By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
Come 25 January 2019, India observe ‘National Voters’ Day’, once again. Thanks to the stewardship of the then Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Union Cabinet of the UPA Government in 2011, decided that January 25, which is the anniversary of the foundation of the Election Commission of India(ECI) and the eve of Republic Day, would be designated as the special day for the voters of India! The main objective of the day is to encourage many more young voters to take part in the political process; besides, it is also an opportunity to make people aware that voting is both a right and a duty.
The hallmark of a vibrant democracy is the power and the ability of the people to exercise their franchise freely and fearlessly. Analysis of past elections in India, do provide a fairly good picture of the number of people who cast their votes; in most cases, it was between 55% and 65 %; however, in the last General Elections of 2014, a record-breaking 66.38% had exercised their franchise. Experts say that this too is not enough, we would need to reach at least 80%.
These percentages are only of those whose names are on the electoral rolls; there are millions in our country whose names are just not on the electoral rolls! Several are just lazy or apathetic about ensuring that their names are registered on the electoral rolls. Many are disenfranchised; these include, the poor, the homeless, the displaced/refugees, migrant workers, the minorities, those in prison, the 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 has often changed the result of specific constituencies, in the past.
In many countries, the ‘right to vote’ is a fundamental right, but in India, it is just a legal right. All should however regard that exercising one’s franchise is a sacred duty. In a few days from now the ECI is expected to announce the dates of the General Elections 2019; these are expected to take place in different phases between mid-April and mid-May.
Whilst voting cannot and should never be made compulsory, here are some guidelines, which could be helpful for all:
- It is the right and duty of every citizen of India, above the age of 18 years to exercise his / her vote.
- Visit immediately the website of the Election Commission of India (https://eci.gov.in/ ) or their National Voters’ Services Portal http://www.nvsp.in
- Download the voter helpline app from the Playstore
- Join the campaign to allow Indians on the Move to Vote from their Current Location in 2019 Elections #LostVotes (https://www.change.org/p/election-commission-of-india-make-it-possible-for-every-indian-to-vote)
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 http://www.nvsp.in )your State CEO website / Taluka Office / Collector’s Office
- all changes/updating can be done ONLINE (the current deadline is 30 January)
- for inclusion of one’s name on the ER, you will have to fill Form 6
- 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 on the ER – check if your name is registered on the ER now!
- 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 have their names included on the ER
- get involved in mainstream politics
- encourage / support political parties which focus on governance and on issue related to transparency, human rights, justice and peace and the safeguarding of the Constitutional Rights of all.
- check out the candidates/the parties you wish to promote for a particular seat
- even if a candidate is ‘good’ we must be cautious of the party/ideology s/he represents
- don’t be swayed by ‘empty’ promises
- organize public debates / dialogue 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 human rights, water, education, RTI, demonetization, food security, ecology, employment, agriculture, health, displacement, nuclearization, military warfare, governance and globalization
- download (from 30 January) the Hate Hatao app from the playstore
- think of the future of the Country; don’t be myopic and/or selfish, exclusive!
ON VOTING DAY:
- cast your vote fearlessly
- encourage all others to FREELY cast their votes too
- vote for a candidate (or the party that is being represented) that is NOT corrupt, criminal, communal and / or casteist ; fundamentalist, fascist, fanatic
- 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 (there is plenty of controversy/debate regarding the possibility of the EVMs being hacked)
- you have the right to exercise your franchise as “None of the Above” (NOTA) under Rule 49 – O
- find out the complete details of your elected representative (name, address, telephone / fax nos., email id, website/blog, facebook page, twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts)
- 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; make them accountable!
- 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)
- don’t be taken up by their freebies or their ‘bribes’
- 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, https://eci-citizenservices.eci.nic.in/default.aspx, email: email@example.com Control Room: 23052220, 23052221
- the above may also be informed about any irregularities regarding the elections
- 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
- Celebrate 25 January : ‘National Voters’ Day’
It is said that, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”; exercising ones right to vote is the first step towards this!
We all know that the coming General Elections will be critical for the future of the country. Preparing oneself adequately; exercising our Constitutional right to vote and realizing that it is also a sacred duty- is the least we can be doing as responsible citizens of our beloved India!
*Indian human rights activist. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org