Will the ‘Right To Reject’ create any discernible difference in the Voting Mechanism?

Finally on 27th September, 2013, the Supreme Court passed the verdict which empowers the eligible voting citizens of India to reject the candidature of all possible candidates in an election. The ‘right to reject’ is now a valid poll option under which a voter may cast a valid ‘none of the above’ vote, a concept much propagated by social activists like Anna Hazare and corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Though the Government was in general disagreement of such an amendment, the Election Commission has been after it since 2009. The decision of the Supreme Court will be implemented without any delay and both the ballot papers and the EVM’s will be equipped with an official ‘none of the above’ voting option. The upcoming assembly elections will witness the implementation of this new amendment.

Reactions of Anna Hazare, the ruling Congress party,the prime opposition BJP and other political parties:

Anna Hazare, the famous social reformer has emphasized the fact that the ‘right to reject’ is only the beginning and his battles are not over until the ‘right to recall’ amendment is endorsed by the Parliament. While addressing a Kisan Mahapanchayat in Unnao, he declared, “Our struggle does not end with the Jan Lokpal issue. The Struggle for Right to reject and the Right to recall is still on. Before the Lok Sabha Elections in 2014, around six crore people have to be made aware of it”. The ruling Congress Government and the chief opposition party BJP heartily accepted the Supreme Court verdict along with the AAP, JD-U and the BSP. The reactions of the different party spokesmen are as follows:

  • Congress leader Sandip Dikhshit: “I welcome the Supreme Court Judgment, it will help cleanse the electoral system”.
  • BJP leader Balbir Punj: “The Supreme Court Judgment is a welcome step. It is the voter who is the ultimate boss. Any change in rule, which enhances the right to vote should be welcomed”.
  • Arvind Kejriwal, AAP: “We welcome the Supreme Court Judgment. It is a very important step to clean the system in our country today”.
  • BSP Chief Mayawati: “The BSP supports the right to reject”.

The ‘Right to reject’ amendment:

The inclusion of registering an official vote of ‘none of the above’ or the ‘right to reject’ under section 49 of the election rules in the polling system of our country comes at a crucial time when the entire political system needs to be refurbished. Politics is no longer motivated by patriotism or a burning fervor to contribute to the growth of the country. There is no such thing as a selfless politician and in fact politics has now become a rewarding career to pursue, with money, power and recognition; not to mention the cutthroat competition. Though India is a fast emerging economy and a democratic country, the democratic nature is strictly confined to a ‘wannabe’ status where a simple right of a citizen such as the Right to Information is effectively met with a cul-de-sac. Politics and corruption in our country are almost inseparably entwined and one political party is simply the mirror image of the other. The same applies for the proposed candidates for an election. Behind every scam, every scandal, every misappropriation of funds, there is a deep political nexus as evident from the countless breaking news that has adorned the newspapers for decades.

Though the ‘none of the above’/ ‘right to reject’ amendment has been met with much zeal from certain political factions, the shadow of doubt looms over the entire amendment as to how far it will be effective to absolve a political system that has been inundated in corruption for decades. The first colossal task that faces the election commission is to spread the awareness of this new voting right amongst 6 crore people of the country as Anna Hazare has correctly pointed out. Assuming that the entire voting population understands the significance of this new amendment, then only the ‘right to reject’ amendment becomes viable. Then we can possibly envisage a situation where the majority of the voters have chosen the ‘none of the above’ option and the political parties are compelled to come up with a brand new batch of candidates, excluding the rejected ones, for a re-election. But then again who vouches for the credibility of the new candidates? Here we also need to take into account the extremely high illiteracy level of our country, especially in the rural areas. It is a common practice amongst the potential election candidates to exploit the said drawback successfully during the election campaigns. The convoys appear in the rural areas with a pocketful of promises only during the campaign season to secure the vote bank.

Now we, the urban people, with our knowledge of the current political scenario, can perhaps execute the ‘right to reject’ option, but it hardly applies for the rural people and especially the tribes. It is common knowledge that, with their high level of illiteracy, they always vote for their favourite parties or more precisely their favourite symbols. It is not possible to furnish them with the pros and cons of selecting a particular candidate. So does it really matter to them that now they have a new option called the ‘right to reject’? Besides in many rural areas, the voters have to travel a long distance to cast their votes. It is hard to imagine a farmer travelling a long distance just to cast a ‘none of the above’ vote! They believe in the much simpler solution of not casting their vote which entirely defeats the cause of the ‘right to reject’ amendment.

It is to be mentioned here that, it is the responsibility of the election commission to preserve the anonymity of the voter because many political parties regard the voting right of an individual as a personal issue rather than a democratic right. However, to implement the ‘right to reject’ option, a particular voter needs to fill up a form which betrays the anonymity of the said voter. Now, who is going to take the responsibility that the said voter does not face any undue harassment from any political entity, for casting a ‘none of the above’ vote? So considering all the aspects, the right to reject option may look good in black and white under section 49 in the election rule book but I have serious doubts regarding the country wide implementation of this right and I am also not sure as to what discernible difference that such a right may bring about in the current political situation of the country!

While many political leaders are conducive to the idea that the ‘right to reject’ amendment is an ideal step to expurgate the corruption from the political system of our country, it is to be remembered that such a task is equivalent to the Herculean task of cleaning the Augean Stables. Besides the problems like casting of false votes, booth capturing still exists without any solution. The ‘right to recall’ is another necessary and important amendment that should be implemented with the ‘right to reject’. Coupled together, these two amendments can bring about a considerable change in our existing political system. ‘Right to reject’ is hopefully a promise for a better tomorrow, but as Arvind Kejriwal of AAP aptly pointed out, “The ‘none of the above’ option will be effective only when, based on it, an election is cancelled”.