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Monday, May 19, 2008

Rule 49-O: Vote for NO ONE!! (India)

Rule 49 OI am a member of a Tech-oriented discussion forum, whose members have clear and quite often strong opinion about issues. So naturally when the Supreme Court upheld the Indian Government’s decision to introduce 27% reservation for members of the Other Backward Class (OBC) category in Educational Institutions, with riders, it was natural that a heated discussion would ensue on this issue. During the course of the discussion, quite naturally, members started bemoaning about the absence of a deserving, credible candidates who could be voted to the Parliament and how we were being forced to elect the best among the worst who later go on to mess things up at a National level. If only we had a say in the kind of candidates being nominated to contest the election by their respective parties, things would have been so much better. Well believe it or not, you actually can!

I had first read about the Rule 49(O) some months [years??] back while going through an issue of JAM.

Rule 49O of the THE CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS RULES, 1961 states that,

49-O. Elector deciding not to vote.-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.

Rule 49 O has also been mentioned on the Election Commission of India’s website.

This means that you go to your polling station, sign on the relevant documents that state you had visited your polling station for exercising your right to franchise and then vote for no one. This might appear strange - the act of going to the polling station and then voting for no one. One may argue that if you are not planning to vote anyone to power, why waste a perfectly fine holiday (on the day of polling, a public holiday is declared by the government in the region to enable people to caste their votes) to visit the polling station at all.

Haaaah! here lies the beauty of this Rule. Unlike not turning up to cast your vote, where some candidate will invariably win, even if (s)he gets 1 vote, by exercising your right to invoke Rule 49O, you can actually reject all the contesting candidates. For this to happen, the number of voters invoking Rule 49-O must exceed the number of votes cast. Once rejected, they can not be re-nominated by their parties to contest the by-elections (re-election) that would be held in that region. Thus the political parties will have to nominate new candidates to contest election in that region and for the fear of being rejected again, they might decide to give the party ticket to a genuine, credible candidate this time around.

How does one do it?

In the earlier setup, where votes were cast into ballot boxes, it was extremely simple to do it. All one had to do was take the ballot paper issued to you and drop it in the box without putting the stamp on any candidate. This, when counting the ballot papers, would be taken as an indication of Rule 49-O being invoked by the voter.

However, with the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines [EVM] in all forms of Elections [or at least in the Municipal Corporation, Assembly and General elections that I have voted in], one has to approach the presiding officer from the Election Commission and ask for the relevant form and once filled, the voters choice is noted.

Critics, quite rightly, argue that this is in complete violation of one of our rights as an Indian citizen - secrecy of the ballot. The choice exercised by a voter is to remain a secret and no one has the right to know the choices we make. By approaching the officer and requesting for the form we give up this right as everyone would come to know about the choice you make - that of not choosing anybody. A ’None of the above’ button could easily have been added to the E.V.M for voters to exercise this right, but strangely enough the Election Commission has so far refrained from doing so.

However, Proposed Electoral Reforms [PDF, 164 KB] have recommended the addition of such a button in the E.V.M. Till such time this button is added, we will have to approach the presiding officer in person, thereby waiving our right to secrecy of ballot.

This rule, in my opinion, is a serious weapons in our arsenal to bring about improvements in our society and must not hesitate to invoke it whenever required for the greater good.

Strangely and quite pleasantly surprising enough, the first result that Google throws up when you go looking for information about Rule49O is that of a Belgian National’s blog who, from what I gathered from her blogs, is some sort of an Indophile.

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