It is natural for many of you to ask -- do things like Right to Reject and Compulsory voting violate our Right to Expression? No, I would say it is adding completeness in the opportunity for expression
This morning, the Honourable Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include negative voting by allowing the voters to reject all the candidates in an election. I wholeheartedly welcome this. I am sure it will have a long lasting impact on our polity and will be a great step in the direction of further electoral reforms that can make our democracy even more vibrant and participative.
Friends, for a very long time I have called for a provision for a right to reject in elections. Without it, there was something lacking in the system.
Right now, if there are ten candidates contesting from a seat, we are compelling the voters to choose from those ten candidates. This judgment will empower the voters to express their anger and reject all of them. The voters can give a message that we do not like the candidate or the candidates’; party or the party policies.
This will give out a very strong message to political parties -- parties will be forced to think about why people are not accepting them. It will make parties more responsible.
Many friends in some political parties are skeptical of having a Right to Reject in forthcoming elections. However, I am not surprised. We introduced a bill on compulsory voting, which even included the Right to Reject, but Congress Party opposed it tooth and nail. The bill was passed twice, in 2008 and in 2009, but it was then withheld by the Honourable Governor.
Compulsory voting too has several advantages that can make our democracy stronger. It will even mitigate fears about elections becoming display of money power. Many citizens are disturbed by the large amounts of money being spent on elections.
However, by bringing compulsory voting, mindless and extravagant expenditure on elections will not happen as the voter will anyway have to come to the polling booth and cast his or her franchise.
It is natural for many of you to ask -- do things like Right to Reject and Compulsory voting violate our Right to Expression? No, I would say it is adding completeness in the opportunity for expression. Right now, you are getting only half the right of expression -- that of selecting the person or party. In future, you will get a complete right of expression -- of even rejecting the candidates.
And it is not that something is being snatched from the voters. If compulsory schooling for children is advocated, can you say that we are denying a child his or her childhood?
Once someone asked Mahatma Gandhi what are the fundamental rights of the people? Gandhi ji said that it is not about the fundamental right but the fundamental duties of the people. When we do our duties properly, the rights will be automatically safeguarded and if we do our duties properly, our democracy will be safeguarded.
While it is good to talk about Right to Reject and Compulsory Voting, this debate will be meaningless if you are not registered as voters! I am told that a large number of youngsters who are 18 to 24 years old are not registered as voters. There is nothing more unfortunate than this.
The Election Commission has started a special drive across all states for enlisting voters and I urge all of you to make use of the drive and get registered as voters. It is equally true that many of our NRI friends who retain their India passports do not know that they can vote in elections. Thus, I even urge my NRI friends to check the Election Commission website and get registered as voters.
Democracy can only be strengthened by all of us! As voters, we are the ‘Bhagya Vidhatas’ of our nation. What the Supreme Court said today is a wonderful step but it is time now for us to come together, put it into practice and strengthen our democracy so that our nation can shine in the years to come!
Image: A polling officer carries electronic voting machines at a distribution centre ' Photograph: K K Arora/Reuters