“Right to Reject” for Ensuring Vibrant Democracy
October 5, 2013
Introduction of “None of the Above” (NOTA) in Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and Ballot papers by the Supreme Court of India is a remarkable verdict in the history of Indian democracy, reassuring the “Right to Liberty”.
The Supreme Court announced that “right to reject” candidates in elections is part of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression given by the Constitution to Indian citizen. Supporting the view that democracy is all about choice, the Court said that the essence of the electoral system should be to ensure voter’s freedom to exercise free choice. Hence the right of the citizen to cast negative voting holds a major significance for proper functioning of the democratic process.
By directing this verdict, the court is making way for bringing about purity in elections in our country. Many a times, a voter has to cast vote to an unworthy candidate unwillingly as he/she has no other option/choice to go for. The new system will force political parties to field candidates known for sound integrity and with potential to contribute to good governance of the country.
The nation should be thankful to the three-judge bench headed by Shri P. Sathasivam, Chief Justice; Smt Ranjana Desai, Justice and Shri Ranjan Gogoi, Justice of Supreme Court for the landmark judgement. Their stand on the “Right to reject” is that for democracy to survive, best available candidate should be chosen.
Article 19 guarantees the citizens the right to speak, criticise, and disagree on a particular issue. It stands on the spirit of tolerance and allows people to have diverse views, ideas and ideologies. Not allowing a person to cast vote negatively defeats the very freedom of expression and the right ensured in Article 21, the right to liberty.
Going back to 1960s, voters were given the option of going to the polling stations and not casting their votes, under section 49-0 of the Conduct of Election Rules. In 1961, as per the said rule, if an electorate, after his/her name has been registered and signature or thumb impression taken, decides not to cast vote, a remark “Refused to Vote” is made against the electorate’s name by the Presiding Officer. The voter must be able to register a vote of rejection if they are of the opinion that none of the contesting candidates deserve to be voted for. Such activities help to check bogus votes.
Suppose in an assembly constituency having 25,000 voters, having polling percentage of 70, which is only 17,500 voters, franchised their voting rights. The winning candidate gets around 4000 votes only as compared to around 13 ,000 against him. The winner itself is a loser in terms of the number game and there was no ordinance to select the most favoured candidate. This is the fallacy of the current electoral process which had been going on before the amendment of “Right to reject”.
In the above case if the “Right to reject” or “Negative Votes” crosses 4000 mark, will there be Supreme Court directive to the Election Commission of India to reject the winning candidate and make necessary arrangement for re-poll with new set of candidates not contested in the said poll? This is the fear many political activists are arguing against the new “Negative Voting”.
Now, if more than 50% of the electorates of a particular constituency vote negatively, then that constituency must undergo fresh election. I believe that this will gradually improve our political system as all political parties will than be forced to select credible candidates.
Another problem seen is if a candidate with sound integrity contests the election and negative voting surpasses the candidates vote shares, what will be the outcome? Will Election Commission invalid his winning Votes?
Hence in my opinion the Supreme Court should further discuss various aspects and impacts of the verdict in the greater interest of the public. Along with “Right to Reject” judgement, the Supreme Court must bring in or introduce some remedial measures for the existing gaps/loopholes which will then appropriately support the new verdict for proper functioning of our democracy and governance.