As the country gears up to elect its next Prime Minister, there has been a lot of hue and cry about individuals exercising their universal franchise or the right to vote. This time, a majority of voters are millennials, with at least 1 in 60 individuals voting aged between 18 to 19 years.
Now while voting is a fundamental right, it must be noted that an individual has the right to not cast his or her vote as well. As a matter of fact, that is what NOTA is for. For the unaware, the NOTA (short for 'None of the Above') is an option that is provided to voters in Indian elections. By opting for NOTA, an individual essentially asserts that he or she is practicing their right to vote but chooses to NOT cast his vote for any of the candidates. Instead, the voter casts his vote for NOTA.
Amitabh Kant, in a tweet, spoke about middle and upper classes being apathetic as far as the elections are concerned. He referred to the norms in Australia which state that voting is compulsory for any Australian citizen. In Australia, the failure to vote without a valid reason would be considered a violation of Section 245 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. Violators are fined 20 dollars.
Kant feels that the same should be practiced in India as well.
Australia too is in the midst of its federal elections. Voting is compulsory & those who do not vote are fined $20. In case of non payment you can be taken to court & liable to be jailed.Seeing d apathy of rich & middle class voters in urban cities of India this is worth a try.— Amitabh Kant (@amitabhk87) May 1, 2019
The remark immediately sparked an outrage on Twitter, with several people negating his viewpoints.
While you are at it, spend some time studying their welfare systems and report back to us please.— G.Ananthakrishnan (@ganant) May 1, 2019
Truly worrying how educated and globally outward looking Indians are fundamentally illiberal. Temptation to support authoritarianism at home but enjoy liberalism abroad quite striking among global Indian elites. Choosing not to vote is a civil right as much as choosing to vote.— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) May 2, 2019
Vote should never be compulsory. It is a right, not duty. Why force it on people when they don't want to elect corrupt/criminal candidates. NOTA serve no purpose, it's better to sit at home than voting NOTA.— Ankur Singh Sumaal (@AnkurSumaal) May 2, 2019
Australia also jails corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Seeing the apathy of the ruling class towards geneupublic, this is worth a try.— Prasun Bhattacharyya (@PrasunKaliB) May 1, 2019
But it was Dr. S.Y Quraishi, the former Chief Election Commissioner, who had the most fitting reply for Kant. "No Mr Kant, your right to vote includes the right not to vote. In NOTA judgement, SC has made it clear that it is your fundament right, while right to vote is a statutory right. Think of millions of daily wagers who will be harassed for non voting," Quraishi wrote on Twitter.
No Mr Kant, your right to vote includes the right not to vote. In NOTA judgement, SC has made it clear that it is your fundament right, while right to vote is a statutory right. Think of millions of daily wagers who will be harassed for non voting. https://t.co/dwrzhKuEPh— Dr. S.Y. Quraishi (@DrSYQuraishi) May 1, 2019
Naturally, several people supported his perspective:
@DrSYQuraishi Sir, v correct. Can't take elitist view of everything.Must think of common ppl who will be harassed if they missout on voting for genuine reasons. Rich&wealthy will defend themselves with big lawyers. Just think of implication on Daridrinarayan as Gandhi would say— Prakash W. Kamat (@PrakashWKamat) May 2, 2019
Glad that people like you have a humane way of looking at this! As you rightly say, millions of poor people will be bullied & harassed if there are fines for NOT voting! Good that wise judges of SC & people from ECI have a nuanced view on this. Thank god for this!— Aswin Sekhar (@aswinsek) May 1, 2019
Agree. It's better to encourage voting through social awareness programmes rather than forcing it.— Col Satish Puri (@satishbpuri) May 2, 2019
Should 'voting' be a right or a duty? Should voting be made compulsory in India and violators fined? If yes, what would be the consequences in a country the size and diversity of India? The questions opens up a can of worms that Indians may not yet be ready to deal with.