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Right to Reject in Indian Election System: Various Opinions
The Supreme Court in one of the landmark ruling has asked the Election Commission to introduce a reject option on the poll board. So will a right to reject give the Indian voters a stronger platform to voice their opinion or will it stay as an option that is 'good to have but fails being effective'? While politicians, journalists and common man flood the online space with various opinions, we tried catching up with few others we deemed relevant on the issue.

A brief profile of our panelist is given below:

Medha PatkarMedha Patkar is A well known Indian social activist famous for her role in Narmada Bachao Andolan. Medha is often known for her alternate view on growth of country and liberalization.

 Madhu KishwarMadhu Purnima Kishwar is an Indian academic, writer and columnist. She is the Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), based in Delhi, and the Director of the Indic Studies Project based at CSDS.

Dunu RoyAnubrotto Kumar Roy popularly known as Dunu Roy is an IIT alumnus and is one of India's leading social and political ecologist. 

Dr Mohammed Badrul AlamDr Mohammed Badrul Alam is the Head of the Department of Political Science in Jamia Milia Islamia. He has authored a number of articles and papers on Indian political scenario and political strategies in key developmental issues. 

 

Excerpts of the interview with all four prominent personalities mentioned above is given below:

 

Do you consider this to be a landmark judgment? Are you hopeful that it will bring a change in the electoral system of India?

 

Medha Patkar: We welcome this step and congratulate people responsible for bringing about this change. It is a big opportunity given to the voters. Democratic problem should have democratic solutions and this step has upheld that. Election process cannot have open protest and this step ensures that by providing a secret ballot in the EVMs that the whole process is kept a secret. The part that it will also record the total number of people rejecting all candidates would be important. The election commission would have to make rules for re-elections and this is just the first step, which has to be matched with various other electoral reforms.

Dr. Alam: It is not a landmark judgement. India is India, not Switzerland. Many voters may not even understand the 'right to reject.'. There are chances of such things getting misused as well. It is only going to harm the electoral process.

Dunu Roy: No, it is not a landmark judgment, as it only offers a kind of a handle, which various social groups and organisations use to bring about some change, but it is not going to change the electoral system.

In 2009 Indian Govt. had rejected such an idea saying elections are to ‘elect’ and not to ‘reject’. Do you find any merit to that argument?

Medha Patkar: No, now it is settled after the Supreme Court directive. Government is the legislator, who would say so but since the Supreme Court has made the decision, hence it is settled. However, the repercussions of the same would have to be discussed. This is huge positive for the voters.

Dr. Alam: Something needs to be done. Blanket rejection (NOTA) of the candidates on papers is not the solution to correct the ills and problems of the country. and there are many other things that needs to be taken care of in our country.

Dunu Roy: No, because all along there has been a 'right to reject.' Their argument is completely flawed. For example, in the voting ballot, there exists an option of 'none of the above.'

Election is not about just a few people voting. There is a huge election process involved that involves spending of public money. Now by opening up a door for ‘repeat voting system’ are we not subjecting ourselves to a loss of public money?

Medha Patkar: A lot of money is not only spent in the whole election process but also on various other things like per minute on the parliament. A little more money spent to decide whether a leader is the real leader and real representative would not be a bad thing. However, this step should not be misused. There should be proper rules and regulations to see that this step is not misused.

Dr. Alam: We need to follow the American model, where the federal govt funds the elections to have a better democratic structure in place. if it benefits the nation, it can be a great thing. If we remember Aadhar, initially, people had also made jokes about it, but look at it now - everyone praises it.

Dunu Roy:  There is in fact more loss if the right government is not elected and then has an elections after 4-5 years. The machinery should be set right.

Indian voters are mostly passionate and not educated. In most cases they go by the face value and not the merit of the candidate, not by the policies he has promised to implement or the agenda declared. In a way, we act frivolous in choosing our leaders. Are we as a nation matured enough to handle this special button?

Medha Patkar: there is no distinction. Acceptance or recognition by voters of candidates is based on the projection of the candidate not on the ideology of the party. this button has its pros and cons but overall it will work as an awareness building tool amongst citizen as people will try to know more about the representatives.

Dr. Alam:  We are matured enough. Though, this special button may create lots of confusions but, if this system can be advertised widely through various forms of communication like via media, it could be a good thing.

Dunu Roy: We are mature enough to handle it. The electors are mature. If we look at the last 15 years, it has all been a coalition government, no single government has been able to come to power. The Indian electors are experimenting until they find the best government.

Supreme Court had been giving such rulings quite often these days. What do you feel about court getting involved in governance?

Medha Patkar: courts duty is interpretation of constitution. Now the apex court has realised its relation wid the voters has changed. it have to play a role as the ruling government is not playing their role and hence i see no undue interference from the SC's part.

Dr. Alam: Sometimes they are hyperactive. They just need to remain active. If the Supreme Court comes in for all decisions, it only creates complications. The Supreme Court should only intervene when required. It should be used as the last resort, not the first resort.

Dunu Roy: The Supreme Court is over extending their reach. They should also remain as a judicial body. At most, the judiciary should only check upon the functioning of the executive according to the constitution. 

 
Do you consider this to be a landmark judgment? Are you hopeful that it will bring a change in the electoral system of India?
Medha Patkar: We welcome this step and congratulate people responsible for bringing about this change. It is a big opportunity given to the voters. Democratic problem should have democratic solutions and this step has upheld that. Election process cannot have open protest and this step ensures that by providing a secret ballot in the EVMs that the whole process is kept a secret. The part that it will also record the total number of people rejecting all candidates would be important. The election commission would have to make rules for re-elections and this is just the first step, which has to be matched with various other electoral reforms. 
 
Dr. Alam: It is not a landmark judgement. India is India, not Switzerland. Many voters may not even understand the 'right to reject.'. There are chances of such things getting misused as well. It is only going to harm the electoral process. 
Dunu Roy: No, it is not a landmark judgment, as it only offers a kind of a handle, which various social groups and organisations use to bring about some change, but it is not going to change the electoral system.
Madhu Kishwar: It is an interesting dynamics. We need a package of reforms backed with political decisions. Right now, it is hard to predict as the politicians are way smarter then you are me. But this is no Ramban and just one step towards accountability. 
 
In 2009 Indian Govt. had rejected such an idea saying elections are to ‘elect’ and not to ‘reject’. Do you find any merit to that argument?
Medha Patkar: No, now it is settled after the Supreme Court directive. Government is the legislator, who would say so but since the Supreme Court has made the decision, hence it is settled. However, the repercussions of the same would have to be discussed. This is huge positive for the voters. 
 
Dr. Alam: Something needs to be done. Blanket rejection (NOTA) of the candidates on papers is not the solution to correct the ills and problems of the country. and there are many other things that needs to be taken care of in our country. 
Dunu Roy: No, because all along there has been a 'right to reject.' Their argument is completely flawed. For example, in the voting ballot, there exists an option of 'none of the above.'
Madhu Kishwar: No, I don't find any merit as in a country like India voting percentage can vary from 5- 75 percent. In Kashmir there are few places that shows 5-6 percent of voting population. Thus this shows disenchantment with the whole voting process. 
 
Election is not about just a few people voting. There is a huge election process involved that involves spending of public money. Now by opening up a door for ‘repeat voting system’ are we not subjecting ourselves to a loss of public money? 
Medha Patkar: A lot of money is not only spent in the whole election process but also on various other things like per minute on the parliament. A little more money spent to decide whether a leader is the real leader and real representative would not be a bad thing. However, this step should not be misused. There should be proper rules and regulations to see that this step is not misused. 
 
Dr. Alam: We need to follow the American model, where the federal govt funds the elections to have a better democratic structure in place. if it benefits the nation, it can be a great thing. If we remember Aadhar, initially, people had also made jokes about it, but look at it now - everyone praises it. 
Dunu Roy:  There is in fact more loss if the right government is not elected and then has an elections after 4-5 years. The machinery should be set right.
Madhu Kishwar: The total money spent in the voting process is peanuts compared to the loot, which is going on. The problem with us is that we do not close avenues for these loots but create this or that law. Thus these are baby steps and certainly not a giant leap.
 
Indian voters are mostly passionate and not educated. In most cases they go by the face value and not the merit of the candidate, not by the policies he has promised to implement or the agenda declared. In a way, we act frivolous in choosing our leaders. Are we as a nation matured enough to handle this special button?
Medha Patkar: there is no distinction. Acceptance or recognition by voters of candidates is based on the projection of the candidate not on the ideology of the party. this button has its pros and cons but overall it will work as an awareness building tool amongst citizen as people will try to know more about the representatives.
Dr. Alam We are matured enough. Though, this special button may create lots of confusions but, if this system can be advertised widely through various forms of communication like via media, it could be a good thing. 
Dunu Roy: We are mature enough to handle it. The electors are mature. If we look at the last 15 years, it has all been a coalition government, no single government has been able to come to power. The Indian electors are experimenting until they find the best government.
 
5.       Supreme Court had been giving such rulings quite often these days. What do you feel about court getting involved in governance?
 
Medha Patkar: courts duty is interpretation of constitution. Now the apex court has realised its relation wid the voters has changed. it have to play a role as the ruling government is not playing their role and hence i see no undue interference from the SC's part.
Dr. Alam: Sometimes they are hyperactive. They just need to remain active. If the Supreme Court comes in for all decisions, it only creates complications. The Supreme Court should only intervene when required. It should be used as the last resort, not the first resort. 
 
Dunu Roy: The Supreme Court is over extending their reach. They should also remain as a judicial body. At most, the judiciary should only check upon the functioning of the executive according to the constitution. 
 
 
 

 

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Now that the Hon'ble Supreme Court has ruled that there should be a symbol in the ballot papers or a button in the EVMs indicating the None of the Above (NOTA) Candidates option. However, present arrangements are that these NOTA votes would not count towards the result and any candidate receiving maximum number of votes out of the total number of votes polled minus NOTA votes, would get elected. However, this is not fair. If the maximum number of NOTA votes are cast in a constituency then there should be a re-election in which none of the rejected candidates should be able to stand. Only that would really reflect the will of the people. Of course, there would be expenditure on re-election but it will not be that much as is caused by corruption through various scams. To ensure clean administration, it must be ensured that People's will is reflected truly and faithfully. Moreover, there should be a right to recall provision because a successful candidate is elected for a period of five years which is quite a long period and supposing he is not performing well or has lost trust of the voters of his constituency then he should be recalled and a fresh election should be held. For this purpose, if a petition is submitted by a number registered voters in a Constituency which is more than the margin by which the successful candidate had won his seat and got elected then the elected member may be recalled and a fresh election may be held to elect a fresh candidate in his place.
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