India is a democratic nation. It practices electoral democracy. Under electoral democracy, the citizens of India choose their elected representatives at the local, state and the national level.
Elections are held every 5 years. Representatives from different political parties are nominated in the elections. At the same time, independent individuals (like you and me) too can stand in such elections.
|Great Indian Leaders|
The voters can vote for their preferred choice of candidates, among the available options. The candidate who gets the maximum number of valid votes is considered as an elected representative of the people. This is called as the First Past The Post principle.
What is expected from the Elected Representative?
This elected candidate is expected to do due justice to the aspirations of constituency - irrespective of the manner in which the underlying people in that constituency would have cast their vote.
It is his responsibility to ensure an all round development of the constituency. It is his duty to give voice to the people in the corridors of power. It is his obligation to discharge his duties with due fairness.
What actually happens?
However, the world is not fair. Such elected representatives do not meet the peoples expectations once they are elected to power. They do not discharge the duties expected out of them.
Instead of focusing on the development of their folks, they are more focused on their own personal development. Improvement of their constituency takes a back seat. Aspirations of the people are not met. Personal aspirations often take center stage.
|Disappointing Political Leadership|
The worst part? You are saddled with an incompetent representative for 5 years, or till the next elections - whatever is earlier. The system does not offer any mechanism to the people for changing the elected representative in the midst of his tenure.
The After Effects
All such things make the people disoriented from the electoral process. Next time they cast their vote, they decide not to vote against the previously elected candidate. Instead they vote for some other candidate. However, when the new elected representative performs as poorly as the previous one (if not poorer), the people lose faith in this democratic process called election.
What do they do next time? They simply do not cast their votes. Instead of choosing between the devil and the deep sea, they decide to remain oblivious. They do not turn up for the elections. They do not voice their opinions.
|Why Should I Vote?|
It would be worthwhile to note that in the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009, the average voter turn out was only 59.7%. Net in Net, out of the total electorate of 714 Million people, 287 Million men and women (including me) didn't vote.
On a side note, the total money spent in executing the elections was approximately 1200 crores Rupees (260 Million USD). Now, that's not a small amount of money for a poor nation like India.
What happens in this case? The winning candidates care less.
As long as he has been voted, it does not matter (to him) how we won. We end up with brash representatives. If the entire electorate would have voted, maybe he would not have been voted to power. If the entire section of the population would have participated in the voting process, he would have been an "also-ran". Only If.
In this growing decadence, there is one voice which is gaining ground. It is - The Right to Reject.
What is the Right to Reject?
Right to Reject is a facility where a voter says that he does not want to vote for any candidate listed in the election. He rejects all the candidates.
It's an excellent way of showing his displeasure on the candidates on offer. It's a mechanism of having his voice heard.
|The Right To Reject|
Does the Indian electoral process offer any way to reject any candidates? Yes, it does. I was unaware of this facility till now. And maybe, there are many more like me.
Under Rule 49-O of The Conduct of Election Rules of India, a voter can decide on not casting his vote and make a record of this fact.
The Rule goes as below :-
49-O. Elector deciding not to vote. 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.
In simple words, the person is telling - He is voting for None Of The Above (NOTA).
How did the people exercise this option in the pre EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) era? Well, they simply cast their ballot by marking their vote against multiple candidates. In this case, the vote was considered as Invalid.
What happened with the advent of the EVM's? The EVM lists only the set of valid candidates. A vote can be cast only once. As a result, it is not possible for the people to mark the vote against multiple candidates.
If he indeed has to reject all the candidates, he would have to make this fact known to the Election Officer. However, by doing so, he is violating the principle of secrecy of his ballot. Sometimes, technological advances do have their demerits too.
Well, this concept gives an opportunity to the people to make their displeasure about lack of suitable candidates known.
|None Of The Above|
Does it influence the results in any way? No, it doesn't. The candidate who has secured the highest number of valid votes polled is declared elected. Read more here.
Once again, we have a problem (of incompetent candidates participating in the elections) at hand. The solution on offer does not solve the problem. All it does is give an opportunity to someone to be vocal about his opinion. However, it's just an empty voice. It doesn't help anyone.
What are the different options suggested for handling such situations? There are quite a few. If the NOTA gets the maximum number of votes among the candidates, it could be possible to hold the elections again. However, that would be a costly process.
It could be possible to have a nominated representative instead of an elected representative. However, the fairness of this nomination can itself be questioned.
The alternatives are indeed limited. But there is a strong need for such a concept at this hour.
How do we improve the Right to Reject?
What are my suggestions? Well, a couple of them.
QnA 1 - How do we punish the poor candidates?
I propose that if the total number of NOTA votes are exceeding 49% of the valid votes polled by a candidate, he should be disqualified from the election process and should not be allowed to stand in any elections, at any level, for the next 10 years. His security deposit should also be forfeited.
What's the reasoning behind this idea?
Why 50%? Well, if a candidate has 100 people voting in his favor, but 50 people indicating that he is not worthwhile, his credentials and representational skills are being seriously questioned.
Why 10 years? Well, commonly, this is the time interval between 2 elections, and it would offer a chance to the candidate to improve on his credentials, and be a part of the electoral process again.
QnA 2 - How do we choose the winning candidate?
This is a tough question. I propose that the candidate who has polled maximum number of valid votes, with the total NOTA votes being less than 50% of his polled votes, be considered as a winner.
If choosing such a candidate is not possible, it means all candidates have been disqualified (as explained in QnA 1). In such a case, the election must be re held.
However, the elections are predominantly expensive. To avoid unnecessary expenditure of state funds, such elections must be funded by the security deposits of the failed candidates in the previous elections.
Candidates from recognized political parties must be made a pay a heftier security deposit (since they have access to fund raising facilities). Independents should have nominal security deposits.
In my opinion, Right To Reject is a good option.
It would give a facility to the people to make their voice heard. It is necessary to back up this concept with adequate mechanisms, so that the people do have their elected representatives at different level of the Government. It would also be important to ensure that the State does not end up expending funds due to lack of skilled political representatives.
|Democracy is a Challenge|
Some harsh and strict actions against rejected politicians may also help in cleansing up the field.
All of this is in hope of a better and a stronger democracy, and a stronger voice for the people. Long Live Democracy!!
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