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Saturday, December 13, 2008

49(O) - Power To The People

After the attack on Mumbai, like it always is, the public outcry was loud and pretty clear. People started shouting Enough is Enough. Campaigns, petitions and blogs were started on public's lack of trust in the office bearers across barriers and departments. The noise is steadily and surely dying down. The media house which put the words "Enough is Enough" in the mouths of the public is now vehemently exhorting people to go shopping to India's biggest shopping festival.

One small ray of hope which came out of the Mayhem, and which in my opinion is the key to wresting back the power from the politicians and the political parties was the viral-e-mail about section 49(O) of the THE CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS RULES, 1961 ( ) The e-mail said that if the number of voters opting for not voting in accordance with rule 49(O) was bigger than votes secured by any of the candidates, it would result in a re-poll. Alas, this very bit of information which gave some hope to people was quickly put down as false by those most concerned by the implications of the misinterpretation of the rule. And they were right.

Section 49(O) of THE CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS RULES, 1961 states that,
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.

In the above rule, Form 17A is the Register of Voters. As per rule 49(L) before a person is allowed to vote the polling officer is required to enter the electoral roll number of the elector in the Form 17A and then take his signature on the said form. Only then the elector or the voter is allowed to vote. Rule 49(O) was made for people who changed their minds between signing the Form 17A and voting. In such a situation, the voter's name is registered in Form 17A indicating he has voted, whereas he does not want to. That is why he has to record the fact of not willing to vote in the same form and countersign it again. If this is not done, there will be a mismatch between votes recorded by the Electronic voting Machine and those recorded by the Register of votes.

Having said that, it still figures that the electorate or the citizens do not have any power to ensure that good candidates are fielded by the contesting parties. In most elections the elector has to choose between the devil and the deep sea. Therefore a rule akin to what the viral e-mail purported rule 49(O) to be , is required. The obligation or the most important responsibility of any party is to field a candidate who is suitably qualified to undertake the task. Only way to ensure this is to have a rule, rather eligibility criteria for the candidate. Even though the political parties will overcome these eligibility criteria with ease, what with all the instruments of convenience being in their hands. A rule which neutralizes the election or insists for a re-poll is essential to let the people retain the power of electing their representative with themselves.

In my humble opinion, whenever the total electoral votes registered is less than 50% of the total registered voters, the election should automatically be made null and void since less than half the population has voted and it should be concluded that the candidates have not made the effort to even meet the people of their constituency, leave alone convince them to come out and vote on the D-day. The corollary to this rule should be that if more than 50% have indeed come to vote and more than half these numbers have chosen none of the above, all the candidates should be disqualified and the political parties should be forced to field more qualified and worthy candidates to that constituency for the re-poll.

The detractors of this proposal will say that it would amount in wasteful expenditure. I would like to remind them the only money lost will be that of the candidates and the political parties who go about fielding goons and thieves. As per the latest figure available on the authorized amount of expenditure for elections; Election expenditure for each Assembly constituency is restricted to only Rs 6 Lakhs. If that goes waste once or twice, it would definitely be worth it if it helps us in finding a suitable boy or a girl to represent us. In any case the losses accrued by an unqualified or unworthy candidate during his tenure by the way of looting the state, inefficiency and corruption will far exceed this miserly amount of Rs 6 Lakhs, many times over. The people of the constituency should also be given the right to demand that the elected representative prove that his majority stands amongst the electorate of the constituency.

Only when the above powers are given to the people, this would mean that the people have retained the power. The power to elect, the power to reject and the power to change. Only then we would be able to truly say that the Government is by the people, of the people and for the people.

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