Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Say NO to the “None of the above” idea

In the aftermath of the terrorist strike in Mumbai on 26/11/2008, many people expressed their anger and frustration at the political leadership. An idea that has gained new currency has been the decade-old proposal to introduce a negative option in the ballot – “None of the Above”, or simply the ‘No Vote’, to express our lack of confidence in politicians as such. Even the Supreme Court has called for a larger bench to decide on a recent PIL filed by the PUCL, asking for the introduction of the ‘No Vote’ in the ballot. The Election Commission of India has endorsed the idea too.

But the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Thus, while sharing the sentiments of those who feel disfranchised and frustrated by politics as usual, I propose that we say NO to the idea of the ‘No Vote’. This is an idea that is not only undemocratic, but is actually anti-democratic in principle. It is based on a gross misunderstanding of our democratic institutions and electoral politics. Finally, the implications of the ‘No Vote’ have hardly been thought through.

I don’t look at democracy as a system where the majority rules. Rather, democracy is a system where minority views need to be protected so that they have the opportunity and freedom to persuade people and peacefully win others to their side, so that today’s minority view point has the potential to become the dominant opinion of tomorrow.

Let us extend the argument further. What would be the implications of such a ‘No Vote’ against the candidates contesting in the election in a constituency? Firstly, should the election be cancelled if the ‘No’ wins more vote than the candidates on the ballot? Or should re-polling be ordered only if 51% or more of the voters express lack of confidence in the existing slate of candidates? Suppose a fresh vote is ordered, should the previous set of candidates be allowed to stand again? In case the ‘No Vote’ turns out to be the dominant sentiment of the citizens in a constituency or a country, who would actually bear the responsibility for governance? Should the existing set of politicians just continue in office till the political deadlock over ‘No Vote’ is broken? Or should an un-elected bureaucracy or nominated technocracy be asked to take over the reins of political power?

We the intelligentsia, may not have the capacity to win the confidence of our fellow citizens, and win at the ballot. But that is no reason for us to try and delegitimise representative democracy, or worse, seek to depoliticize political democracy.

Read the full article here.

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