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HindustanTimes Fri,22 Aug 2014

The right to reject all candidates in secrecy may cleanse Indian politics

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 30, 2013
First Published: 00:40 IST(30/9/2013) | Last Updated: 02:51 IST(30/9/2013)

It’s not just one more button on your electronic voting machine. For, the new gift of the Supreme Court may trigger changes that can make today’s smug politicos a much endangered tribe in near future.

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Consider a scenario where most voters choose to press the none-of-the-above (Nota) button in complete secrecy. It can force the establishment to scrap the election. No wonder the right to reject all candidates in secrecy took 12 years to come after the Election Commission proposed it to the government.

Earlier, the apex court granted the voter this option to reject all candidates — also called the Nota. But it didn’t guarantee secrecy. The system required you to approach the poll officials and get recorded in a separate register. The top court said it violated the right to secret ballot.

About the new option, a bench headed by chief justice P Sathasivam said, “Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put by the political parties.”

The government had opposed the Nota in the court, saying secrecy was guaranteed under the law only for electing people, and not for abstaining from casting votes. But the real reason for holding back the EC proposal of December 2001 was political.

A senior government official said the Nota button on EVMs could be used to internationalise elections in conflict-hit zones, such as Jammu and Kashmir. “If more than half the voters press the Nota button in Kashmir, international bodies will claim that people have no faith in the Indian democracy.”

But Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms — which seeks cleansing of the electoral system — said the government should worry more about the people who express “displeasure” against candidates than international bodies.

The Supreme Court’s order has ignited another debate: Whether elections should be nullified if most of the voters go for the Nota option. The EC says it should not, but activists say it should. Both have their own reasons.

SK Mendritta, legal advisor to the EC, said the commission had never suggested that the Nota option would lead to poll cancellation. “We had always maintained that the number of Nota votes should be counted, but they will have no implication on the final outcome.”

The contrary view is that the court’s order would have no significant impact if the commission fails to include nullification of elections in the list of amendments to the Conduct of Election Rules 1961, which is necessary before implementing the top court ruling.

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“The Nota button will serve no purpose if the views of the people are not accepted and acted upon,” Chhokar said.

The debate will continue for some more time, as the government — already hit by a series of electoral reforms being pushed by the top court — is in no mood to put up a fresh fight on this front. “A button for the Nota, with no strings attached, will be allowed,” said a senior government functionary.

Former chief election commissioner Navin Chawla said, “It can also prevent bogus voting.” The biggest implication of having a Nota button on the EVMs, however, is that for the first time voters’ displeasure with their leaders will be recorded in secrecy.


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