My views on the subject:

Democracy in India is periodically celebrated through elections which are neither free nor fair. Money, Muscle and Media power effectively ensure that elections are rigged in favour of candidates from `recognised' parties which serve the interests of the rich and powerful and alternately oppress and delude the common citizen. Candidate deposit rates have been hiked ostensibly to keep away `frivolous' candidates and reduce public election expenditure. On the same ground of keeping away `frivolous' parties, rules have been framed on minimum percentage of votes required for a party to be `recognised' by the EC. Recognition confers benefits that the unrecognised do not get - time on public audio-visual media, a permanent symbol of the party's own choice etc. Established parties that serve the interests of the business class obtain huge contributions from them as quid pro quo for the favours they will be able to confer if voted to power. Consequently, money talks loudly at electi
on time, suborning officialdom, drawing the 24x7 attention of corporate media and opinion pollsters, all of whom create an illusion that voters have no choice but to vote for the Serious Recognised Major Parties. The voter in turn develops a mind to not `waste' her valuable vote on a candidate who does not have a chance to win. Leave aside cruder methods of rigging and intimidation, this is the real picture of `democracy', the illusion of free choice in which is kept alive through the mechanism of elections.

In the past, I have cast my vote for candidates and parties who I thought were different, if and when they managed to stand for elections. But more often than not, in the days of ballot papers, I scored off the entire sheet and wrote some choice slogans of my own. Thereby I ensured that nobody else cast a false vote in my name, as is the practice if you do not turn up by about 4PM, and expressed my feelings through the ballot paper. With the advent of EVMs, this became impossible. In the last Lok Sabha election, I followed the cue from MPISG and decided to exercise the option of not voting. I would not be able to express my feelings but at least somebody else would not use my vote. I faced heavy intimidation from party agents, poll officials and the Presiding Officer. I stood my ground, got it done and telephoned the Election Commission to complain thereafter.

I am certain that most ordinary people would not be able to exercise this option as the intimidation would be greater in the case of a citizen who looks poor. I do not look forward to repeating this option myself. There is no question of poll officials ever allowing anyone to exercise their right not to vote unobtrusively. They are part of the charade of polling percentages as a proxy for a vibrant democracy. Under the circumstances, and considering conditions for the vast number of people all over the country, a secret ballot option in the EVM itself is far more practical. To equate such secrecy with irresponsibility is as wrong as equating `seriousness' of candidates with their money power. None-of-the-above actually means I reject all of the above, not because good candidates and parties do not exist, but because they have not yet been able to come to the fore, so severe are the constraints placed upon them by the system. There is no danger to democracy, on the contrary i
t might enhance democracy by enabling people to express their real views, at least it will restore the option that existed in the ballot paper. The more heroic among us can continue to use the option of refuse-to-vote.  



----- Original Message -----
From: Gita Dewan Verma <[email protected]>
Date: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 6:31 pm
Subject: [mpisgmedia] Right to not vote: "all-of-these" with responsibility, not "none-of-these" in anonymity

// I find this Republic Day eve report distressing

I am sending to EC, AG and counsel in this PIL the
letter at:
(...The existing Refuse option (under Rule 49 O, prior
to secret ballot) adequately allows responsible
rejection, besides potential opportunity to sharply
draw attention of "all-of-these" to issues that
electors believe the political agenda is failing to
capture. An anonymous "none-of-these" option, on the
other hand, can at best fuzzily measure extent of
discontent and can be potentially dangerous,
culminating in rejection of democracy itself... I do
not think we are in any position to say the Refuse
option (not reducible to a Reject option) cannot
suffice for purposes of the "right to not vote" or
needs any more than the "Invalidate" option on EVMs.
If anonymous "none-of-these" is added in the voting
procedure, I propose (for logical rigour in the range
of options) an accompanying revised nomenclature of
Refuse option to "all-of-these", with rules to ensure
that the two are publicized equally...)