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Say NO to “None of the Above” idea – Guest post by Barun Mitra

14 April 2009 979 views 43 Comments

*** Say NO to “None of the Above” idea by Barun Mitra ***

(Emphasis Added)

In the aftermath of the terrorist strike in Mumbai on 26/11/2008, many people expressed their anger and frustration at the political leadership. An idea that has gained new currency has been the decade-old proposal to introduce a negative option in the ballot – “None of the Above”, or simply the ‘No Vote’, to express our lack of confidence in politicians as such. Even the Supreme Court has called for a larger bench to decide on a recent PIL filed by the PUCL, asking for the introduction of the ‘No Vote’ in the ballot. The Election Commission of India has endorsed the idea too.

But the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Thus, while sharing the sentiments of those who feel disfranchised and frustrated by politics as usual, I propose that we say NO to the idea of the ‘No Vote’. This is an idea that is not only undemocratic, but is actually anti-democratic in principle.

It is based on a gross misunderstanding of our democratic institutions and electoral politics. Finally, the implications of the ‘No Vote’ have hardly been thought through.

I am afraid this may sound too provocative to some.

But the whole idea is to provoke and encourage a vigorous discussion on all aspects of this issue. This is really necessary if we are effectively to assess the functioning of our democratic institutions, and then propose real reforms to improve on the current state of affairs.

The second reason I would like to be provocative is because I don’t look at democracy as a system where the majority rules. Rather, democracy is a system where minority views need to be protected so that they have the opportunity and freedom to persuade people and peacefully win others to their side, so that today’s minority view point has the potential to become the dominant opinion of tomorrow.

First, we need to take a look at the idea of representative democracy. In large countries, and with increasingly sophisticated and nuanced rules of governance, direct democracy as seen in ancient Greece is hardly the appropriate mode of politics and governance.  In a referendum, voters can decide for or against a specific motion; however, when laws are set in a legislative chamber, based on debate and voting by elected representatives, the voter’s voice can only be represented, indirectly, by the legislator. By refusing to vote for a legislator, the eligible voter is, in effect, abstaining from participation in the entire political process.

We saw in the last few years, how people in different countries of the European Union, repeatedly voted ‘No’ on the question of the proposed European constitution. But that ‘No Vote’ was not against the idea of the representative democracy, but a vote against the proposed continental constitution. This gave a clear signal to the elected representatives of the climate of opinion prevailing in many parts of Europe.

A ‘No Vote’ on the ballot aimed at electing the representatives themselves, however, will only undermine the legitimacy of the process of representative democracy itself.

Let us extend the argument further. What would be the implications of such a ‘No Vote’ against the candidates contesting in the election in a constituency? Firstly, should the election be cancelled if the ‘No’ wins more vote than the candidates on the ballot? Or should re-polling be ordered only if 51% or more of the voters express lack of confidence in the existing slate of candidates? Suppose a fresh vote is ordered, should the previous set of candidates be allowed to stand again? In case the ‘No Vote’ turns out to be the dominant sentiment of the citizens in a constituency or a country, who would actually bear the responsibility for governance? Should the existing set of politicians just continue in office till the political deadlock over ‘No Vote’ is broken? Or should an un-elected bureaucracy or nominated technocracy be asked to take over the reins of political power?

These are not rhetorical questions. Recently, Bangladesh held its election for national Parliament after a two year stint by a military backed technocratic government. (According to Bangladeshi constitution, an interim non-political government is to over see the national election within a span of three months.) On local newspaper, TV channels and at almost every polling station, there were official advertisements and posters, informing people about the new choice on the ballot, the ‘No Vote’. On the day of the ballot, the voters gave a decisive verdict. Across the country, over 80% turn out was recorded, but the ‘No Vote’ totaled a fraction of 1% of the votes polled. The highest tally for the ‘No Vote’ came in some individual polling booths (not even entire constituencies). These were booths in areas where the elite and educated of Dhaka reside, and the ‘No Vote’ ranged between 5 and 10%.

This was a telling lesson for the Bangladeshi intelligentsia, many of whom had advocated the ‘No Vote’. The verdict of the people only exposed the wide divide between them and the ordinary voters – who turned up in large numbers on polling day, in the hope of a better democratic future.

We the intelligentsia, may not have the capacity to win the confidence of our fellow citizens, and win at the ballot. But that is no reason for us to try and delegitimise representative democracy, or worse, seek to depoliticize political democracy.

This brings me to the last of my three points of criticism of the ‘No Vote’. It has been repeatedly said that our democracy has become unrepresentative, unresponsive, and our politics has been devalued and even debased. There is no doubt, that there is a much more than a grain of truth in those accusations.

As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government – except all the others that have been tried.” 

The problems of democracy can only be dealt with even more democracy, and not by short circuiting it.

Take the argument that Indian democracy is unrepresentative, because a typical representative can get elected with about 35% of the vote, in the winner take all first-past-the-post electoral system that we have inherited from the British, and made it our own. Indeed, there are instance, when a winning candidate may get less than even 25% of the total votes polled. If we assume that in a typical election about the half of those registered to vote actually do cast their ballot, this would be mean it is possible to win with the support of barely 12% of the voters in a particular constituency.

Is this low threshold a problem or strength of our democracy? In my view, this is perhaps the single biggest strength of our electoral system. The low threshold gives almost every candidate who wants to contest a hope that electoral success is not an impossible dream. This is perhaps one of the reason why increasing number of people contest the elections, and so many parties vie for a place. And this is perhaps also the reason why it is so difficult for sitting legislators to get re-elected. At just over a third, India has among the lowest reelection rate among established democracies anywhere in the world.

If we the intelligentsia, fail to win the support of even so few or our fellow citizens in our own constituencies, should we blame the electoral process, should we blame the voters for their follies, or should we ask ourselves why are we so disconnected from our own people? Is it really fair to expect our fellow citizens who may spend a few hours or to cast their ballot, to actually go to the polling station and cast his vote for the “No”? Do we really understand why so many poor people vote?

Another criticism we hear is that none of the candidates in a constituency may be suitable, because some of them may be tainted by charges of corruption and crime. So a ‘No Vote’ would be an expression of collective lack of confidence about the choices on offer. However, in a typical constituency these days, there are more than 10-12 candidates from different political parties and many independents. Since majority of the candidates will not be ‘tainted’, it should be eminently possible to support some of these against the tainted ones.

New political parties, and concerned citizens, are free to enter the fray and offer themselves as possible alternatives. With such low entry barriers, it is reasonable to think that if real alternatives are offered to the voters, and imagination of the voters captured, then voters are likely to make an informed choice. So an attempt to reject all the choices on offer is not so much of a lack of confidence in the slate of candidates on offer, but a lack of our own confidence in ourselves to enter the fray, and lack of confidence in our fellow citizens’ capacity to make a better choice.

As the world gets ready to watch in wonder, yet one more time, the amazing experience of electoral democracy in action in India this summer, we the citizens of the world’s largest democracy might be much better off pondering why do people who vote in such large numbers do take the trouble of voting at all? Why do they hold their cards so close to their chest that even professional pollsters and politicians find it so difficult to decipher the public mood till after the election?

As we head in to the 15th general election, rather than calling for the ‘No Vote’, we will do much better if we spend a little effort at understanding the fundamental basis of the largest democracy in the world. We may yet discover the secret of connecting to our people, of ways of reaching out to our fellow citizens with a new political message of revival. If we succeed, then rather than the “No”, we may suddenly find ourselves saying “Yes” to the democratic miracle that is India, and take the political plunge to wash away the ills that affect our system.

*** End ***

UPDATE: Barun is the Founder and Director of the Liberty Institute – and involved in a number of other laudable initiatives including EmpoweringIndia. My apologies for forgetting to mention this before.

Related Posts:

Politics & Corruption: Here’s how to “fix the system” 

Polls:

What is stopping you from joining active politics? 

Should there be certain “selection criteria” for MPs? 

Why bother with politics? – Sanjeev Sabhlok 

UPDATE: Some of you will also enjoy reading this post: “Un-electing” our leaders – Chhattisgarh shows the way

UPDATE II: Re. Section 49-O (courtesy Sanjeev Sabhlok)

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.

This is under the Conduct of Election Rules 1961

Source: http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/subord/cer1.htm

Pl. note that there is no record published of these votes. If a majority vote under 49(O), that does not mean the election is re-held.

43 Comments »

  • 1. Kaffir said:

    Good analysis,

    My only comment is that anyone who chooses not to vote for someone – or anyone – has that right in a democracy, just as others have a right to choose to vote for someone. There’s much more to democracy than just voting, and we should be careful to not judge people based simply on whether they voted or not.

  • 2. Jai Hind said:

    Read the last stanza — “Jab vote ka waqt aaya to”.
    *** COMMENT EDITED ***

    Listen on youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/5-g6DCfPsDA

    Jab Ghaayal Hua Thaa Mumbai
    ————————–

    Aye mere watan kay logon
    Zara aankh may bhar lo paani
    Jo Shaheed huay hain unkee
    Zara yaad karo kurbaani


    Jab vote ka waqt aaya to
    Kehtay hum hain aabhaari
    O kaptee sab netaaon
    Niklay kyon bhrashtaachaari.
    Ho ek se ek ahamkaari
    Jinko bas gaddi pyaari
    Kar-kar lay kar janta say
    Bus apnee jholee bhar lee.

    Jai Hind Jai Hind !

  • 3. Bhishma said:

    The concept of ‘none of the above’ is meaningless. Not voting effectively amounts to ‘none of the above’ – either because
    a) I dont care who rules OR
    b) I dont like anyone on the list

    Explicitly adding ‘none of the baove’ option, would create more problems for the electoral process than solve. What if ‘none of the above’ gets the majority? Would there be a governor’s/president’s rule in that area?

    Voting shoule be justa fundamental right and not ‘duty’. IMO.

  • 4. riya said:

    I agree that the No Vote option would create more problems. But if there is situation in which you find all of the candidates are tainted with corruption and crime, and you don’t want to vote for any of them , then in that case what do you do?

  • 5. Patriot said:

    @Bhishma:

    “The concept of ‘none of the above’ is meaningless. Not voting effectively amounts to ‘none of the above’”

    Actually not – if you do not go to the polling station at all, your voice is not heard. By voting, none of the above, you are expressing a positive opinion.

    “What if ‘none of the above’ gets the majority? Would there be a governor’s/president’s rule in that area?”

    No, you would just have a re-election (bye-election rules would apply, I guess), with the same candidates or different ones.

    And, this would be a really brilliant option, especially in our current scenarios of fractured verdicts. Imagine, that you have 20 such seats in the whole country, where “none” have triumphed over the rest (and I imagine that this will more likely happen in the urban areas) and you have a hung parliament in the interim – these 20 seats get to decide who will form the government – do you not think that we would actually then get VERY GOOD candidates in the re-election?

    The more I think about this, the more I get convinced that under the current system, getting “None of the above” on EVMs has to our prime objective. All the political NGOs should be agitating for this cause.

    Cheers

  • 6. timex said:

    Awake you all idiots. One should never vote in elections till the right to reject candidature is given. All elections in India are useless waste of time and money. All the elections have done till now is to give rise to black money and crime. Election promotes politicians not on base of merit but on base of religion, caste and other various differentiators. The only differentiation between politicians which is glaringly absent is that of meritocracy.

    What Mr Barua has written to bring out the illeffects of No Vote Option to shows immaturity of thought process of writer and those who agree.

    Who so ever thinks I am wrong can communicate with me at tommgm@in.com including the poster of the blog.

  • 7. B Shantanu said:

    I am somewhat surprised that most commentators have ignored the points made by Barun in the article…

    For the vast majority of citizens, voting in elections is the closest they will get to participate in the political process…By asking them to refrain from it, are we not questioning the very basis of democracy?

    The argument that there is no suitable candidate does not wash with me…what is stopping people from contesting for elections themselves? and in a large number of constituencies, one will find at least one or two independent candidates with relatively good track record of social service/other expertise whom one can vote for.

  • 8. Nanda said:

    When it comes to election, all that is important is what an average Indian thinks about a party or candidate. The good intentions of the independents are useless in elections. These are the winning qualities in Indian elections
    1. Should be popular and known to every individual voter. Just campaigning to elites and few locals can’t even save deposit. Party or candidate should be known to every voter.
    2. Every voter should perceive a personal benefit from the party or candidate. Average Indian is very selfish and will vote only for those who caters to his individual needs. This includes all castes. Greater visions don’t mean anything to this aam aadmi voters.
    3. Apart from an average Indian, there are group voters whose leaders should perceive a special attention and agenda from the party. The individual voters here are guided by instructions and teachings of their leaders only. They are (a)minority religions (b)dalits

    Any party that aspires to win election must achieve these three by any means, good or bad. Else, they can never win election however good their intentions and vision are, like the independent who has been loosing against gandhi family for last 30 years.

  • 9. Patriot said:

    @ Shantanu:

    “For the vast majority of citizens, voting in elections is the closest they will get to participate in the political process…By asking them to refrain from it, are we not questioning the very basis of democracy?”

    Actually, you are strengthening the basis of democracy, not weakening it, by saying that we will no longer be forced to choose the lesser evil.

    And, the vast majority of citizens would still be participating in the elections, right? After all, you have to go to the polling station and vote “None of the above”. And, you will be empowering 48% of India, which *chose* not to vote at all.

    Cheers

  • 10. Patriot said:

    @ Nanda:

    I do not agree with your above post. I am far more positive about India and Indian voters, especially now.

    Development has become the sole agenda in majority of states. Roads and power supply have become more important than castes in a majority of constituencies.

    This is not to say that there are no pockets where caste/social prejudices do not play a part, but they no longer trump the cause of development in a majority of areas.

    This is the big change that I am seeing over the past 5-7 years.

    Cheers

  • 11. Visitor said:

    We should be able to tell our politicians “GO TO HELL” and thats perfect democracy, a person with votes of only 20% of the people from a constituency, becomes representative of the people and your post means to say that its democracy. Well for most Indians its just a murder of democracy…
    Well let me explain your three points:

    “By refusing to vote for a legislator, the eligible voter is, in effect, abstaining from participation in the entire political process.”

    –Its not abstaining but it is a full partisipation, our politicians also do the same when they make a walk out. It is an expression of rejection and it is one of the reason people vote for only one and not multiple candidates.

    “A ‘No Vote’ on the ballot aimed at electing the representatives themselves, however, will only undermine the legitimacy of the process of representative democracy itself.”

    – Atleast it will make the people know and also make the politicians realise on what ground they stand. It will be an important factor for politicians to go for the next elections and also will surely help in reducing corruption.

    “We the intelligentsia, may not have the capacity to win the confidence of our fellow citizens, and win at the ballot. But that is no reason for us to try and delegitimise representative democracy, or worse, seek to depoliticize political democracy.”

    – Well your statement says it, a person who cannot win confidence of people becomes a representative of people, and you say its political democracy. Well what can be more undemocratic then this? A person not by the people, not of the people — and how can he be for the people when he fails to even reach them?

  • 12. Incognito said:

    One of the Panchatantra tales goes like this-

    Once in a forest deers were in a majority. They used to elect herbivorous animals to power and ensured that policies favorable to vegetarians were implemented.

    There were some foxes in that area who found such policies very restrictive. They being minority were always defeated in the polls. They realised that they can never hope to capture power unless they played a trick.

    After lot of secret deliberations they hatched a plan.
    They started spreading rumours that all politicians are bad.
    Then they started persuading the voters to vote for “none of the above”, that being the way to express their displeasure of politicians. They wrote articles in newspapers and comments on blogs using various pseudonyms.

    Many of the deers and other herbivorous animals fell for the trick and voted ‘none of the above’.
    The foxes simultaneously ensured that all carnivorous animals voted for their candidate.
    When the votes were counted, for the first time in history the candidate of the foxes had a narrow margin over the deer candidate and he was declared elected.

    Slowly the policies began to change and life for the deers became hell.

    Soon illegal immigrants from surrounding areas began to settle down in that forest in large numbers and the deers were reduced to a minority.

    Last heard deers are facing extinction due to unrestricted killings by the carnivorous animals who have been in power ever since they got elected through the trick of ‘none of the above’.

  • 13. B Shantanu said:

    Brief excerpt from Former CEC cautions against ‘no vote’ option

    …we should not overemphasise this negative voting…

    The purpose is to choose a person and it should not be taken to an extreme where everybody decides nobody is fit.

    - Former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami

  • 14. Sanjeev Sabhlok said:

    *** Extract from Sanjeev’s email on FTI GoogleGroup ***

    Last attempt* *to persuade begins now!

    *

    Let us say that G believes he is a good person. B is supposedly bad (so G thinks). Both are entitled to contest elections.

    Let us say that G is in addition to being so-called good, a highly irresponsible person (which casts his grandiose claim to be ‘good’ in seriously doubt, and in my view, makes him a *really *bad person). So G refuses to contest elections but each time B contests he votes: Not B!

    Nothing constructive here. Simply a negative veto: Not B!

    As a result B can’t represent G or B. That constituency (say of 2 persons only) has no representation.

    What has G achieved by doing this? Nothing except demonstrate his total irresponsibility and lack of civic sense. Nothing stopped G from contesting elections if he was supposedly good. Since the law permitted G to contest elections. G was *obliged *to contest elections and persuade B to vote for
    him (or get other citizens to vote for him). Presumably if he was so good, he could have done so. But G was not really good, was he? He didn’t have the guts, capacity, or calibre to attract a single vote. So he chose to act with extreme irresponsiblity, the worst possible action any citizen can take.

    In my view, there is no place in liberalism for irresponsibility of *any *sort.

    Advocating NOTA is a copout, an act of extreme irresponsbility. The only reason one could advocate that is (and by the way violent revolution is far preferable to this option) if ALL other options have been exhausted and found wanting. I would strongly urge you to revolt and violently topple the
    government before you consider this extremely negative option. Violent revolution is an act of responsiblity in some circumstances (not in the current Indian circumstances, but in *some*).

    The order of preference for a liberal goes thus:

    a) G a **genuinely** good person contests elections
    b) G refuses to contest elections making lame excuses, but at least votes for B.
    c) G does not vote at all and stays at home (a deplorable option).
    d) G starts a civil disobedience movement against corruption
    e) G organises a violent revolution and topples the corrupt govenrnment by force.
    f) G leaves the country and bids farewell by not even trying to reform the system.

    What you are giving me is this single option!

    G who is allegedly good (but in fact a **really** bad) person goes to the booth and votes AGAINST everyone! The ultimate anarchist, the ultimate illiberal.

    How can we claim to be good citizens and yet destroy the very concept of liberal demoracy?

    I have nothing more to say. Except that I take this idea of NOTA as a serious dereliction of duty of citizenship.

    …It is not sufficient to be ‘good’. We must act with responsiblity. We must act to advance freedom with accountability.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

  • 15. Patriot (author) said:

    There is no obligation for political parties to serve us better candidates, unless they are pushed through various means – this is correct.

    But, are the political parties providing us candidates due to their innate goodness, due to CHARITY?

    Are they taking a loss because of this activity, which is being being footed by their party members? Are they not being paid salaries, if elected, by the tax payers? (I shall not even go into the money they make through corruption, here). In which case, are political parties not a business like any other business?

    As consumers, why can we NOT ask for a higher standard from people who seek to earn salaries out of us, as taxpayers?

    If I remember correctly, this is a core part of your position, Sanjeev – that politicians need to be paid more so as to attract good people to this business. And, if that is correct, then why should we also not have the CHOICE to demand better quality from our businesses that seek to “serve” us?

    If the politicians were standing for elections, out of the goodness of their heart and for FREE, your position would be correct, Sanjeev.

    I would have no locus standi to question whoever is standing for elections. But, if these blighters want me to pay for them, then I jolly well can reject all of them, if they do not meet my standards.

    Natural division of labour has led to the creation of political parties and PE funds, over a period of time – I am a PE fund manager, by training and experience, and not a politician. Priya Dutt (to take a random good quality example) is a politician by training and experience, and not a PE fund manager.

    Just as she would expect me to do a superlative job, if she invested money in me, I expect her to do a superlative job, if elected, because I will DEFINITELY be paying a part of her salary. And, to take this
    analogy a little further, just as she would do a beauty parade of Fund managers to select one or more, I should be able to do the same for politicos, with both having the choice to reject the entire slate, without assigning any reasons, whatsoever.

    Why should we consider current organised Political Parties any differently from that of a business?

    Citizens have a right to vote, and the right to abstain (or vote negatively) is implicitly included in the right to vote. And, no one should be able to take this away from me – my right to abstain or vote No. This is a natural construct of liberty.

    Cheers

    *** NOTE by MODERATOR ***

    This comment by Patriot and the following comments by Sanjeev Sabhlok and Patriot have been extracted from an email exchange.

  • 16. Sanjeev Sabhlok (author) said:

    “But, are the political parties providing us candidates due to their innate goodness, due to CHARITY? Are they taking a loss because of this activity, which is being being footed by their party members? Are they not being paid salaries, if elected, by the tax payers? (I shall not even go
    into the money they make through corruption, here). In which case, are political parties not a business like any other business?”

    A democracy can only run if citizens (whether as individuals or as parties) contest elections. Some people feel they can represent us and they stand up to contest. We then choose among them because we want a voice in the Parliament. Representation is a job. Any citizen who fuflils the following conditions can apply for the job. Only one is elected. That job pays whatever the rate determined by the representative body of citizens.

    …..

    *Is being a political representative a business?*

    Citizenship is not a business, it is a privilege. It is completely wrong to compare political representation with business.

    1. Re: “the government in return shall provide me with a range of services” in return for payment. That is right. But the government *itself *is not a service. It is YOU. It speaks for YOU. It is your agent in every respect. You are YOURSELF the government and can’t demand a government from someone
    else (e.g. political parties). You are the citizen. You *produce *the government. You are India (the sum of citizens like you). India is you (the government calling itself India speaks on your behalf) . That’s the simple equation.

    2) Re. “I elect a party to administer this contract“. You elect a representative to the government, not a party. A representative is YOU (in law), speaking and acting purely on your behalf. You may choose to be the representative yourself but you *may* also (assuming you are the typical Indian middle class whose great virtues of lack of citizenship I have had occasion to point out earlier) choose someone else.

    Note you have the first right to represent yourself. If you choose someone else, that means you choose to forfeit that right. That’s your problem. But the legal effect is the same. That other person whom you choose now represents YOU. He is YOU.

    I hope you get my point being laboured over and over again, that the citizen may (or may not) choose to represent himself. To cast a NOTA means you are saying “There is NONE in this constituency (*including me*!) who is fit to represent me!”

    If you are not fit to represent yourself, please pass the baton to someone who can. Don’t make a virtue out of that incapacity.

    3) Re. “As consumers, why can we NOT ask for a higher standard from people who seek to earn salaries out of us, as taxpayers?”

    You are not a consumer. Citizenship is not a consumption good, it is a producer good. You are the law maker, as citizen. The principal. Your representative is your agent. All laws are made on your behalf. If you fail to produce good law that is YOUR problem. If you want to take your car on a long journey and hire a bad driver, and your car crashes, you are the one who is responsible, not the bad driver. He is your agent. You are the one whose car is being driven. The country is YOURS. The politician is driving
    it on your behalf. If you don’t can’t find a good driver, you had better learn to ‘drive’ your country yourself!

    India is YOUR responsiblity. You can’t shirk by claiming that the governance of your country, India, is a consumer good which you buy from politicians. You are the party responsible for your country.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

  • 17. Patriot (author) said:

    You are not a consumer. Citizenship is not a consumption good, it is a producer good. You are the law maker, as citizen. The principal. Your representative is your agent. All laws are made on your behalf. If you fail to produce good law that is YOUR problem.

    Excellent, Sanjeev – So, what is the specific problem of my saying that we shall include a “None of the above” button in voting? This will obviously be done by the amendment of “Electoral Law” (I forget the name of the specific act) – it is *my* law then?

    Actually the law doesn’t require political parties to contest. The Constitution doesn’t talk of political parties. A citizen is allowed to contest. The party is just an association of citizens. Political parties are
    not a recognised constitutional unit. They are a practical way of creating a common platform. The Indian democracy can function without political parties.

    And, you really think that this is a practical concept that you are propounding here?

    India is YOUR responsiblity. You can’t shirk by claiming that the governance of your country, India, is a consumer good which you buy from politicians. You are the party responsible for your country.

    Exactly right. And, I am trying to make the changes that I deem fit. It seems like the majority on this post agrees with me. So, we are all correct and accounted for.

    Did you know that the changes to electoral law making it mandatory for candidates to disclose their education background, qualifications and their income and balance sheets was also brought in through a PIL in a high court?

    And, that the Congress tried to subvert this by passing a diluted amendment? And, that the Supreme Court finally intervened to bring us to this current point where we are at least getting some disclosures? (I have explained in another post why voluntary disclosures are so important – the recent issue of Varun Gandhi’s education is a case in point).

    At a practical level of well established, entrenched political parties, to reform India, I will choose whatever (ethical) weapons that I can find to use – this battle has to be fought not just at the elections, but also on various other fora. After all, you get to press that button only once in 5
    years – what are you going to do in the interim?

    And, I consider, “None of the above” a vital weapon in our fight to tame the existing political class. I will contest elections, too, when I am ready and I know I have a high probability of winning. Why should I waste my money today in a fruitless cause? *And, until then, should I just sit on my hands
    and not do anything?*

    Citizenship is a producer good?
    Since when? Sitting in India, can I choose to produce an US citizenship, for example? I am a Principal only once in 5 years? Why is this uneven distribution of rights correct? Why do we not have
    a right to recall?

    And, I do not even have the priviledge of electing my executive. Oh no, the high command in Delhi does that.

    Let us talk practical politics here.

    Thanks

  • 18. Kaffir said:

    After all, you get to press that button only once in 5
    years – what are you going to do in the interim?

    But is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy just to vote once in 5 years (or state/local elections, in addition)? While it’s true that a citizen gets to vote once in 5 years, that doesn’t imply citizens can (or should) take no action in the interim to correct or influence decisions of elected lawmakers.

  • 19. B Shantanu (author) said:

    All: Pl. have a look at RealityCheck’s take on this

  • 20. Kaffir said:

    Shantanu, the above link (RealityCheck) is not working.

  • 21. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Thanks for alerting me Kaffir. Now fixed.

  • 22. ritesh said:

    ur lookin @ it jus from one perspective. i find ur views quite demeanin n frankly speakin, i hope ppl like u r never taken seriously.

  • 23. B Shantanu (author) said:

    ritesh: can you elaborate on your comment? Did you go out and vote?

    If not, why not?

  • 24. Aneesh Batra said:

    You bring about some very interesting points in terms of what should be done in case the ‘no vote’ option wins. But these are only smaller issues which can be worked out. What you do not realise is that a ‘no vote’ option is also something that a citizen wants and should not be taken away from him.

    In your blog you have talked about democracy as being a process to ‘protect the minorities’ and you have talked about this entire campaign as being a media fallacy with no real interest from the people. By that rationale you should work towards the wants of these ‘minorities’.

    In my view a ‘no vote’ option is a brilliant thought. If educated properly, and if exercised by the electorate properly, the option has the capability of kicking out those people from power who we think are corrupt or tainted. Such an act can force political parties to only give a ticket to people who do not have a criminal record. Furthermore it would encourage political parties to discuss real issues with the public and not non-issues like ‘foreign origin’ of certain candidates or ‘what caste are you from’.

  • 25. B Shantanu (author) said:

    @ Aneesh: One important point: I am not sure how “if exercised by the electorate properly, the option has the capability of kicking out those people from power who we think are corrupt or tainted.”

    Can you pl. elaborate?

    To the best of my knowledge, the “none of the above” votes are simpy not counted. Thus it is theoretically possible for more than 50% to choose this option but an election can still be considered as valid and the candidate chosen by the remaining who cast their votes.

  • 26. ram said:

    The implications of 49 O are far reaching than the article touches upon. This is a powerful weapon to clean up the current political mess. For a detailed review on the positive impact this can create please visit right2sayno.com.

  • 27. ROHIT said:

    Folks, I think we need to take rational decision regarding the “49 O” and for the decision we should at least form a broad view of macro level of state of politics of India.

    In order to form a view, we must try to

    1) Understand Politics in India
    2) What should be the role/ result of political system
    3) Has political System delivered results
    4) What should be done to rectify the political system

    I would love all to add in tid bits but avoid paralysis due to over analysis

    1) POLITICS IN INDIA

    Politics got introduced in India by Britishers in 1885 via Congress. Congress always indulged in politics of opportunism and subsequently other political parties were formed in India of which, some were offspring of Congress. The major political parties formed post Congress birth were right wing Muslim Political Parties, Muslim League 1906, Right wing Hindu Parties (Hindu Mahasabha 1915, RSS 1925) to counter right wing Muslim Party Muslim League, Communists (1920) who initially wanted to propagate the socialism within Congress but were summarily rejected as Congress had endorsed views of Britishers and was funded by business groups like Birlas and Bajajs. In the political system introduced by Britishers, the idea was to involve educated Indians in governance and Congress was never for independence till (In 1929 Srinivas Iyenger was expelled from the Congress for demanding full independence, not just home rule as demanded by Gandhi) freedom became realty with 2nd World War + weakening of Britishers. Till early 40′s, Congress, right wing Hindu Parties and Muslim Parties practiced politics in India which were aimed for good governance rather than freedom. Congress became more acceptable among Indians as it was for good governance without any struggle which could lead to violence.

    Conclusion: All Political Parties in India were opportunistic in nature and it is wrong the term Congress leaders as freedom fighters. Freedom was sought at opportunistic moment.

    2) ROLE OF POLITICAL SYSTEM

    The role of political system should be to produce leadership of caliber and not opportunists. The political system of India has time and again produced opportunists and “MEN OF STRAW”

    3) RESULTS OF POLITICAL SYSTEM

    ABYSMAL… Countries (Like Thailand, Malaysia, China, Japan, Israel) that were at par or below par when India got independence have made rapid strides in development of both economy and citizens.

    4) RECTIFICATION

    Reject current political parties and leaders who are men of straw. Even if 49 O means only formal rejection with no impact on government, it should get recorded that at least 50% of total electorates rejected the political system of India. Once formal rejection is recorded, the ball will set rolling… Someone is bound to raise the issue in Parliament and political parties will have to start taking performance appraisal report of leaders it cultivates and projects before people. Right now going out to vote is to choose between lesser evil and not to choose right leader/ party. Formal recording and publication of NO VOTE would be a progressive step towards making political parties bow down to needs of people and not people bowing down to leaders of political system.

  • 28. ROHIT said:

    I forgot to add in that if 30% of minorities can be pampered beyond sanity, 50% of rejections will make a huge impact. And, who knows with right to reject, the actual rejection will be overwhelming and probably, only 30% of minorities will only end up voting for political parties.

  • 29. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Rohit: You might find this post on Minorities etc interesting:

    http://satyameva-jayate.org/2009/05/14/rethink-on-majority-minorities/

  • 30. संदीप नारायण शेळके said:

    So NOTA is an issue which has to be taken seriously. Obviously I feel NOTA should be there on the EVM. But before supporting this move why not to have a law which prohibits tainted candidates from cointesting. Like government bans some outfits (Maoists, SIMI…), the party with more tainted party members must be banned. That should solve the problem of having incredible candidates for election. So the question of NOTA wont appear.

    Just a couple of days ago heard a news that Gujrat government has passed a bill of compulsory voting in the local elections.

    Also Himachal Pradesh on the same lines to make voting compulsary.

    A good step. Lets look at it as an experiment.

    What you all say?


    जय भारत!
    कृषीदेश

  • 31. Indian said:

    Compulsory as well as a negative voting- right to say, I don’t like any of the contestant or none of the above option is also given as per N. Modi. He made a hilarious comment during interview to some channels that congress should at least have a knowledge of Italy where voting is mandatory. He also mentioned that he wants to bring drawing room politics at booth.

    I have no idea what measure will be taken against those who wont vote but I think heavy fine is the best option.

  • 32. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Sandeep, Indian: Pratap Bhanu Mehta has a good piece on this Acts of Choice

    I am somewhat hesitant to endorse compulsory voting…It feels like an easy way out to increase political consciousness amongst citizens….but let us see how this pans out.

  • 33. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Thought-provoking: As political reforms go, Modi’s must-vote bill is an important step by Swapan Dasgupta. Some excerpts:

    “…An interesting feature of the Gujarat legislation is that there is a provision for voters to reject all the candidates on offer — a “none of these” option. Presumably, if the majority of voters rejects the list of aspirants, a re-election will become mandatory. In other words, the act of either neutrality or protest has been built into a system of compulsory participation.

    As political reforms go, the Gujarat legislation is one of the most important initiatives in recent times.

    …The dramatic consequences of compulsory voting need to be spelt out.

    For a start, since a large percentage of electioneering costs governs the turnout of voters, it is certain to reduce the importance of money power quite dramatically. There will be an automatic shift in focus from ensuring voter turnout to publicizing what a party or candidate stands for. There will be a shift in politics from organization to issues.

    Secondly, a major distortion in our election system results from bloc-voting by one section and the relative non-participation by a larger, unorganized and amorphous group of citizens. An organized group can punch above its weight and distort the verdict by capitalizing on the passivity of others.

    Finally, a government elected with the endorsement of a majority, as opposed to a majority of the minority that turns up to vote, will enjoy extra legitimacy. This, in turn, will be a weapon of decisive governance.

  • 34. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Adding Sanjeev’s post here for the record: “None of the above” is a very bad idea:
    This option sends a very wrong signal to the community.

    The only valid option for anyone who doesn’t like any candidate on offer is to CONTEST elections personally, or to not vote at all, or to leave India.

    The Indian middle classes (and mindless “civil society” jholawallas) are the Bhadralok of India. They are apparently born a class above all of us. They are ABOVE politics. And so they won’t fix politics, but neither will they stop whingeing and complaining.

    Please go out and vote for the BEST candidate on offer. That is the BASIC obligation of a liberal. And if you don’t like any candidate, then STAND UP and contest elections yourself. Don’t be a coward.

    …We should never undermine democracy by destroying the concept of representation (i.e. none will get elected to represent a particular constituency).

    Since voting in India is voluntary, no one in my experience (and I’ve conducted/ supervised many elections) has done this – stand in a long line merely to not vote!


    Note that R.49(o) of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 is NOT “none of the above”.

    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. [http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/subord/cer1.htm]


    This Is is just another way of having your vote NOT COUNTED. There is no record published of these votes. If a majority of the people vote under 49(o) that does not mean the election is to be held again. Even if out of 10,000,000 voters everyone uses 49(o) but 1 voter casts his vote for a particular candidate, that candidate wins, under existing rules.
    Note also that this is not a recall provision but merely an administrative record that you came but didn’t want to vote.

  • 35. Shalini Malviya said:

    Interesting way of looking at things. But the problem has to be seen in a manner that tells the real story. The problem right now is the way candidates are chosen for contesting elections : on the basis of winnability by demographic constitution of the region, by the clout a candidate exercises by way of money power, muscle power or such factors that necessarily do not make him a good representative of the people. Given the existing system of elections, the very basic problem is the election funding. To my understanding, state funding could be the answer. Till then, the visibility of suitable candidates remains limited. In such a circumstance where the voters do not have the choice between the bad and the ugly, the voter should have the choice of rejection. Lesser devil does not indicate a participative democracy, it in fact is the acceptance of the state of affairs.
    Yes, for now we don’t have any say if a user exercises a “No Vote” option, but the very fact that if more people start using it, it will give us reasons to have authorities look into this in times to come. That a lot of educated people are abstaining from voting, and hence showing utter disregard to the very process of elections is also alarming. That they have this right to exercise, will give them reasons to come out and vote, and possibly think about the alternatives. In the event of a given number of such “No Votes”, that such an election be declared null and void and the same contestants be debarred from contesting from the same constituency will result in loss of personal money funded for elections and this could act as a deterrent for spurious candidates, and offer greater visibility to the right candidates.
    Another argument I heard somewhere was that a fresh election would mean an extra expenditure. This argument is flawed, since by-elections are held in every elections as the contestants, to make sure that they make to the legislative bodies, contest from multiple constituencies. Obviously money is spent on those elections too.

  • 36. AAryan said:

    I have shared my thoughts here. Please follow the link.
    http://apnabhaarat.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/india-needs-political-innovators/

  • 37. AAryan said:

    I am thinking about a negative vote. An option to voter to cast the vote as a negative marking. It means if 100 people goes to vote a candidate, and if he gets 49 positive votes and 51 negative votes then he looses. Now the question is how to fill the position. Can a President/Governor appoint his executive for the time being to find a best candidate to fill the position. It requires critical thinking, but currently it doesn’t sound good.

  • 38. AAryan said:

    Is it true that it is under consideration of Supreme Court.
    I am attaching an excerpt from the article in TOI below:

    “The Election Commission has already given its support to the demand for a negative vote. It has asked for an amendment to existing laws to enable a voter to “reject all the candidates, if he chooses to do”, while maintaining secrecy of the ballot.”

    || नमो भारतम् नमो संस्कृतम् ||

  • 39. v.c.krishnan said:

    Dear Sir,
    The NO vote is detrimental but in the circumstances under which our representatives get elected, it will provide for a breather.
    To clarify, if the NO vote exists then at least we will know that the candidates are not true representatives of the people.
    This NO vote will assist the civil society of not being negatived by leaders who justify the stand that parliament is an elected body and that they represent the 1.2 billion people.
    It will go a long way in proving to these representatives that their candidate was not worth getting elected.
    Political parties will then wake up to the fact that only true representatives will be elected and civil society can then be assured that least an effort has been made to weed out the “worthless ones”.
    Suppose we all agree to your suggestion that their is NO to the NO VOTE; Can their been an alternative method for dismissing elected representatives by holding a referendum, say twice in aperiod of the Five years of parliament, to dismiss non performers and crooks?
    Regards,
    vck

  • 40. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Pl read None of the above by Pratap Bhanu Mehta

  • 41. Indian Traditionalist said:

    This is the trap of statism. Either we have a democracy or none? What kind of logic is this? Remember India is a constitutional republic and not simply a representative democracy.

    Democracy is tyranny of the majority against the minority. It is mob rule. Representative democracy is rulers representing special interests of mobs. This allows for govt to grow to a massive size undermining “democracy” since wishes of various special interest groups need to be satisfied.

    I recommend reading Walter Lipmman and watching Century of the Self by Adam Curtis, Democracy in America by Alex Tocqueville and the Anti-Federalist papers. Additon to that The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan.

    Democracy needs to be contained as the mob is irrational. The voter is irrational and cannot understand what can benefit society as a whole.

    What we need to stress is the RULE of LAW defending individual liberty and check the growth of State power and special interests.

    Monopolies of any kind arise due to special privilege granted by the State.The only effective way democracy to work is to radically decentralize power. We need a federal India with strong national defense and non-interventionist foreign policy.

    PS : I am not a fascist, totalitarian or authoritarian and not arguing for them either. Democracy has a had a very poor history of working.

    I highly recommend reading The God That Failed by Hans Hermann Hoppe

    Ancient Hindu monarchies were constitutional republics with Sanathana Dharma as the constitution.

  • 42. Kaffir said:

    “Democracy is tyranny of the majority against the minority. It is mob rule. Representative democracy is rulers representing special interests of mobs. This allows for govt to grow to a massive size undermining “democracy” since wishes of various special interest groups need to be satisfied.”

    To what extent are your statements validated by the example of democracy in Switzerland? Are there any instances in Switzerland of “mob rule”? Is the Swiss government one of the largest in democratic countries?

  • 43. Citizened said:

    An ideal democratic society should value the opinion of every class and kind. The option of No Vote is not only a strong opinion but also a welcome warning to most of our political class.

    Refraining from voting is undemocratic, Opting for NO VOTE is anti democratic and choosing the better of the worse politician as your candidate is unpatriotic. Indian F.M from T.N won election during the last counting with a light margin. Wonder if 49-O would have made a difference. With no significant income source how is that we have the richest political force in the whole world (of course not on paper). And the better deal i get as a citizen is i cant NO VOTE the bugger.

    Anger is often more powerful a tool than inspiration when it comes to bringing about change. As a society what’s wrong in allowing a peaceful vindication. Lets be realist, we constantly are successful in producing unreliable politicians. Hail democracy.

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