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06 October 2013

Right to Reject verdict: With NOTA electing 'lesser of the two evils' should now be passe

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedbad: Now all those who do not vote, because they find the candidates hopeless, can show their disapproval of all of them – while remaining part of the electoral process? If this (NOTA) option gets more votes than any of the candidates, then no candidate should be declared elected. Fresh elections should be held with new candidates.

Hailing Supreme Court’s judgment of introducing ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) button on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), city-based activists and leaders have said that the availability of this option liberates the voter from being cornered into picking “lesser of the two evils”.

It also empowers them to show their disapproval of all candidates, and at the same time, is a step towards a more democratic system and not a solution in itself.

Prominent civil and human rights activist Prof. J. S. Bandukwala while talking to this Correspondent says, "Right to reject, also called negative vote, was a result of frustration among enlightened citizens on the poor quality of candidates available at election time. My colleague Rohit Prajapati played an important part in this drive. One can ask why we cannot get good candidates, right from Lok Sabha down to Municipalities and Panchayats? Remember there was a time about 90 years ago, when the Sardar Patel was the President of the Ahmedabad Municipality, and Jawaharlal headed the Allahabad Municipality. Towering figures like Feroze Shah Mehta led the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Where did we go wrong? The answer lies in the web of our evolution as a society. Hundred years ago there were hardly any options for people of talent and ambition, other than to go for law or politics. Industry and business were at a premitive stage. The best minds saw Municipality as a spring board to a future in politics.

"This lasted upto independence. We had a galaxy of leaders of the highest calibre. Then a revolution in ethics and morality occured. There was great money and fame to be made in politics, provided you had one foot in industry or business. Gandhian simplicity collapsed, except for the use of old Ambassador cars. Lutyens Delhi became the ultimate symbol of achievement. It was only a matter of time before fathers/mothers groomed their progeny to take over the mantle whether in politics or business. The reign of power was too important to be handed over to an a rank outsider. The dynasty system began and spread to all parties (with the exception of the Communists), and sadly even infected NGO, corporate leaders, trade unions etc.

"That closed the doors for people of talent. Worst it brought in a system of mass corruption as the 'dynasty' had to win elections for the progeny. In most cases they were not up to the mark in terms of service to society and the country. That required more and more money had to be spent to "elect" the prince.

"In this situation of cynicism and anger, many bright and dedicated people thought it best to alter the system. One approach was to give voters a negative vote. The voter goes upto the booth, but instead of endorsing one candidate, he just rejects all of them. If the rejected numbers are substantial, it immediately would deligitamize the winning candidate. However, it should be noted that there is a vast difference between a negative vote and not voting at all. The hope is that such a phenomenon at the national level would force poiltical parties to search for better candidates and spend less money at election time. I admit this is a hope . But if coupled with the Supreme Court's stand against corrupt /criminal leaders , may help us turn a new leaf."

Mallika Sarabhai, a noted danseuse and social activist, said the announcement is “great news”. She said, “Now all those who do not vote, because they find the candidates hopeless, can show their disapproval of all of them – while remaining part of the electoral process. The next step is to recall an elected official for corruption or dereliction of duty.”

Advocate and founder of NGO Jan Sangharsh Manch, Mukul Sinha, said that the move will bring to light bad choices made by political parties. “A party will have to think hard before declaring a candidate, as they cannot get away with picking just anyone,” said Sinha. “The voter’s hand has been strengthened now. As it (NOTA) encourages people to come forth and pick neither party, the number fo such voters will also show incumbency among candidates,” he said. The move will also make voters more active players in the process of elections.

Noted civil rights activist and lawyer, Girish Patel, echoed similar views. “People choose to not vote for many reasons. But with this judgement, at least those voters that do not vote due to unacceptable candidates will no longer be absentees at the poll booth. I too used to be part of this,” said Patel. “In addition, if many such non-voters turn up, which is a possibility, then it can serve as a good warning to the party that their choice of candidate was wrong.”

But the outcome of the NOTA option would depend greatly on details of its implementation, believes Prof Jagdeep Chhokar, former dean of IIMA and founder of Association of Democratic Reforms. “The number of NOTA votes cast should be counted during polls, and if this option gets more votes than any of the candidates, then no candidate should be declared elected. Fresh elections should be held with new candidates. This was we would maximum benefit from the judgement,” said Chhokar.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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