This has reference to the letters on 49-O (April 14). A ‘none-of-the-above' option will no doubt accommodate the view of naysayers who refuse to endorse any candidate. But will rejecting an entire list of candidates help in any way to strengthen the democratic process? If we have no faith in political parties, why can't we vote for meritorious Independent candidates? By refusing to give a chance to honest candidates to win or at least garner a sizeable share of votes, we are indirectly encouraging criminals to choose politics as a lucrative profession.
The readers felt the candidates contesting in their constituencies were not worth being elected to the Assembly, and that in the absence of awareness among poll officials on 49-O, they had to reluctantly vote for someone. Obviously, the best of the bad bargain.
In the last general elections to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, an unlettered man told me that he had received Rs.500, Rs.750 and Rs.1,000 from three candidates. “Whom did you vote for?” I asked him. “To the least corrupt” he said. “How did you know who it was?” I asked. “The candidate who paid me the least,” he said.
Readers who shared their experience on Rule 49-O did the right thing by raising the issue in these columns. In fact, the lack of sufficient information on and the in-operability of the Rule have been the subject of public debate for some years now. Added to that is the inherent inability to maintain secrecy while exercising the 49-O option. No wonder there is a huge demand for the incorporation of the ‘none-of-the-above' option in the EVMs.
If the 49-O option finds a place in the EVM itself, it will help to preserve the principle of secret ballot. By openly asking the polling officials to issue Form 17A, a voter makes his or her preference known to the officials, agents of political parties, and about 15-20 voters awaiting their turn to vote in the booth.
When there is a long queue, as was the case on Wednesday, it is embarrassing for a voter to ask for Form 17A. It is also doubtful whether any official will oblige.
When I checked with the polling officer, I found that he did not have Form 17 A. He advised me to sign the register, get my fingers inked and leave without voting. In some polling booths, voters were not allowed to exercise the 49-O option at all. The existing system is not foolproof. Many voters may not exercise the 49-O option for fear of trouble from political parties. The best thing to do would be to offer the option in the EVMs.
When I told the polling officers on Wednesday that I wished to exercise the 49-O option, they looked blank. The Returning Officer then told me to wait for some time so that he could find the appropriate register. Finally, an official told me that the register was missing and I would have to cast my vote. While polling officials are ignorant of Rule 49-O, the Election Commission does not seem interested in educating them either.
B. Muthu Raman,
From our college, about 250 students went to the polling booths allotted to us in some remote areas in Tirunelveli as laptop operators. We found that the polling officers convinced those who wanted to exercise the 49-O option to cast their votes for some candidate. Many argued for their right in vain and voted reluctantly. Election officers must understand that people know better. Obviously, some people were not lured by freebies and wanted a change. At least in the next election, the none-of-the-above option should be included in the EVM.