New Delhi

Two crucial Supreme Court judgments in India, on excluding convicted persons from the electoral process and giving the electorate an option for negative voting, is latent with the possibility of revolutionizing the way Indian democracy functions. Indeed, Indian politics is gripped by a steadily declining standard and the citizens were longing for a mechanism that allows them to register their disapproval of the choices offered to them by the political outfits. It is surely a matter of great concern that the largest democracy on earth has 1460 sitting lawmakers with criminal background illuminating the august premises of state legislative assemblies and Parliament. Significantly, many of the tainted legislators and parliamentarians are from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose leadership has taken a high moral ground on criminalization of politics as well as corruption in public life. In this backdrop, introduction of an additional button in the electronic voting machine that enables voters to discard all the candidates in fray will surely radicalize the entire process of electing people’s representatives. Till date, those refusing to cast their preferences for any of the fielded candidates were required to go through an unscientific process of informing concerned polling officials of their decisions. 
They generally skipped voting, fearing that this breach of secrecy can endanger personal safety given the encroachment of Indian politics by hardcore criminals. The learned judges of the Supreme Court while delivering the judgment has rightly underlined the importance of providing this right of “not to vote” and keeping it at par with the “right to vote” in a pluralistic democracy. Observing that as many as 12 countries across the globe, including neighboring Bangladesh, have provided for negative or protest vote, they opined that the strength of any democracy ultimately hangs on its ability to ensure voter participation and commitment to democracy. The right to negative voting will not only attract that vast majority to polling booths who avoid exercising their franchise due to absence of worthy candidates but also check the rampant malpractice of proxy-voting encouraged by political parties. While deliberating on this path-breaking verdict, we must not lose sight of the fact that the judgment was not delivered in isolation. It has to be clubbed with the other equally sensational apex court ruling of disqualifying an elected people’s representative if the concerned person is convicted by a court of law at any level. Two former union Cabinet ministers involved in big-ticket corruption were the inaugural victims of this legal initiative that seeks to make the Indian democracy more vibrant and healthy by neutralizing the inherent flaws in the system.
Perhaps, this is the most opportune moment for the political parties to shed their dogmatic resistance to any reforms that aims at tightening the noose around corrupt and criminal elements well-anchored in India’s dark political underbelly. Yes, there is no denying that genuine cases of political vendetta were ignored in the judgment which treats all convicted politicians as criminals and debar them from not only holding office but also contesting future elections. But then, such aberrations cannot continue to be the reason for this nation to make a compromise on matters of uncontrolled corruption, criminalization and other serious flaws creeping into the electoral system steadily. Almost all political parties in India were engaged in shadowboxing to convince the general public that they were working sincerely to eliminate criminal elements from the system and offer the electorate with the best available option. But little did they realize that this trick is no longer accepted by the people, particularly the younger generations, who want a system that is clean and fair. 
Even, Narendra Modi, the self-proclaimed crusader who is supposedly best equipped to root out all evils from the Indian system, maintained a revealing silence despite heaping criticism on the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi for his impulsive blocking of the ordinance meant to protect tainted leaders. Perhaps, Modi failed to ridicule the ordinance the way Rahul did because the BJP had offered unqualified support to any government move to undermine the relevant Supreme Court judgment. More importantly, the opposition prime ministerial candidate was anxious about the fate of his trusted lieutenants who are facing serious criminal and corruption charges. According to Gujarat Election Watch — an initiative of the Association for Democratic Reforms set up by renowned academicians and civil society members — 31 percent of the state legislators carry serious criminal charges. Intriguingly, several of apparently Teflon coated Modi’s close associate — convicted of serious crimes like rioting, murder and plundering of the nation’s resources — tops this list. They include senior Cabinet colleagues as well as Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah, BJP’s principal poll manager in a highly sensitive Uttar Pradesh. Whatever the public posturing, it is amply clear that Narendra Modi’s BJP — resorting to spin and propaganda on a continuum to present a holier than thou image — is equally guilty of promoting unbridled money and muscle power to get a political upper-hand. Hopefully, the latest developments would compel all the political outfits to tread a genuine democratic path devoid of nasty political manoeuvrings that do more harm than good to the nation’s democratic edifice and secular fabric. With elections to five state assemblies in the offing and the decisive general election around the corner, the election commission is required to take a far more forthright approach in implementing the apex courts’ judgment to make the electoral system more clean and fair.

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