Source: 
HT epaper
http://paper.hindustantimes.com/epaper/viewer.aspx
Author: 
JAGDEEP S CHHOKAR
Date: 
20.04.2014
City: 
Mumbai

This is your time to have your say, vote for one or none

Each Lok Sabha election is special, and for a different set of reasons. “What is special about the 2014 election?” is not an easy question to answer. While there may not be 820 million responses, but it will be very large number. Here is what I think makes this election special. This is a personal choice for which no one else is responsible.

ILLUSTRATION: SHRIKRISHNA

The very first feature of this election that stands out is that it seems to be excessively focused on one individual. Votes have been sought in the names of individuals in earlier elections too but the intensity of the focus on one individual seems the greater in this election than it has ever been in the past. As a matter of fact this focus on one person has prompted some people to refer to this election as more of a presidential one rather than being a parliamentary election. There have also been observations whether this is an attempt to move from a parliamentary form of government to a presidential form of government by stealth.

The second distinguishing feature of this election could be called the rise of a third force but that would be too simplistic. The so-called third force did not rise in a vacuum or all of a sudden. The roots of this broader and deeper phenomenon go back about 10 to 15 years when the first PILs were filed by some civil society groups on electoral reforms focusing on increasing criminalisation of politics. Some of these PILs resulted in the Supreme Court requiring mandatory disclosure of criminal cases and wealth of candidates. As data on these and similar such parameters accumulated, it showed that persons with criminal cases continued to contest elections, and that the wealth of candidates who contested elections repeatedly, increased way of line with any rational explanations.

This confused citizens at large on two counts. One, why did political parties continue giving tickets to persons who themselves declared under oath that they were facing criminal charges, some of them very serious; and two, how do the assets of politicians increase by thousands of percent in five years. This, combined with the passage of the RTI Act and its active use by public spirited citizens and an active media, resulting in the unearthing of what came to be called “scams”, created a sense of disillusionment in almost the entire political system in the minds of citizens at large.

On top of all this came the horrendous gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December of 2012. The callous handling of the public outrage on that incident by the so-called “authorities” exacerbated the disillusionment, converting it in to disgust. The coming together of the aftermath of the gang rape with the anti-corruption agitation, and the way the entire existing political establishment got together to defend itself with arrogance, set the stage for exploration of a new way of doing politics.

This search for a new, and different, way of doing politics is also a distinguishing feature of this election. Whether this search will result in something of value being found will not necessarily be known after this election. It is a long process which, if is to lead to fruition, will take a long time, may be 10 to 15 years, though it can fail any time in between.

The third special feature of the election is NOTA, the “none of the above” option that the Supreme Court gave to the citizens on September 27, 2013 in response to a PIL. The NOTA button was used for the first time in the five State Assembly elections in December 2013 with mixed results. 2014 Lok Sabha election is the first national election in which NOTA is being used. Its significance lies in the fact that it is for the very first time that a voter has a real choice while casting her vote, without being constrained by what the political parties present to the voter. It is true that as of now, any number of NOTA votes will not result in the rejection of all candidates on the EVM but depending on how NOTA comes to be used, it is inevitable that it will have an effect on the outcome of the election. It does have the potential to “encourage political parties to put up better candidates” as the Supreme Court said in its judgment. NOTA will not realize its full potential in this election but it is also the start of something very significant and meaningful for Indian democracy.

It is these features that make it a very exciting election. The increased voter turnouts in the phases that have been completed testify to this. We, as voters, must vote in the remaining phases, must make an “informed choice” while voting as there are many sources now to find out who exactly the candidates are, and IF a voter does not approve of any of the candidates, we must use the NOTA option that the Supreme Court has so wisely provided to us. Happy and informed voting! (Jagdeep S Chhokar is a former professor, dean, and director in-charge of IIM - Ahmedabad) Views expresses are personal

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