On Demand For Right to Reject
If the Supreme Court takes a favourable view on ‘Right to reject’, in all certainty India’s electoral system will undergo a sea of change. At present, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking to nullify the election result if in a particular constituency maximum votes have been polled in favour of NOTA, is pending before the Apex Court. The petitioners have argued that if ‘Right to reject’ is introduced, the country’s electoral system will become free from five menaces namely corruption, criminalisation, casteism, communalism, linguism and regionalism. They argue that a direction to the Election Commission of India (ECI) by the top court to this effect will make political parties cautious whilst selecting candidates and moreover, non-performing representatives will have no chance of being elected. Last but not the least, it will provide the electorate with the real might of the people in a democracy.
The demand for ‘Right to reject’ is not new. As a matter of fact, both the Law Commission and ECI expressed support for the move. In 2001, ECI first mooted the idea when James Lyndoh was the Chief Election Commissioner. Again T. M. Krishanamurthy, the Chief Election Commissioner in 2004 proposed the same. A background paper prepared by the Ministry of Law in 2010 also envisaged that election results should be nullified if a certain percentage of vote is negative. The Law Commission in its 170th report in 1999 also suggested that to be elected a candidate should get 50 per cent plus one vote. In all, there is a belief amongst a section of people that the existing People’s Representative Act should be amended to make the election process in the country more meaningful. According to them in its present form NOTA is nothing but a toothless tiger. Their arguments are based on two counts. Firstly, pressing NOTA in an electronic voting machine is no different from abstaining. Secondly, in our country it is not mandatory for a candidate to get at least 50 per cent of votes polled. So, in a constituency if 99 votes out of 100 cast in favour of NOTA, the single vote will elect the candidate.
Those opposing the idea are mainly of the view that such a change will pave the way for frequent elections which a poor nation like India cannot afford and is not good for the health of democracy. They argue that treating NOTA like a candidate is not an issue. The problem actually arises if NOTA gets more votes than any other candidate. Then either ECI will have to hold a fresh election or keep the seat vacant. Both of which are not advisable. Such an argument can’t be rejected outrightly especially when the government is seriously thinking to adopt the ‘one nation, one election’ principle mainly to reduce electoral expenses. But at the same time, any proposal to make democracy more meaningful and effective should also not be overlooked. So, all eyes will be on the Supreme Court when it takes up the PIL for consideration.