Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Section 49 O

Today, I have got a long comment from one Ganesh Kumar to my 2005 post `Is Negative Voting a Negative Idea' (I am providing the link to this and the comment comes at the end). The comments makes several important points about Section 49 O of the Conduct of Elections, which is suddenly being much debated today.
Few outside of Bombay had heard Section 49 O till the electronic media and the south Bombay crowd started this anti-politician campaign. Some in Bombay had heard of it since the Indian Liberal Group, which had been started by late Minoo Masani and of which I am a member, had widely publicised it before some Bombay municipal elections and the 2004 general elections and people have used it there. I had circulated this by email ahead of the 2004 elections.
I strongly support the idea of this section, but am wary of the frenzied campaigning around it in the wake of the Bombay terror attacks. I am not in favour of a blanket use of this provision to reject all politicians, which is what the current campaign is focussed on. We are a democracy and we cannot do away with politicians. In the last post, I had argued that there is nothing negative about negative voting and that it is a positive cry for change. But the current campaign for it makes it a negative idea. Let me hasten to add that I don't club Kumar's suggestions in that category.
Negative voting has relevance for individual constituencies. If, for example, in my constituency I am faced with a choice of only criminals or politicians who practice divisive politics (caste-based or religion-based) or are corrupt, then I should use Section 49 O if I feel strongly about not voting for them. I cannot believe that all 545 Lok Sabha constituencies and all the assembly constituencies will face that situation.
I also do not find anything wrong in small groups of people boycotting an election, if they find that is the only way to make themselves heard on an issue - whether it is cleaning of drains or some much larger issue. But, again, I do not believe that election boycott can be used as a general weapon.
It's easy for the swish set rooting for Section 49 O to do so. Mostly they don't have a stake in the system or they are influential and can get their work done, regardless of the political party in power or the bureaucrats in office. (But by saying so I am not belittling the contribution these people make to the country or say that their views don't matter at all or that they don't represent the `real India'. I find the last part totally ridiculous). The rest of us have a stake in the system, in the policies that are formulated, in the manner they are implemented. So we have to be careful about whom we vote for and how we express our dissatisfaction. Negative voting, election boycott, right to recall (I would like to study the details and see how it has been used in Madhya Pradesh before making more detailed comments on that or recommending it wholeheartedly) are all measures not just to express our dissatisfaction but to work for a positive change and to make the political system more accountable and responsible than it is today. But we have to use these powers and rights responsibly.
Footnote: Talking about individual responsibility, the subject of my last post, on voting day in Delhi - the operations in Bombay were still not over, mind you - a friend who lives in the posh Anand Niketan area of south Delhi was aghast to find a lady and her daughter throwing tantrums because they were not allowed to take their cellphones into the polling booth! Apparently in other parts of south Delhi, people were complaining about `being inconvenienced' by not being allowed to take their cellphones. I am willing to bet that these are precisely those people who, in drawing room conversations, be lamenting the sorry state of security! At my polling booth, it was a completely opposite picture. I had driven down and absentmindedly had taken my purse and cellphone with me. There was some confusion about my name on the voters' list and when I reached the booth I realised my mistake. I was quite prepared to ask the policeman outside or anyone else in the queue to hold on to both while I voted. But the policeman didn't stop me, even though he could see the cell phone in my hand. There was some further confusion about my name in the booth, the booth officials could see I had a cellphone. BUT NO ONE OBJECTED. Others were also taking their cellphones inside. I thought the ban on cellphones had been lifted but no, it is very much in place!!!


Sunil said...

I had read about section 49 O and it intrigued me. You're absolutely right in suggesting that this section should not be misused, out of sheer anger. The most valid case for it has also been suggested by you...when you're confronted with a choice that is hardly a choice.
The most significant part of the section is the power of the electorate to recall the chosen representative. Any suggestions on where one can get the details???

summerfruit said...

Nice post..boycotting elections or recalling a representative is useful, but it has to be built on a real platform of choice. In many constitutencies, the alternative to the current incumbent is someone at best no different. Perhaps we need to think of a different kind of democracy. Currently we have the legal right to vote. There's always talk about the responsibility to vote, but it's not always taken seriously. And doesn't have the same legal status, unlike say in Australia, Belgium and other places. But whatever be the legal framework, democracy cannot function unless there is a vibrant civic sphere.