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The right to reject

I have always held the view that the right to vote does not mean an obligation to vote; in fact,it means the right not to vote. It’s simple. If I have the right to claim reimbursement for expenses incurred, it does not, by any stretch of imagination, mean that I have a duty to claim it.

Now comes to life the hitherto mysterious Rule 49O.  Earlier, you could go to the polling booth, not take the ballot slip but instead ask the officer for the form enshrined in 49O and fill it up; indicating that you are voting for no one. Can you think of anything more spectacularly stupid than that?  Mark it, here you are being openly asked to tell the polling officer your voting choice. That violates the right to secret ballot enshrined in the Constitution. No wonder, very few opted for it.

Cut to the Supreme Court. Their lordships have sat up, taken notice and announced their verdict. That this option of voting for nobody should be inbuilt into the EVM machines. If the right to reject is to be there, its only fair that it goes straight to the voting slip. And that’s what has happened. Result: enter a new candidate, “None of the above,” aka NOTA.

So far, so good. I agree that this is path-breaking. But look at the oddities. First, if I don’t want to vote, I must go there and tell the world that I don’t vote to vote for nobody. Can’t I do that by simply staying back at home?  Secondly, if my NOTA vote has to have any meaning, it should be mandated that if NOTA wins the popular vote, none of the candidates should be selected. That’s what is respecting the electorate. Not the rank stupidity of walking up till the booth and returning without voting for zero benefit. It’s like enrolling for the war and, at the time of the battle, throwing one’s hands up and saying, “Boss I am returning home.”

To those who argue that there is a moral obligation to vote I ask, “where does this morality spring from.” If there is a moral obligation then why have Rule 49O?  Merely because Dr. Abdul Kalam as president went and voted doesn’t mean I should vote. In fact I have my own reservations about  presidents and governors voting. And because I don’t vote does not mean I can’t ask why politicians aren’t functioning. After all, every other person questions the skills of our cricketers and our actors without having ever graduated beyond gully cricket, book cricket and throwing tantrums at home.

I belong to a generation that unfortunately considers itself to be the lost generation. First, Rajiv Gandhi promised to race us into the 21st century. The clock, not Gandhi, took us there. Next, Manmohan Singh promised economic Eldorado. Today, we are in the brink of becoming a basket case. The AGP in Assam, the product of a students’ movement turned out to be no better than those born and bred in the cesspool of politics. A loss of faith in the political system is bad; but do we have a choice?

Look at those who have gone to the top. They are uncivil, lacking in public courtesy, conduct debates in a scream -and-shout approach thinking that decibel levels are more important than the intelligent quotient. Lying, ranting and using language uncharacteristic of seniors has become part of life. Until there are meaningful sea changes in the political landscape it would be ridiculous to suggest compulsory voting.  

‘NOTA’ is a game changer. But for it to have meaning, you have to announce re-election if NOTA wins.  Do that and you will see the disenchanted turning up at the polling booths in drove.

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