ByÂ Dr. Amrit Patel:
The word Democracy has its origin from two Greek words, “Demos” meaning “people” and “Kratein” meaning “to rule”. Democracy, therefore, means Government by the people themselves. The late Abraham Lincoln, then President of the USA clarified the concept of democracy by describing that democracy is “the Government of the people, by the people and for the people”. In the Roman Republic, the rights of the individuals were always recognized and respected by the rulers who came from amongst the people themselves. For the Romans it was always an accepted doctrine that Vox populi supreme lex, i.e., the voice of the people is the supreme law. When people take keen interest in the functioning of the Government, they not only safeguard their own liberty but also realize the stake they have in the transparent and good governance of the country. This can prevent the ruling party in power augmenting its power that can jeopardize the interest of society.
It has been well said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and people in a democracy must take care not to be beguiled into a false sense of security by ruling party in power making a constant encroachment on their rights and liberties under the guise of alleviation of poverty, and employment generation leading to raising the standard of living of common men. This, therefore, emphasizes the significant need that each and every electorate must invariably exercise its franchise at the time of each election and keep a vigilant eye on the legislative activities of its elected representative. Electorate must express its opinions on all public matters by all constitutional means. Electorates should deem it their duty to demand from their elected representatives in the Legislatures to regularly apprise them their views on all topics affecting them. The ultimate success of a democracy can be measured in terms of the extent to which the electorates have intelligently taken interest in the functioning of the Government. In the final analysis, in a democracy the Government must function in accordance with the will of the electorates. Against this background this article highlights the need for the Election Commission to significantly enhancing the voters’ participation in all elections.
Our constitution has aptly conferred every adult Indian citizen of specified age to vote as well as get elected when election takes place for Gram Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies and national parliament. Free and fair election in a democratic country is a sine qua non. Equally important requirements are the effective participation of almost all voters and candidatures of dedicated persons. Free and fair election has necessarily to be equally accompanied by expected level of eligible voters’ participation in each constituency. While it has been a broad day light fact that a good number of State legislators and Parliamentarians have records of crimes, frauds, corruption, amassing huge wealth and considering them above the laws of the land, among others, voters’ participation in each election has been grossly inadequate to make the elected person a true representative of the voters and the geographical constituency. As for example, when around 6o% voters of the eligible voters vote and the share of elected candidate is 40% in the total votes cast, it represents only 24% of eligible voters, leave alone the population in the constituency. This cannot be accepted.
Acknowledging the past experiences of all Parliamentary and State Legislative elections, it is now more urgent and necessary than before to progressively improve voters’ effective participation in the forthcoming legislative elections in five States this year and Parliamentary election next year and all future elections. The very foundation and efficient functioning of the democracy through its election system lie in creating enabling environment in the country such that all eligible voters willingly vote in the election. It is indeed most disappointing that a good number of educated urbanites and those serving in several public and private offices are not willing to vote, despite they are given a full day paid holiday on the day of the election. The recent directive to add one more button on Electronic Voting Machine exhibiting none of the above should help understand exactly the percentage share of eligible voters not voting for any candidate but exercising their rights to vote.
It should be the serious concern for all the stakeholders to appropriately analyse constituency-wise the factors contributing to the low level of voters’ participation as also those inhibiting the large scale participation, particularly those not voting despite getting paid holiday just for facilitating them to cast their votes. This necessitates creating significant level of awareness among illiterate and semi-literate voters in rural and urban centres such that they do make it a point to cast their vote and exercise their right to elect the legislatures. Simultaneously, there is need to understand the real reasons for not voting by those given a paid holiday through comprehensive studies constituency-wise in each State and evolve the system, methods and procedure such that they are enabled to vote and exercise their right.
In this process, the role, responsibility and function of the Election Commission need to be crystalized and expanded sufficiently such that the Election Commission put in serious efforts to progressively improve the voters’ participation in every election to follow. Obviously, the State Government has an equal role to initiate policy and programs based on the studies and socio-economic considerations and effectively coordinate with the Election Commission such that in each of the constituencies in the respective State progressively voters in significant numbers willingly vote.
While some eligible voters do not find their names in the electoral rolls, others do not have valid identity cards and many find administrative procedure too cumbersome to get them registered as voters. Migrating or floating population is almost denied this right. In some villages voters are intimidated and threatened if they come out to vote.
The Election Commission should have a vision, mission and a strategic action plan that can significantly increase voters’ participation in each election, say for instance more than the previous election or more than the average value of last five elections in each constituency. Effective system, methods and procedure supported by appropriate monitoring and grievance redress mechanism can contribute much to achieve the targeted share of voters’ participation in the eligible number.
Educational institutes, business/corporate/industrial houses, public sector organizations, Government offices, financial institutions, insurance companies, NGOs, Civic Societies have a significant role in this area. Media of communication should play effective role in this area on lines of recently successfully concluded “how-to-do-it RTI” workshops by the Times of India in 18 cities in partnership with the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.
While there are no incentives for voters to vote, there are no disincentives for those not voting. For example, those getting full day paid holiday just to facilitate them to vote can be deprived of this facility in case they do not vote and adequate compensation need to be paid to those who willingly vote sacrificing their time and earning on the day of the election.