The dust and rubble in the Oberoi Hotel and the Taj Mahal Hotel has settled. Trains have again begun to enter and leave CST with their customary regularity. Life is returning to normal in Mumbai and India. But with one BIG difference…
Easily the most positive event in the aftermath of the ghastly tragedy we’ve all gone through is that finally the Indian citizen seems to have woken up from his deep, deep slumber. He is finally realizing that enough is enough and wants to do something about it. It’s a good beginning but what is more important is that we sustain this movement and do NOT forget what India has been through after a few days as we get on with our lives.
As the fury against our politicians continues, one hot topic of discussion that has cropped up amongst the people is Section 49 O. A flurry of emails and messages are being forwarded all over urging people to teach our politicians a lesson and make use of section 49 O and not vote for any of them. So, what is Section 49 O? This is a rule in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 which covers the procedures to be followed when a valid voter decides not to cast his vote and decides to record this fact. The Rule states – 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 fact, in 2004 the then Election Commissioner TS Krishnamurthy had suggested the following – “The Commission has received proposals from a very large number of individuals and organizations that there should be a provision enabling a voter to reject all the candidates in the constituency if he does not find them suitable. In the voting using the conventional ballot paper and ballot boxes, an elector can drop the ballot paper without marking his vote against any of the candidates, if he chooses so. However, in the voting using the Electronic Voting Machines, such a facility is not available to the voter. Although, Rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 provides that an elector may refuse to vote after he has been identified and necessary entries made in the Register of Electors and the marked copy of the electoral roll, the secrecy of voting is not protected here inasmuch as the polling officials and the polling agents in the polling station get to know about the decision of such a voter.
The Commission recommends that the law should be amended to specifically provide for negative / neutral voting. For this purpose, Rules 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 may be suitably amended adding a proviso that in the ballot paper and the particulars on the ballot unit, in the column relating to names of candidates, after the entry relating to the last candidate, there shall be a column ‘None of the above’, to enable a voter to reject all the candidates, if he chooses so.”
Before blindly propagating people to follow 49 O, one should be aware of the facts. For one, the above law is NOT yet passed. Some recent articles have suggested that in case the number of votes recorded under section 49 O is greater than the maximum number of votes polled in favour of any of the candidates, the poll is null and void and a re-poll is held barring the existing candidates from re-contesting. But this is not true either. In fact, quoting the Election Commission in The Asian Age dated December 7, 2008, “The voters who exercise the option of not voting under section 49 O would only be deemed to have abstained themselves from voting and under the law, the candidate who secures the highest number of valid votes polled, irrespective of his winning margin is declared elected.”
The most dangerous thought spreading all over, and that too using section 49 O as an excuse, is the idea of NOT voting for anyone. This is the worst thing we can do and especially so in the present scenario. In fact, if anything we MUST vote and what’s more, make our vote count. There is nothing worse than the wrong candidate getting elected simply because many people have not voted. Sitting back and saying every politician is rotten and nullifying one’s franchise power is not the answer. True, the rot in our political system has gone much too deep and we constantly ask ourselves whom do we vote for when each candidate is as bad as the other. But if we are to turn things around, we have to face our problems and overcome them, not run away from them. Has any thought been given to the money and resources spent in any election? And if one is so determined not to vote for any of the existing candidates, please ask yourself first – Do you have a suitable candidate in place that one should vote for?
The need of the hour is not about abstaining or giving invalid votes but about getting in the right people into the political system. It is high time concerned citizens from all walks of life who can make a difference think of the country and get involved with the political system and the governance of the country. We must form concerned Citizen Groups or Civic Societies and/or maybe even initiate new Political Movements to weed out the politicians we are unhappy with.
It’s important we go beyond holding well-intentioned candle-lit vigils, peace marches and salutations for our martyrs. Surely for a start, no matter how big or small we are, we can each make the people around us aware of the importance of voting and press them to get their names on the voting list if they haven’t done so yet. Surely we can each ask for the right to know who our candidates are, to be provided with their background and their track record before we decide whom to vote for. Surely we can each ask for accountability from the leaders we elect. Surely we can each spread the message of unity and humanity instead of targeting certain communities. And surely we can each make an effort to stay well-informed and be aware and alert of what is happening in the country today. We each can and MUST. As a proverb from West Africa says, “If you think you are too small to make an impact, try sleeping in a room with a few mosquitoes.”