reject is a tool by which the voter can tell the political parties that he/she has had enough and needs a change.
Voters must have the ultimate power
Another right which has gained some importance this year is the Right to Recall. Introduced as a Private Member’s Bill in Lok Sabha by Varun Gandhi in 2017, the Right to Recall gives the electorate the right to recall a candidate, even if he is the Prime Minister, who represents them at the state or the union level if his performance is deemed below par. Varun Gandhi has argued that since voters have the right to elect their representatives, they must have the right to remove them if an overwhelming majority of voters in the constituency (75% according to Varun Gandhi) deems fit.
Right to Recall in one form or the other has been present in Canada’s Legislative Assembly of British Columbia since 1995, several states of the USA and even ancient Greece. Even though logic precipitates that a Right to Recall must be given to the voters, in a comparatively new democracy like India, where many voters lack education and where political instability and coalition governments have been the trend till very recently, its introduction right now will be premature. It may lead to political instability and fall of governments, especially in small states where the margin of the majority is very low. Moreover, in regions marred by violence like Kashmir, the Naxalite red belt and some parts of the North-East, right to recall makes no sense due to abysmally low voter turnout. Therefore, while we are not yet ready for it, we must start debating about it as one day or another, in order to establish ourselves as a true democracy, we will have to introduce the right to recall.
Last right to be discussed is the Right to Negative Vote, which is a bit anarchical in nature. It basically means a person can vote down one candidate. For example, instead of voting ‘for’ candidate X, I can vote ‘against’ candidate X. Therefore, if 10 people vote for candidate X and 4 people vote against him, his net votes will be 6. The person with most net votes will win the election. The biggest advantage of the negative vote is that if I do not want one particular candidate to be elected for some reason and am indifferent to whosoever gets elected instead of him, rather than randomly choosing another candidate or hitting NOTA, I can simply vote against the candidate whose election I object to. This further refines our democracy and presents a truer picture of the sentiments of the people. However, this right can easily be misused and if the quality of candidates isn’t good enough, many candidates can end up with net negative votes.
Therefore, in conclusion, it can be said, that given the huge number of criminals being votes into power, the Right to Reject is the need of the hour. Once we ensure that our Parliament is free of scumbags, and greater political stability as time progresses, we introduce the Right to Recall to ensure greater accountability of the elected representatives. Once these two Rights are given to the electorate, along with an educated population, we can finally introduce the Right to Negative Vote to finish the transformation into a complete and vibrant democracy.
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