Here’s Why The “Right To Reject” Is Necessary In A Country Like India

Posted on July 29, 2013 in Politics

By Neha Mayuri:

With the 2014 general elections inching closer, there is hope, faith, anticipation, disgust, fear and chaos — nationwide. The elections will be held in 2014 for the 16th Lok Sabha and the current i.e 15th Lok Sabha will complete its constitutional term on May 31st, 2014. Unfortunately, there is a feeling of indifference among a majority of people when it comes to politics- some are averse to it while others are apathetic. But abstaining from voting or commenting on politics is not a respite to the vicious cycle of corruption and power manipulation. By refusing to vote, one is in a Catch 22 situation. If one is above 18 and does not vote, is it then right for him/her to comment on corruption, government and the administration of India?

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Though, one must vote, one must also have a choice to reject all candidates one does not wish to vote for. Aren’t we tired of power manipulation? Don’t we feel like refraining from voting for the existing candidates? Don’t we all wait for a better leader? The “Right to Reject” is the only sensible option. It allows voters to register an official vote which means “none of the above”. None Of The Above (NOTA) aka “against all” or a “scratch all” vote is a ballot option which is designed to allow voters to indicate and express disapproval of all the candidates in a voting system. The Election Commission Of India told the Supreme Court in 2009 that it wished to propose and offer a “None Of The Above” button on voting machines, the government however opposed it. What’s worth pondering is that since India is a democracy, it is your right to state it clearly in the voting machines that “No Candidate Deserves My Vote!

However, there is a similar provision in the constitution which is Rule 49-O and is in “The Conduct Of Elections 1961” of India. According to this rule, if the voter decides not to vote, he can only do so after his electoral number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A. He needs to put his signature or thumb impression as well. The apparent purpose of this section is to prevent the misuse of votes. But, the biggest drawback of Rule 49-O is that it is a breach of privacy. Since the ballot paper and Electronic Voting Machines contain only the list of candidates and the “Right To Reject” option is not listed, a voter can under no situation record his vote under Section 49-O directly. He must inform the presiding officer at the election booth that he does not wish to vote for any candidate. This is illogical and not only violates the secrecy of ballot but also violates our right to vote confidentially.
However, with paper ballots, a different method is used which requires stamping on multiple candidates. This was the standard method of giving null votes without violating secrecy before the advent of the Electronic Voting Machines. When you vote under Section 49-O, the polling officials and agents at the polling station get to know about your decision, hence the section should be amended in order to prevent the violation of secrecy.

Our aversion to politicians makes us stay away from politics and voting which leads to the selection of wrong candidates. And then most of us do not want to go under the rigorously complicated Section “49-O”. Why are we making something as simple as voting so very complicated that a voter gets scared and becomes indifferent to the same? In the present scenario, a winner is declared irrespective of the number of “non votes”. Where then, is democracy? Why can’t we introduce something as simple as the “Right To Reject” which will not only fulfill our Fundamental Rights but also our Fundamental Duties as citizens because we will then have an incentive to vote and can reject a candidate who we think is undeserving.

India is witnessing an increasing support for the implementation of “Right To Reject”. Leaders such as Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr. Arvind Kejriwal have backed this option and then, activist Anna Hazare and the Election Commission of India have also voiced their support. As the Indian Supreme Court is looking into this issue, one will have to wait until this case is decided. But if the law were to allow the “None of the Above” option, and if the law were to allow for elections to be declared as null if the number of votes rejecting all candidates exceeded those polled by any of them, it would be a drastic step towards progressive change. It would mean that all the contesting candidates have been rejected by the voters. If this happens, the law would have to consider a re-election where all the previous candidates would not be allowed to contest again and this would be a big jolt to the corrupt candidates.

The voters in India are more empowered today than they were a couple of decades ago. The movement to effect this reform is really catching up in India. Introducing the “Right To Reject” in the Electronic Voting Machines is integral because it is our Right To Freedom Of Expression. At the present moment, we are often forced to choose between the corrupt or otherwise undesirable candidates and we end up settling for the lesser evil. But then, the same will certainly cease to happen if we get the “Right To Reject” in our Electronic Voting Machines.

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