The Right To Vote As The Expression Of Public Opinion

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By: Barnali Bose, Editor-ICN World

KOLKATA: Voting may be defined as a formal expression of preference for a candidate for office or for a proposed resolution of an issue.

In 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly recognized the integral role that transparent and open elections play in the governance of a country.

It states that everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States had said, “Democracy is a government of the people,by the people and for the people.” This oft-quoted definition  of Democracy has been endorsed and heartily accepted by intellectuals worldwide.

We, in India  pride ourselves in being part of the largest  Democracy in the world. After independence, the policy makers embarked upon the herculean task of preparing the first draft of the electoral roll on the basis of Universal Adult Franchise.

Transforming all adult Indians into voters was India’s clear-cut reinforcement of decolonisation. It took place against the backdrop of the subcontinent’s partition that was not only building walls through  the territory but also tearing people apart.

Despite the political upheaval of partition, Indian leaders translated their long-cherished dream of political freedom into reality by forming the largest Democracy at the end of 1949.

It was through the adoption of Universal Adult Suffrage that the Universal Adult Franchise or the Right to Vote was implemented in free India.

The complex task of preparing the electoral roll began in September 1947. In March 1950, the Election Commission of India was formed.The first elections were held between October 25,1951 and February 21, 1952.

Mahatma Gandhi  is believed to have said, “The only force at the disposal of Democracy is that of public opinion.” This public opinion finds expression through exercise of Universal Adult Franchise either by voting for  candidates of one’s own choice through a secret ballot or by pressing the button of one’s choice in an EVM.

Our Government is formed through Direct or Indirect election. After each direct election, the percentage of voters is assessed. Undoubtedly, there are some citizens who do not bother to vote because they are indifferent.

I have often come across people who say, “ How will one vote of mine matter?” My counter argument  is,” Yes, it does matter. Do not forget, Little drops of water make an ocean.So also every vote does count. ” On the other hand, there are  voters who try to vote at every election overcoming odds ,if any. But it is to be remembered that the odds, at all times, may not be possible to overcome.

The internal migrants such as students and workers- salaried or otherwise cannot always return to their hometown to vote. I read a recent survey that said every tenth worker in India is a migrant.

One might argue that there is a provision for a citizen to enroll himself as a voter where he resides,even if it a temporary residence of his.This he can do by submitting his proof of address and filling up a voter enrollment form.

But one must admit  that such a thing is cumbersome for those who shift base often. Besides, a poor migrant who does not have a proper roof over his head will fail to produce an address proof.

What if a voter wishes to vote for a candidate in his constituency although he might be away from his hometown for study,work or pleasure?Why should his physical presence be mandatory for him to vote ?

Does not then, the fundamental right to freedom of movement and the right to reside anywhere in India clash with the interests of the right to Universal Adult Franchise when such citizens  are not able to have their say in the democratic process? Does that not mean that one has to forego one’s fundamental right to freedom of movement to enjoy the right to vote or vice versa?

Should not a fool-proof system of voting from any corner of the country  be developed so as to ensure that those who want to vote can vote surpassing geographical boundaries?

Is this not a major loophole that needs to be plugged by the Election Commission? Is it not the duty of the government to make provision for the voters who wish to vote but cannot because work or study deters them from being present in their hometown on election day?

A majority of such citizens are besides being educated, politically aware and well-informed of world political affairs( thanks to the Internet) and whose votes could perhaps make a significant difference in the election results.

The Lok Sabha has recently, passed a bill that proposes to allow registered non-resident Indian voters to use proxies to cast votes on their behalf in Indian elections.

My question is, “If overseas migrants can vote by proxy, why can’t inland migrants do the same?” Introduced in the Lok Sabha last December and passed recently, the bill now awaits the approval the Rajya Sabha.

But it is to be kept in mind that voting by proxy, clashes with the essential concept of secret ballot and therefore the matter needs to be open to a lot of debate and discussion before reaching  a logical conclusion.

Would not seeking  public opinion regarding the issue be reflective of a true democracy? Why are our opinions not sought on major issues that affect us directly?

It’s true that we have elected leaders representing us but isn’t it their duty to find out whether the decisions they make on our behalf have the support of the majority?

Just because we elected them doesn’t mean we  approve of all they decide to do. Why should decisions be imposed  upon us without finding out if the popular opinion is for or against the same?

Strangely, hardly any political party has raised a hue and cry over the issue of major loss of votes of domestic migrants. Isn’t this outrageously discriminatory? Doesn’t it infringe upon the fundamental Right to Equality guaranteed by the Indian Constitution for all its citizens? Doesn’t it  mar the very purpose of Democracy in the Largest Democracy ?

Is  the very thought of more politically-conscious voters voting ( or not voting by pressing NOTA) for candidates of their choice, intimidating for the politicians ? Well, I do wish my apprehensions are proven wrong in the near future.