I vote – not to vote

Come October 2010, and millions of residents of Gujarat will be forced to go to the polling stations to vote. This is the latest mandate, in a “landmark bill” passed by the Legislative Assembly. The bill (now a proper amendment to a law) makes voting to municipal corporations, district, village and taluka panchayats and municipalities compulsory, and also ratifies the Centre’s suggestion for reserving 50 per cent seats for women in civic bodies.

According to the people behind the bill, it is “absolutely essential for strengthening democratic process” so that “the true spirit of the will of the people is reflected in the electoral mandate.”

Convinced as I am in the belief that the Modi government is the best one can get right now in this country for love or money, this bill is not only Draconian, it is atrocious. “The true spirit of the will of the people” is already reflected in the poll results, without any compulsory voting: the fact that only sixty per cent people turn up to cast their vote shows that many of them really can’t be bothered to think about the country, yet others think it futile to vote for anyone, and the rest find it so difficult to put a meal on the table that it actually doesn’t matter to them who is in power ruling the country (civic bodies in this case), even if they do know the meaning of those words.

According to Modi, this bill will curb black money and thus reduce poll expenditure. Maybe, but does it not cost something to know who has voted and who has not? I doubt if the electoral roll has the name of each and every eligible voter, whether it has the correct names and other relevant information, and so on. Before implementing the bill, the government will surely have to ensure an error-free voter’s list, if anything else. That will cost crores. The idea is to brand every non-voter as a “defaulter”, and send him a notice, to which he shall have to reply within a month with a “valid reason”, failing which he shall be deprived of certain State “services” such as passport, driving license, BPL status, bank loans, etc etc. I wonder how much these “notices” are going to cost the taxpayer. I wonder how much paperwork shall be required for listing these defaulters and depriving them of these services. I wonder who has the time to take care of all this: the election commission? Surely not. New recruitments? But then where is the expenditure being cut? The burden of all this will no doubt fall on the already overburdened administrative worker, and an inevitable conclusion: people who have voted being listed as defaulters, real defaulters going scot-free, some people casting ten votes (which always happens), some people finding their names on the voter list of a constituency five miles away (which, again, always happens) and some poor guy in Bihar getting a notice of which he can make neither head nor tail. In short, confusion.

I mean, the EC can’t even print people’s sex correctly on the voter ID card, how do you expect such a mammoth task to be carried out?

And now, to the main reason why this bill is downright wrong: what if I do not wish to vote? Who is the government to force me? It is not a Constitutional duty and therefore non-binding on any citizen. The passport and driving license I get are not because I vote: I get them because I am a mentally sound, resident citizen of this country, and I would remain a citizen whether or not I went and pressed a button on some electronic device. Who is the government to deny me a driving license?

Let me make this clear: my refusal to vote is not because I do not find a suitable candidate (which, even otherwise, I do not find), but because I do not believe in this system of voting: that if 100 people (from varying backgrounds, educational qualifications and accuracies of judgement) are voting, 51 vote for one person, and 49 for others, it is the 49 who suffer. Heck, even if out of one billion people, there is one person who votes for someone and the rest all vote for someone else, are we not neglecting the wishes and aspirations of that one person? Voting, in such a system, even if you vote for “none of the above”, implies that you are embracing that system, and approve of it. I do not approve of this system. Just as we have a right to vote, we also have a right to not vote. I do not know of a better system of democracy or voting than that which exists in our country, but nevertheless the current one is not good enough. And therefore, I shall not vote. I eagerly await the notice.

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