We have had it ingrained in our conscience that every citizen of India has the Right to Vote. Few among exercise that Right, and even when we do, we almost always either vote for the candidate most likely to defeat a candidate we do not want elected or for a candidate who is the best of the lot, even if not good in an absolute.
What practically none of us knew is that, in addition to the Right to Vote, we also have the Right Not to Vote. Under section 49-O of the Constitution, a voter can go to a polling booth, confirm his identity, get his finger marked and inform the presiding officer that he does not want to vote for any of the candidates in the fray. If the number of “49-O” votes cast in a particular constituency exceeds the margin of victory, polling is cancelled and there would be a re-poll in that particular constituency. Also, the candidates who had contested that particular election would be ineligible from contesting in the re-poll because the electorate has already voted against them.
The power that this Right confers on us is immense. Over the last few days, we have all been talking about the need to bring about change in politics. We’ve been getting ourselves registered to vote in the constituency where we live in, and convincing others to do the same too. But, even while doing so, most of us must have wondered if there was any point in it at all – after all, unless decent candidates come forward, we would merely be casting our votes in favour of the candidate we feel would do the least damage. A situation much better than not voting at all, but only just.
But with the Right to Not Vote, we can vote AGAINST candidates that we do not think deserve to be elected. And if enough number of people do so, we could perhaps make a difference.
More importantly, being aware of this Right and letting people know that we are aware of this Right and that we are willing to exercise this Right would put a certain amount of pressure on parties to field better candidates.
We each need each to spread the message about this Right that we have, so that we can start making a difference.
More than twenty thousand people turned up at the Gateway of India yesterday, brought there solely through messages spread using SMSes, e-mails and social networking channels. If the same channels can be used to create awareness about section 49-O, we may be just be able to bring about a real change.