By: Kumar Dhiraj
In the recent times, the electorate has increasingly been showing its growing frustration against the political establishment. So some claim to have stopped voting, others still believe there is no option but to vote for the lesser devil. But lately a new class of voters has been in news – people who intend to boldly tell the politicians contesting elections that they have faith in none of them. They are the voters who are using Rule 49 (O) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 to cast a negative vote.
Rule 49 (O) 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. However, media reports about people desirous of exercising this right during recently held elections in Punjab and other states highlighted many shortcomings in the system. There were cases where despite the single-minded resolve of a voter to cast ‘I vote for nobody’ vote, he or she was not allowed to do so, either due to the indifferent attitude of election officers or failure to meet technicalities.
In one particular case in Ludhiana, a voter went up to the extent of complaining to the Chief Election Commissioner of India, but despite specific orders from the CEC to the election officer, he was still not allowed to cast his vote.
Recently, the Election Commission of India had recommended that the law should be amended to specifically provide for negative/neutral voting through electronic voting machines, which at present do not have a provision for it. “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 name 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,” the recommendation had stated. A petition by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties seeking such a provision is already pending before the Supreme Court of India.
Though exercising the power under Rule 49(O) may not be enough to decide electoral battles, it would at least force political parties to look for genuine candidates.
By: Kumar Dhiraj