National Voters’ Day-January 25th!
In the significant move, the Union Cabinet in 2011, under the stewardship of the then Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, decided to celebrate January 25th as ‘National Voters’ Day’, which is also the anniversary of the foundation of the Election Commission of India (ECI). The significance of the day is to encourage many more young voters to take part in the political process.
The hallmark of a healthy Democracy is the power and the ability of the people to exercise their franchise freely and fearlessly. Analysis of past elections do provide a healthy picture of people of the number of people who cast their votes; in most cases, it has been about 55% to 65 %(sometimes more sometimes less).
In many countries, the ‘right to vote’ is a fundamental right, but in India, it is just a legal right. All should also regard exercising one’s franchise as a sacred duty. In India, there is also an apathy among sections of the people: their names either do not figure in the electoral rolls and even if they do, they just do not cast their vote on Election Day.
On the other hand, there are others who are consistently disenfranchised; these include non-citizens, the poor, the homeless, the displaced/refugees, minorities, criminals, disabled. One of the most subtle ways is for a registered voter to be denied exercising one’s franchise on the day of elections, simply because one’s name has mysteriously disappeared from the electoral rolls. The polling officers say that they can do absolutely nothing about it. Denying several legitimate voters their right to vote can easily change the result of a particular constituency.
That corruption is rampant pre-election and during elections in India is no big secret. The ‘demonetisation’ drive by the current Government is an effort to stymie the other political parties in the coming elections, after making it safe for themselves and for their corrupt friends. The buying of voters, the capturing of booths, the tampering of the EVMs, and the rigging of elections has certainly been part of the election process in India. For the last several years, however, the ECI has been playing a stellar role in ensuring that the elections in India are generally free and fair; recently two former Election Commissioners of the country have gone on record to say that the ECI can do precious little to actually check corruption during election time.
Beginning February 4th, and spanning five states (Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur), India enters a long and critical election season. These elections will target approx.160 million voters and is once again expected to be a defining moment in Indian politics. The voters in these States certainly need to prepare themselves conscientiously for these elections; and others, for the ones in their States and the General elections due in 2019.
Whilst voting cannot and should never be made compulsory, here are some guidelines, which could be helpful for all:
Ø Visit the website of the Election Commission of India: www.eci.nic.in
Ø It is the RIGHT and DUTY of every citizen of India, above the age of 18 years to exercise his / her vote.
I. THE ELECTORAL ROLL:
· if you are above 18 years (on January 1st) and a citizen of India, you must have your name on the Electoral Roll (ER)
· it is a basic and important identity for every adult citizen of India.
· check immediately whether your name is on the ER (by visiting the ECI / your State.
CEO website / Taluka Office / Collector’s Office / the local branch Office of a national political party)
· for inclusion of one’s name on the ER, you will have to fill Form 6.
· ask the concerned Officer on what date you should return to check whether your name is in the ER or not.
· for any objection or inclusion of name/s, you will have to fill Form 7.
· for correction of entries in the Electoral Rolls, you will have to fill Form 8.
· write your complaints to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of your State and to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Delhi.
· always retain copies of your application/letters, signed by the receiving Officer, for further reference.
· ensure that you have the Elector’s Photo Identity Card (EPIC).
· (remember having an EPIC does NOT mean that your name is in the ER).
· Check periodical advertisements in National/Regional newspapers regarding the updating of the Electoral Rolls of your State; adhere to their deadlines.
· help the poor, vulnerable, differently-abled etc.to have their names included on the ER.
II. POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT:
· get involved in mainstream politics.
· encourage/support political parties which focus on governance and on issues related to transparency, human rights, justice and peace and the safeguarding of the Constitutional Rights of all.
· check out the candidates, the parties wish to nominate for a particular seat.
· even if a candidate is ‘good’ we must be cautious of the party s/he represents.
· organize public debates / dialogues with them and assess their views / opinions / promises / track-record.
· study their Election Manifesto of the previous elections and based on this manifesto, see whether the ruling party/sitting candidate has fulfilled the promises made.
· assess their views on the poor and on discriminated/ vulnerable communities like the tribals, Dalits, women, children, minorities, differently abled and oriented persons; and also on critical subjects like water, education, food security, ecology, employment, agriculture, health, displacement, nuclearization, military warfare and globalization.
III. ON VOTING DAY:
· cast your vote FEARLESSLY.
· encourage all others to FREELY cast their votes too.
· vote for a party/individual that is NOT corrupt, criminal, communal and/or casteist.
· if you notice any bogus voting, rigging or booth capturing, bring it to the notice of the police / Election Officers immediately and preferably in writing.
· make sure that the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) you use – works correctly.
· you have the right to exercise your franchise as “None of the Above” (NOTA) under Rule 49 – O.
IV. AFTER ELECTIONS:
· find out the details of your elected representative (name, address, telephone/fax nos., email id, website/blog, facebook page, twitter account etc.)
· arrange that organizations, villages/groups invite the representative to share his / her views about the area for the next five years.
· ensure that you keep in touch with him/her constantly.
· remember that they have budgetary allocations for their constituency; find out for what programmes this money is being utilized.
· insist that your views/concerns are voiced in the assembly/parliament.
· ensure that they do NOT endorse any draconian or anti-people legislation.
· remind the representative that as a voter you have a right to ask for his / her resignation for non-performance (we do not have the power ‘to recall’ in India)
V. REGARDING CONCERNS / COMPLAINTS:
· any concern/complaint in the context of the Electoral Rolls must be sent in writing (registered post/courier) immediately to your State CEO/the CEC.
· serious concerns like the disenfranchisement of a whole community/village must be brought to the notice of:
The Chief Election Commissioner of India,
Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110 001
[ECI control room: Tel.: (011) 23710000 / 23718888 & 23717391 to 98 / 23717141 to 43 Fax: (011) 23713412 email: email@example.com]
· the above may also be informed about any irregularities regarding the elections.
VI. OTHER INFORMATION:
· visit/read the section on “Systematic Voter’s Education & Electoral Participation(SVEEP)” posted on the ECI website for detailed information.
· use “The Right to Information” – to obtain essential information of a political party/candidate / elected representative.
Ø Celebrate January 25th: ‘NATIONAL VOTERS’ DAY’
It is said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”; exercising one’s right to vote is the first step towards this!
The author: Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications.