Vote, you fools!

There are no shortcuts to good governance. Certainly not negative ones

A group of well-meaning citizens and organisations came together in Mumbai on 11th January and “discussed strategies for networking, shortlisting common activities and adding value to each others’  core competencies”. Among those present were members from Youth For Equality, Yuva, Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Praja. Also present were incipient political parties like Loksatta, Jago Party and the Professionals Party of India. [Update: See ADR’s clarification at the bottom of the post]

These groups “consensually decided” that  “a pan-India platform of groups, individuals and political parties should be formed  with an  initial focus on Mumbai in the lead up to the April-May Lok Sabha elections.”So far so good. Greater middle class engagement in civic life is a good thing. Until you see that these groups—which includes political parties and a well-regarded election monitoring NGO—“consensually” decided to

4. Have a single point “NO VOTE” campaign for the April-May 09 (Lok Sabha) elections. The plan is to tap into  public disgust with political incompetence by asking people to vote for candidates who add an alias “No Vote”to their name, thus giving voters an option to use a NO VOTE option even though there is no such provision in the Constitution. [via email]

What an astounding waste that will be! Some of the most promising, public-minded young people come together and decide not to vote! Just why couldn’t these ingenious people decide to put up one good candidate and campaign for him? Wouldn’t this send an even more powerful signal to those incompetent politicians?

Isn’t it tragic that when the decent citizens decide to engage in civic activities that they long neglected, they come back to trivialise, undermine and ultimately subvert Indian democracy? The Mumbai meeting did mention some other proposals to improve governance—but the adoption of as wretched an idea as a “no vote” campaign fatally undermines its credibility. The good people behind this ill-considered move would do well to jettison the “no vote” plan when they meet later this week.

On the importance of voting: A common bank of votes & notes, on DCubed; Vote, you fools! here on this blog; Rohit Pradhan’s article in Pragati; V Anantha Nageswaran in Mint

Update: ADR’s Professor Trilochan Shastry writes in an email:

We never said this. There is some mistake.

We are only saying there should be a button on the EVM saying “None of the above”. This is also a demand of the election commission.

If you have been sending out emails on this, please send out corrections as well.

The paragraph you have highlighted below is not from ADR.

Since the minutes of the January 11th meeting are of public interest, I have decided to make them available here, sans phone numbers and email addresses to protect privacy. The minutes indicate that the “no vote” plan was agreed upon consensually in the presence of an ADR representative. Professor Shastry’s clarification is therefore welcome.

19 thoughts on “Vote, you fools!”

  1. I don’t want to be the nay-saying type, but I’d like a little more clarity. What does it cost to field a candidate in a general election? Do we have strong examples of grassroot-level candidates winning elections based on a strong issue-based platform and donations from his constituency alone? Do we also have examples of these candidates playing a fair game while the rest of the competition cheats their way through it?

    Finally, how long does it take before a concensus candidate of well-meaning types actually makes an impact in his community before the constituents will actually vote for him (assuming they actually vote at all)? Finally, how impactful are this handful of elected representatives in state legislatures and parliaments, where it appears that the overwhelming majority of the decisions are taken in accordance to the laws of realpolitik, which they are there to subvert?

    I’m not saying that it can’t happen. I’m just asking how long I should hold my breath.

  2. Seriously, what a bunch of idiots! Clearly, literacy has failed to get them an education.

    Incidentally, I was checking the website of Bharat Punarnirmal Dal yesterday (that’s the party run by educated professionals, especially IITians). They had put up two candidates in the recent Delhi elections. Both lost, of course. Looking up their vote shares on the Election Commission’s website is left as an educational exercise to the readers.

  3. Clarification about rule 49-0 – Election Commission of India Press Note (link)

    By now people already know about the dubious email, but just in case.
    The YFE website still screams ‘I Vote Nobody’.

  4. Nitin,

    Agreed. They should vote – not voting or boycotting voting can only harm a politician, party or a candidate, or send a message when we have first *voted*. For a country with so many ills, Indians should vote in larger percentages than 60%.

    By the by, two public campaigns are on, for Voting and Public participation with Government:

    1. Jaago Re – which not only helps one with Voter registration (or re-registration in my case) but also informs one of when the deadlines for giving the forms are. (The start timelines inexplicably changed from Jan10th to Feb in Kar)

    2. Area Suraksha Mitra – also called Civil Defence Service which is more like a “neighbourhood watch” program in co-ordination with the Home Guards of India. (The charter of duties has too many listings on Air-raids, unfortunately)

  5. Sumant,

    You should ask those proposing a “no vote” how that action will somehow cause you to release your breath. This blog has a small number of readers and I hate to see any one of them asphyxiated.

    The inability to find a consensus candidate shouldn’t mean the consensus is to wreck the election.

  6. What will definitely not work is putting up a candidate of your own… Even if the candidate gets voted, the system will most likely throw him out – reflects in the numerous cases of efficient bureaucrats or honest officers getting transferred to meaningless posts…

    The NO VOTE idea is a bit of a desperate plan – not sure if it works or not. But just because it hasn’t been tried before, I am all game to give it a shot. Especially since the clarification states that the EVMs should have an equivalent of ‘none of the above’, it still means that I exercise my vote and reject all candidates – thus making a conscious choice…

  7. Paritosh,

    Has voting been tried before? Look at voter turnouts in urban constituencies. Why not try it first?

  8. Even if the candidate gets voted, the system will most likely throw him out

    Behavior of the “system” , i guess, is a reflection of the mentality of majority of the people. I think, we will have a non-corrupt system only when most of the voters personally become non-corrupt.

    As Nitin rightly says, there are no shortcuts to good governance. Voting is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. There are more things to do. But the first step is of course voting.

  9. Lets say there is a mechanism to reject all candidates. What happens when such a rejection happens in a constituency? Nothing. The parties will just put up different candidates. How many times are you going to reject all candidates? And by “you”, I mean 51% of those who punched the EVMs. I am willing to bet that the second round will throw up a “winner” who would have won only some 10-15% of the votes (thank you, First Past The Post system).

    It would take much less relative effort to mobile people at grassroots to put up a genuine candidate. And remember that such mobilazation would have to happen anyway if this nonsensical rejection thing has to happen (and it is not just the first round). Why not channel the same energies in a constructive way?

    PS: Don’t forget that elections cost money. Every extra round is going to cost the taxpayers – you, me, us – crores of rupees. I am not inclined to throwaway whatever little I make.

  10. Elections in India are costly affairs. You cannot make it into a child’s play by including a ‘none of the above’ option. People who can neither themselves contest the elections nor vote for any one of the contestants have no moral right to say that they don’t want to vote for anybody.

    These intellectuals seem to think that only people from well known political parties contest the elections. On the contrary, in most of the constituencies in India apart from the candidates of the political parties there are at least 2 or 3 other independents who contest the elections. We must also keep in mind that in places like Kashmir ‘none of the above’ button will be used to demonstrate to the world that Indian democracy is disliked there.

  11. The only solution, IMHO, is to make desi polls costlier by mandating that all polls where the winner bagged less than a third of votes cast will see a runoff repoll between the top 2 candidates.

    That if nothing, will push candidates to take a more central line and not veer to extremes. Counting on any single caste or community to pull you through would become much harder coz the bribes would need to spread out to much larger groups.

  12. I am not happy about it, but I have to agree with the idea of “not voting” or having a “none of the above” option.

    1. When you’re voting, you’re playing by the rules of the system. And when the system happens to be the “Least Common Denominator” among the population, you have to stoop to their level to change it. Elections and politics runs on money… and with the lack of checks and balances, money fuels corruption. I think the reason so many people are willing to stay away from the entire system is because they see the system as running on a much lower ‘pragmatic’ plane of morality. “Paisa hai tho sab kuch chalta hai” … and we don’t yet have the critical mass of people wanting change to make an effect…

    2. Which brings me to the second reason, which is ‘signaling’. When I don’t vote, I’m sending a pure and simple message… that I choose to ignore my right to vote because I am not happy with the choices provided. When enough people do that, it signals to politicians (both within the system, and aspiring ones) that there is a “vote-bank” of sorts to be had for good governance and such. Unless the signaling happens, there is no incentive for politicians or policy to change. To some extent, I think Modi has been able to do that in Gujarat, where he’s motivated and enthused so many people to come out and vote in the previous election. If you vote for the sake of voting, you dilute that signal. Why should politicians change when they know you’ll vote for them anyway.

    3. There is a book by Fareed Zakaria “The Future of Freedom” where he proposes a system to explain the rise of “Liberal Democracies” – Democracies where there is the rule of law, liberal values and equality. Across various countries, he’s seen that democracies become liberal when their per-capita income crosses $3,000. At that point, its usually seen that there is a critical mass of people affluent enough to demand better governance and get it. Till then, politics will continue to be based on religion, caste and region, rather than specific issues and ideas.

    I might be wrong in throwing away my right to vote in an election, but I would rather signal my actual intention and wait for a critical mass, than muddy the waters and vote just for the sake of doing it. Obviously, I continue to follow the politics of the day hoping for signs of change.

  13. Ok, I just read the minutes and it seems that you have misconstrued their motivation.

    Their idea is that candidates add an alias to their names and print them and we middle class choose exactly those candidates, to indicate that we are tired of conventional politicians.

    eg. Arun Sehgal NO VOTE, Jason Mathew NO VOTE, Kalyanaraman S NO VOTE,

    If there is already a person with a NO VOTE alias standing in your seat, there is no need for you also to jump into the fray. But this is more of a move to protest rather than a move to gain political power, since it is exceedingly easy to subvert. All that a political party has to do is to put their own proxy candidate as a NO VOTE candidate.

    In the short run, this is actually a good move, but i agree a better move would have been to try creating a conventional party and woo the non-voting public. Get a few people in, join a coalition and use leverage to get legislation through.

  14. I am the National Secretary of Jago Party. We have never supported the idea of not voting. Pl. see our article “Truth about section 49-O” on our web site, which was posted there long back.
    We believe in fielding good candidates in election to improve the quality of governance. No voting would only facilitate bad politicians to win and misgovern.

  15. Dear all,

    I would say that the people of India _are_ voting. By some estimates, between 55 and 63% people in Delhi voted for the recent assembly elections.

    The big question which then arises is — what do you base your vote on?

    We believe that one good metric to re-elect someone [or to extend the contract of a kaamwali, or any other professional for that matter] is to see how many of their pre-election claims/promises they have actually fulfilled.

    We now have a system where the people of India can collaboratively track the promises of their elected representatives.

    The website, launched on Jan 26, 2009, is

    I will anxiously await your comments, and hope that you join in to make a difference.

    best wishes,
    The Never Forget Team

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