Sunday, April 11, 2010

"We the people"

In 2008 May, there was Panchayat Election in West Bengal.I was Additional District Magistrate of West Midnapore District at that time. On the day of elections, I was busy moving to different polling booths since early morning and things were normal. Around 1 30 PM, I got a message from Election Control Room stating that there was a panic call from one of the Presiding officers of Jamboni area. Jamboni is a very disturbed place known for its criminal and anti social activities. It took around an hour for me to reach the polling booth from where the panic call was logged. The presiding officer was sweating and his face was pale. I asked him whether there was booth capturing. To my surprise, he told that everything was normal and peaceful. I got irritated and asked him why he gave a call to control room if everything was normal. He told that due to intense heat, he became abnormal and so he made a call, which was a very foolish answer. I could make out that he had been threatened not to talk. I checked the voting register and found that voting percentage was normal till 1 pm, but suddenly there was drastic increase of approximately 30% of votes between 1 and 2 pm, which was a clear indication of booth capturing. I searched for polling agents of different political parties but none were found. If I recommend for repoll without Presiding Officer’s report, State Election Commission may not accept. So I thought of trying my last option. I took the presiding officer to a nearby room and told that he would be suspended (He was a teacher in Govt School) for raising false alarm when polling was peaceful. His face became blank and the he started weeping for next 5 minutes.Then he told that one of the election candidate came with armed personnel around 1 PM and drove away the polling agents and cast bogus votes.When he saw the presiding officer calling for help to control room, he threatened to kill if presiding officer gives any report.After much of persuasion, the presiding officer agreed to give a report on booth capturing, on the condition that I would stay in the booth till the polling is over and I would accompany him up to DCRC where he would deposit the ballot boxes. State Election Commission on receipt of Presiding Officer’s report along with my recommendation, ordered for repoll.

Last month, I was returning from Delhi after attending a meeting. The person who was sitting beside me in flight was in White Shirt and White Dhoti, and from his attire I could make out that he was a politician. After initial exchange of pleasantries, I came to know that he was a political functionary of a prominent political party of Tamil Nadu.He told that he came from a poor fisherman’s family and he still owns fishing boats which goes for fishing. To get respect within his community he joined politics and after few years his work got recognized by the party high command and he was made the candidate for an election. I found him to be very down to earth person and very friendly. We started serious discussions about the current political scenario. I shared my Jamboni experience with him. On hearing it, he asked me whether I voted in last election. I was surprised by his question. I told him that I voted, but not in Tamil Nadu but in West Bengal, as I was registered voter of West Bengal. He again asked whether my friends and relatives voted in last election. I could not make out on why he was asking such question. I told that I did not know whether my friends and relatives voted. He told, “ Mr.Israel you go and ask them whether they voted. If they are honest to you, then the answer would be ‘no’. Of course they would say that they have lost hopes in politicians of India. Middle class and upper class people always are critical of politicians. They argue that military rule is the only solution for India. They talk very big but on the day of elections, around 50% stay at their home without coming to polling booth and watch TV because all TV channels would be broadcasting new movies on the day of election. Don’t think that the remaining 50% would have come to polling booth. Rather they would have left the previous day itself to the nearest tourist location along with their friends or families because Election day is a paid holiday in India. So when we go back to electorate asking to vote on our constructive work, our middle class and upper class voters are missing. It is the poor people who come to vote and as they are vulnerable due to poverty, we start bribing for votes. We are left with the option of booth capturing or vote buying. As Election Commission is very strict these days, booth capturing is ruled out. So currency plays a crucial role. Today the rate of one vote is approximately Rs 1000 in Tamil Nadu.” As he was getting emotional I changed the topic of discussion. Even though he was not 100% correct, still I found his argument was very logical to a great extent. Once we landed at Chennai, we exchanged our visiting cards. The following Sunday, he sent to my house, large quantity of fishes and prawns.

Yesterday I was reading the blog of Shri L.K.Advani in which he had written a post on compulsory voting (March 7th, 2010 post). Shri L.K.Advani is of the view that graduates, post graduates etc, try to shy away from voting and hence he argues for compulsory voting. He says, “I read about a remarkable incident that occurred in eighteenth century Britain.A member of the House of Commons received a letter from his constituents in which he was asked to vote against certain excise proposals in the Budget. According to the BBC feature, the M.P. sent a stinging reply to his voters as follows :
“Gentlemen, I have received your letter about the excise, and I am surprised at your insolence in writing to me at all.
“You know, and I know, that I bought this constituency.
“You know, and I know, that I am now determined to sell it.
“And you know what you think I don’t know that you are looking for another buyer.
“And I know what you certainly don’t know, that I have found another constituency to buy.”
So during next election, either we people should vote or if we are busy with tourist places or TV, we should stop talking like intellectuals on the status of democracy and politicians in India. I know most of the middle class and upper class would prefer to stop talking rather than voting. So in my view, compulsory voting is the only solution for India.Some people who may argue that none of the candidates are worth voting, may exercise Rule 49-O after reaching the polling booth.


  1. ilangovan BalakrishnanApril 12, 2010 at 8:49 AM

    Majority in this world do not have the voting right and dont have the opportunity to elect their mandate. We dont understand the preciousness of what we possess right now.There is no point in making complaints. We cannt get more than that of what we deserve. Serious issues are presented in a very subtle way. Im sure it will initiate a qualitative change in the system. Congrats!

  2. We had 40% of voting in the recent BBMP elections,and naturally everyone is blaming the middle class and the upper middle class
    voters.Some of my friends justified their not voting saying that these politicians are not worth votes.I say..whether the voting is 40% or 10% they are anyway going to elect the candidate with majority our not voting is not going to hav any affect on the politicians unless there is a complete boycott of voting which is practically not possible.So yes compulsary voting is necessary indeed ,but so is negative voting then,because people are frustrated with the corrupt politicians which
    repells them from voting but if there is negative voting there is atleast a chance for them to express their view directly and the vote seekers would think twice before taking the voters for granted. Is there any rule for negative voting??By the maid told me that she took Rs 1000 for her vote.Looks like they hav a standard rate fixed throuout the country ;-))

  3. Israel...49-0 is only an escapist solution that the Government has conveniently made available to prevent stoking the actual problem.

    Why dont we have a separate column where they obtain voters' opinion..i.e. a multiple selection choice with the question "Who are the people you think are not fit and/or do not deserve to govern this state/country/ULB ?"

    I am sure none of the middle/ upper class will take a vacation nor watch TV. Rather, it would be an embarrassing but truthful reply to the politicians. Based on these results, the option of "To Vote" can be exercised. As for the COST involved in undertaking such an exercise, it is nothing in comparison to the Billions/years wasted otherwise.

    My 2 cent worth. Just a fantasy maybe.

  4. It may sound absurd, but true that some of my friends haven't used their 'right to vote' not even once in their lifetime. This is the tendency of the people around us.

    But given a chance to speak up on the issues they have a lot to say and many to criticize.

    I feel, lets not think too much or talk big always on such topics but simply go ahead and make best use of the opportunity given to us. That is do our duty first.

    And like you said, if we cant do it then stop talking like intellectuals.

  5. Smitha, 49-O is the answer for your question or if we want to go ahead further, Amalan's fantasy may be the solution.But as of now, 49-O gives an option of not voting for any candidate but at the same time exercising one's vote.

  6. I dont agree with 49-o it is as good as sitting at home.I was talking about something like what Mr Amlan said..I couldnt put it as clearly as him though...

  7. In my view, most of the middle and upper class, do not they most of them do not even have a voter's id. They, for some reason, think that it is a waste of time, to get their voter's id or ration card or any such thing which the common man needs. They get one only if it becomes mandatory for some other reason, and they are left with no choice but to acquire one.

    But, nothing stops them from being critical about the government. 49-0, will not work in these cases, as some of them have a lot of lame excuses, like "none of the politicians are worth voting for" etc etc, but just do not want to go and stand in a line and vote.

    So there needs to be some solution to this.

  8. Amalan and Smitha, I agree with you that 49-O is not complete.But in my view, whatever additional choices we give to voters, it may increase voter turnout may be by just another 2%. Still our people would find tourist places or movies. Why? The reason people who do not vote invariably give is, they do not have choices and all politicians are bad. If that is the truth, then voter turnout in first 3 general elections should have been at least 90% if not 100% because most of the candidates were freedom fighters and corruption was not a issue.Pathetically, the voter turn out never crossed 55% in first 3 general elections. So in my view, even if Mahatma Gandhi takes a birth again and contest in Election, our middle class and upper class voters would say Gandhiji is not a good candidate and spend their time at tourist place or at home.So in my view, unless compulsory voting is made a law(Already many countries have done it. Gujarat has done for local elections), we cannot expect any change.

  9. Guys, check this out.

  10. Samuel, checked the site.Like Singapore, India should also opt for Compulsory voting.

  11. Removal of names of those who did not vote in an election without a valid reason should be cut off from the electoral rolls. This can help to weed out bogus polling and "money for vote" culture. Voting is a citizens right, but if he fails to use it, the constitution should have the right to revoke it.

  12. considering the level of depoliticisation and personality cults in our country, compulsory voting will be a revolutionary step