49 O: Not the Answer

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.”

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  1. Timely and informative. Yes, section 49 O is no solution – in fact its application would destabilize the very polity of India. Much as we justifiably revile our politicians we must remember that it is we who have created and empowered these monsters. Its surreal to find many bigwigs (corporate, media, films,artists, fashion designers, Page 3 celebrities of all hues..) going hammer and tongs against the political class while they are the very ones who bankroll these elements to gain personal and business advantages! Similarly insane is the demand put up by certain sections of these citizens of not paying our taxes! If so, then how will the government have the money to provide security to the same ‘concerned citizens’ leave alone poverty alleviation education, health… …?! Let’s not lose or sanity and rationality in face of acts of terrorism however dastardly they may be. If we do, its the terrorists who have won! You are right – we have to stay informed but I also feel we should try and disseminate information (in our own small ways). Ignorance about the complexities that is what is India is perhaps the root cause of the utter chaos and despair that we find ourselves (and are responsible) at the moment.
    We can and should work for demanding greater accountability and transparency from our politicians and the political system – let our votes do the talking and defeat all forces that promote division, discrimination. And I agree with you completely that we should try our best at micro-levels to promote peace, understanding and harmony. The idea of India is too strong and deep-rooted and can withstand all attacks from cowardly merchants of terror provided we keep the faith in our own small and immediate universes.

  2. Thanks a lot. It was much needed. I was getting sick of the mails but couldn’t reply because I wasn’t completely sure myself. You make very very pertinent points. please do tell me if its allright to trackback to your post?

  3. I stumbled into this blog from blogbharati. Hope you don’t mind my comments.

    Thanks for the write up on 49 O. Yes, I too was wondering what happens if all the candidates are rejected. 9 not that the eloctorate is that smart , so soon!).

    What do the resource less middle class do then?. May be the contestants form the local bodies onwards should be asked to address forums in localities. The welfare socieites have to make effort to organise such forums and make the candidates answer the questions directly. They can interact with the audience without their chelas and cheergangs, so that educated middle class people can get to know the actual person behind the hype and drama. All the candidates should be asked to attend such gatherings and meet their voters. This could be one way of knowing the neta before voting him to power, irrespective of his party affiliations.

    This can be organsied by willing energetic individuals like us , who can make a beginning in their area and I am sure this will srpead elsewhere soon.

    I wonder..

  4. I completely agree with your take on Section 49 O. Citizens do not need another excuse for abdicating responsibility. This is the time for us to wake up and participate in the political process as best we can.

  5. Batul,
    Why don’t you register with http://www.jaagore.com? The site takes care of solving ALL problems related to voting to make sure you DO vote. Among other issues, it does look at updating of addresses or change of spelling in name as well.

  6. Extremely informative article. It helped in clearing my confusions about non-voting. One cannot abdicate responsibility by not voting but we should be conscious and knowledgeable about the candidates, their ideologies and policies.

  7. The article on S. 49 O was really very informative and gives a clear understanding . I am a law graduate and was really confused, when a mail forward described that S.49O of the constitution gave us the right of negative voting. The mail was forwarded by people blindly, without even knowing that there are no sections in our constitution.
    This shows our unawareness about our own constitution, the real soul of our country. It is high time we become aware of the law of the land and imp. laws like the RTI which make us responsive and aware of our rights and duties as a citizen.
    After reading your article, I am looking forward to elections to cast my precious vote.


  8. Thanks for your feedback, Yogini.

    Voting in the current scenario and making our vote count is something all citizens of the country need to do. Glad you intend to do so. Hope there are many, many more like-minded people out there.

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