Sunday, September 29, 2013

Raju Ramachandran's defence of NOTA

Senior advocate of the Supreme Court, Raju Ramachandran  has, in this article in today's Economic Times,  defended NOTA.  His view is that a significant vote for NOTA will ensure that political parties do not choose candidates with doubtful credentials, and that by giving an incentive to lazy and cynical voters to come and vote, it will reduce bogus voting.  He shares the Supreme Court's assumption that bogus voting is primarily the result of genuine voters not taking the trouble to vote.  In the first part of the article, he defends the Court's reasoning why secrecy must be extended to those who wish to exercise NOTA.

There are several assumptions in the article, which are debatable.  First, let us assume that in an election there is a substantial vote for NOTA.  How does this lead to political parties fielding less dubious candidates in a future election?  Even now, without NOTA (that is, NOTA not being secret), can we say that political parties field dubious candidates because they are unaware that a substantial section of voters may not approve such candidates? The answer is parties do so because of  their own sense of electoral arithmetic of a constituency.  This sense is unlikely to change, whatever the NOTA data shows.  If 60 percent of the electorate choose NOTA, as RR himself admits, the winner will be chosen out of the 40 per cent vote.  So why should the political parties' conscience be pricked if  they know that their winning candidates' vote share is quite less?  They will continue to field them, if they know that the 60 per cent of the electorate who voted NOTA does not matter, as their vote is equivalent to invalid votes.

The assumption is also an insult to the intelligence of the Indian voters that they let dubious candidates get elected, because they don't know that they have NOTA (without secrecy, before the judgment).  If this assumption is correct, then, non-dubious candidates must get substantial votes in an election, let alone  become successful.  They don't because of various other factors, not necessarily because of the absence of secret NOTA.

On the secrecy issue, do any of us seriously believe that the NOTA voters today will be nearly doubled or trebled if  the secrecy cover is extended to them? The fact is that not many voters know that there is an option not to register the vote, after receiving a ballot paper.  Again, even those who know that such an option exists, are not aggrieved that they don't enjoy the secrecy cover (I agree they are entitled to it).

Those who defend NOTA also assume that the absence of secrecy cover to those who wish not to register their vote for any candidate, is a serious problem.  In practice, however, it remains secret, as such information is not publicly available, and the information about who returned the ballot without voting may get buried in the EC's records, without anyone coming to notice. If necessary, we could deny such information to applicants under RTI Act, as it may infringe on their right to privacy.

For the first time, the EC has been asked to tell the voters not to cast their votes, if they are so cynical of  the candidates in an election.  This cynicism, if officially encouraged, may lead to loss of faith in democracy, even though it may be imperfect, with all its aberrations.

Update:In this article, former CEC, S.Y.Quraishi articulates similar criticism of the judgment.

1 comment:

prabhat said...

Let’s assume a shoddy candidate ‘X’ and a worse off ‘Y’. Since X is marginally better than Y, X may have received a vote under the old system (because of lack of options/knowledge of the voter). Under NOTA, neither X nor Y get a vote. Thus, the political party fielding X may have gotten a vote previously but doesn’t get one now. No doubt, the winner is chosen from the total of non-NOTA votes, however, assuming the vote bank for Y doesn’t change, X stands to lose if he is not considerably (and not just marginally) better than Y. In other words, NOTA forces a political party to one up the opposition by fielding considerably better candidates. Since non-NOTA votes are deciding, it in fact completely changes the electoral arithmetic.