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I will not be voting this time.

I know, I know. It is supposed to be every citizen's fundamental duty to vote during elections. Time and again we are reminded of the importance of our votes, how our votes count, how we can make a difference to the system by voting correctly and how we deserve the people who come to power, if we don't exercise our franchise. In a democracy, voting and "not voting" are both rights. "Not voting" is as much a choice as is the right to choose among different candidates standing for elections. And this right can be exercised without feeling guilty. Why do we vote? To choose among different people who stand for certain ideologies and issues. What does one do, when no party or person is worth it? When, each one is a bigger crook or non-achiever than the other? Choose the best among the worst? You must be kidding! To exercise a choice among candidates and parties, there must first be a choice. But when each one is as bad as the other, the only real choice then is between "not voting" and voting.

There is a system in our constitution as per the Conduct of Election Rules 1969 act, in section “49-O” that a person can go to the polling booth, confirm his identity, get his finger marked and convey the presiding election officer that he doesn’t want to vote anyone! Yes such a feature is available!

The specific provision of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 is as follows:49-0:
If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark. The above provision is mentioned in Chapter II of Part IV of the rules. The simple meaning of this provision is if any voter who wishes to exercise "Right Not to Vote" cannot exercise it just sitting at home. This provision enables voter not to cast his vote in favor of any of the Candidate, by registration of his electoral roll number in Form-17A by the Presiding Officer. Voter has to put his signature in front of statement marked to that effect by Presiding Officer. The newly introduced Electronic Voting machines as well as conventional Ballot Paper do not provide option “none of the above”. Therefore, Election Commission in the year 2001 and 2004 has recommended for the suitable changes in the Rule 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961; which deals with form of ballot paper and preparation of voting machines respectively. (A petition by the People Union for Civil Liberties seeking such a provision filed at the time of the recent general elections is pending before the Honorable Supreme Court)

From the point of view of the argument that the right to vote is an extremely precious attribute of Indian parliamentary democracy and that, therefore, the right in question ought to be protected at all cost. In other words, he must necessarily choose from the list of candidates he is presented in the polling booth waste his vote. The two important issues involved here are: Is this morally right in a "sovereign socialist secular democratic republic" and, second, is such a stand legally defensible?

The voter is free to choose among candidates figuring in the "list of candidates" he is confronted with in a polling booth, the choice depending on his decision on who he thinks will best represent his views in the legislature. But why should the exercise of "choice" be limited to choosing among the candidates whose names figure in the list before the voter in the polling booth? The electorate has nothing to do with the drawing up of the list, and it is possible that a voter may not approve of the idea of sending any of the official poll contestants to the legislature. In such conditions, if he still has to choose among the names before him, the very principle of free choice is violated. Indeed, an element of compulsion creeps into the voting process which can be said to strike at the very heart of the Indian republic. What this means is that, for the sake of complete consistency, the voter should be allowed to say no to the official list of candidates which, translated into simple terms, would mean that he is not happy with the prospect of any of the official candidates representing him in the legislature. Certainly, there is nothing morally indefensible about this stand. On the contrary, the element of choice in the system of adult franchise would be even better protected thus making the right to vote even more precious, in a manner of speaking.

Clearly, this procedure violates the principle of "secrecy of the ballot", which lies at the heart of the electoral system in this country. Not only this, it indirectly makes an official distinction between voters who decide to choose among the available candidates and those who decide otherwise, which probably will fall foul of the provision of the fundamental right to equality granted to every citizen under the Constitution. Given the observed fact that there has been no appreciable improvement in the quality of our legislators over the decades, the institution of such an amendment has become pressing today in view of the increasing possibility of a larger number of voters than previously not approving the candidates nominated by the political parties. Moreover desired implication of the rule is not clear. Before propagating right not to vote, one must remember that to make democracy work, we have to come together as a notion of participants, not simply observers. If we do not vote we have no right to complain as well. And remaining passive in elections will not help India.

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Category Constitutional Law, Other Articles by - Shrayashee Saha