India became independent in 1947. For the nation, achievement of independence from British rule was a landmark event. But for millions, that this epochal happening was accompanied by the trauma of partition denuded it of all the joy such an event would have ordinarily brought.
Personally, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Karachi, the capital of Sindh. After the creation of Pakistan, Karachi became the capital of the new state and remained as such until a new capital near Rawalpindi, named Islamabad, was constructed.
In 1942 when I had just passed out of High School, I became a swayamsewak of the RSS, and that became the biggest turning point in my life. It has influenced my thinking and conduct all through my life. In 1947, I was a pracharak (whole timer) of the RSS. After partition, most RSS pracharaks in Sindh were assigned responsibilities in Rajasthan. So from 1947 to 1957, I was in Rajasthan – first in Alwar, then in Bharatpur, later in Kota and finally in Jaipur. It was during this first decade of independence that just one year after the adoption of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji decided to launch the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which today functions as the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It was this initiative taken by Dr. S.P. Mookerji in 1951 which drew into politics most of those who have made the party as powerful a force as it is today – dedicated patriots like Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, Nanaji Deshmukh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kushabhau Thakre, Jagannath Rao Joshi, Sunder Singh Bhandari, Kailashpati Mishra, P. Parameshwaran, Vishnukant Shastri, Jagdish Prasad Mathur and such others, who had no interest in power politics, and whose sole concern was India’s greatness.
Most of those I have named above were R.S.S. pracharaks at the time and their being assigned responsibility in the Jana Sangh was the result of an important meeting Dr. Mookerji had with the RSS Sar Sangh Chalak, Shri Guruji (Shri M.S. Golwalkar) just about the time he launched the Jana Sangh.
I recall Pandit Deendayalji’s advice to me when he asked me to come from Rajasthan to Delhi in 1957 to assist Shri Vajpayee, when he was first elected to Parliament and to build up the party’s parliamentary wing. You should also try, he told me, to study the various electoral systems prevalent in different democracies of the world and concentrate on the issue of electoral reforms that can make India a truly successful and vibrant democracy.
If there is any specific political issue on which I have devoted focussed attention since then it is this matter of poll reform.
Last week following a PIL filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice Sathasivam has expressed itself in favour of voters being given a choice to exercise a negative vote. The Supreme Court has suggested that electronic machines hereafter should have buttons not only for the various contesting candidates but also one additional button marked NOTA meaning None Of The Above.
The Supreme Court’s advice has generally been welcomed. Even the Election Commission has said that it would have no difficulty adding this one button to the EVMs they are having manufactured.
As things stand today, voters who without any legitimate justification have not been exercising the valuable right of franchise the Indian Constitution has conferred on them have, unwittingly thus, been casting a negative vote against all the contesting candidates without intending to do so. I hold therefore that a negative vote would become really meaningful if it is accompanied also by the introduction of mandatory voting. The only state in India which has on its own initiative moved in this direction is Gujarat. Under Narendra Modi its Assembly has twice legislated for compulsory voting but the Bill has not received the assent of the Governor, or even of New Delhi.
Former Chief Election Commissioner Shri S.Y. Quraishi has written two very good articles this week, one in The Economic Times (Oct 2, 2013) and the second in The Indian Express (Oct 3, 20-13) in which he has attempted to analyse the implications of the verdict and summed it up by saying that if the right to reject is actually implemented it would result in some problems which have to be sorted out. On the whole, he said, the apex court judgement has touched off a welcome debate.
The former CEC’s articles also indicate that the Supreme Court’s proposal is not really a rejection vote. It is essentially an abstention vote.
Today there are in the world as many as 31 countries whose laws provide for some kind of compulsory voting system. But the details of these laws are such that observers feel that it is only one dozen of these that actually enforce compulsory voting by having deterrent provisions for citizens who fail to vote without any justified reason.
The Supreme Court’s judgement mentions seven countries and one state of U.S.A. where the Ballot Paper given to voters or the EVMs, have a NOTA option. The seven countries named by the Supreme Court are France, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Chile, Bangladesh and Ukraine. The one state of U.S.A. mentioned is Nevada. What I regard as significant is the fact that out of the seven countries which have given the electors a NOTA option the first five listed by me, namely, France, Belgium, Brazil, Greece and Chile have compulsory voting also.
The remaining 26 countries having some sort of compulsory voting arrangement are: Austria, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Eckador, Egypt, Fiji, Gabon, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nauru, Paraguay, Peru, Phillipines, Singapore, Switzerland (Province of Schafthausen), Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay.
I personally feel that if the Election Commission can convene a meeting of all political parties after providing them on the one hand the text of the Supreme Court judgement, and on the other, a comprehensive report on the laws and rules in these thirty one countries, a purposeful debate on the entire issue can take place.
6 October, 2013