In a country where a 60 per cent voter turnout is considered record-busting, popular anger easily boils over and runs into the drain unnoticed by the political establishment. The bald numbers tell the story: a ruling party needs half, if not less, of the votes cast to come to power. With 40 per cent staying away — read: seeing no merit in any candidate — the party in power needs to muster, at best, 30 per cent of the entire electoral roll. A simple arithmetic understood equally well across India’s political spectrum. Little wonder the story has been repeated in election after election since Independence.
The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, offers cold comfort. A clause in it, 49-O, says if an elector decides “not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry… by the presiding officer”. What more does it achieve than making people stay at home on election day? Zilch. Precisely why the Election Commission proposed in 2004 that voting machines contain a rejection button that would bar all existing candidates if ‘none of the above’ won. The commission’s suggestion is not exactly novel. Europe has a fair smattering of such electoral systems. But guess how far that proposal went? Bit like asking a gorilla to share the banana it’s eating.
And there lies the rub. No one but parliamentarians can change the rules of the game they play. The Supreme Court last year said it can’t intervene in what should be a naturally occurring evolution in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Our polity has acquired the maturity to realise that the freedom to choose is meaningless without the right to know — about issues and candidates (and, of late, their finances) — but it is unwilling to take the argument to its logical conclusion: we need the freedom to choose in the first place.
A word of caution to our politicians: learn to fear the sovereign. Public anger can boil over only so many times. Eventually it brings the entire cauldron down. Tread softly, because you tread on our dreams.