Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A Choice to Make

The general elections in India are just round the corner. Soon we will be electing member of parliaments from 543 constituencies in India. In the previous election a fate of more than 5000 aspirants was decided by nearly 380 million of voters. There are close to 300 million who did not vote. Election commission has over the years reformed the parliamentary elections keeping pace with changing times. Introduction of electronic voting machines, enforcement of moral code of conduct, introduction of voter ID cards are the most visible form of these reforms. Nation as a whole is more aware of the importance of voting because of the various public information campaigns launched by Private Businesses, NGOs and also Election Commission.

One reads about the court litigation ongoing about the right of negative voting for citizens in newspapers. I read a few years ago about section 49-O of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 [1] of India. Like many young middle income professionals of today I have never voted. How can I be so assertive about the term many? That is matter of personal experience. Friends and colleagues of mine including me have an apathy of current politics. Not that we do not believe in the democratic system and the benefits of a liberal society. But there is hardly any drive to attract us to vote for a cause. Anyone who is aware of the happening in the country from media cannot help but believe that the elected representatives of the country are not the best citizens the country has to offer. When the choice is between two equally incompetent people in the eyes of the voter, then there isn’t much that attracts him to go and cast a vote. In these circumstances the idea of going to a poling station and registering a no vote, which is in effect a rejection of all the candidates standing for elections in that constituency, sounds like a welcome proposition. One might argue how constructive such a negative vote. I wouldn’t term it destructive but it is disruptive for sure. If enough voters register a no vote then it will be a wakeup call to the political parties to realize that the candidates they have fielded are being viewed as incompetent by a large number of people in the constituency.

Ticket distribution time is a time of fanfare for national and regional parties. Politicians old and new, lobby for the tickets. The upper echelons of the party decide the fate of the aspirants vying to obtaining a party ticket to contest from a constituency. The ability to win one might assume is of course the single biggest determining factor on who gets the tickets. The means used for registering a win would be the smallest determining factor. This can be assumed. I need not present facts. The end result is what we see in the parliament with the 100+ MPs with criminal record and the disruptions in the parliament, the corruption charges, the media sting operations, the nepotism in politics, the undermining of government institutions like the Police, pubic universities and government administrative departments shows that individual verifiable facts about incompetence of candidates are not needed. The end result cannot but be because of the low quality of the candidates in the first place.

People who are either famous or notorious are seen as winning candidates by parties because they can attract voters. Well they surely attract voters with shallow interests or the ones with fear on their minds. But it dissuades a lot of thinking voters who are disillusioned by the choices they have at offer. Perhaps a choice of a disruptive negative vote is what can revive the democracy by bringing a larger number of voters to the ballot box.

The parliamentary democracy that India has favours a voting system where people should be more concerned about the quality of the candidate contesting election in their constituency rather than the candidate proposed by the party as it prime ministerial candidate. If we choose the right person from our constituency then the choice of the PM in the centre will also be correct. Political parties should no longer be allowed to erode the quality of the parliament as a whole by encouraging all kinds of candidates with criminal records and corruption charges to stand in elections. Just because they can win by using all means, and provide a valuable seat to enable them to form a government, should not be allowed to be the determining factor for choice of a candidate. Such a government cannot do much good to the country no matter how competent the central cabinet might be and no matter how well intentioned their national manifesto might be. This is because on the ground level foundation is been corroded by incompetent MPs who can switch party loyalty for self preserving interests at the flip of a silver coin.

If the political parties can be shown that the public at large holds this view about the competence of the candidates by a very visible negative vote at the ballot box then I am sure they will be forced to introspect on the choice of candidates. It will also encourage well minded people to stand as independent candidates. One need not be too intelligent, nor an excellent orator, nor an experienced politician to do justice to the office of a member of parliament. But a person with proven public disservice needs to be disqualified, if not by the party and the court then by the people.


[1] http://www.indian-elections.com/facts-figures.html

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