Some facts about 49-O – Note: this is not a collection of the usual information… please read it even if you are aware

(Sorry for putting this up on election day – did not get enough time to write about this.)

49-O as a concept started gaining popularity through e-mails and SMS forwards. But there are some misconceptions floating around. False awareness is more dangerous than no awareness! It’s quite long, but I request you to read it if you really are interested in 49-O awareness.

A sample message below. You can skip the text if you have already read about it.

How many of you know that we have a right to boycott elections and ask for re-poll? According to the constitution,the 1969 Act clearly mentions that anyperson who is unacceptale or non eligible if you feel you can use the section 49 (O).A voter can go to the polling station, confirm his identity by getting his finger marked and convey the authority that he dont like to vote for anyone.We are not informed of this because none of the representative wants any voter to boycott elections.

In any particular constituency if any voter get 123 votes and more than 123 49(o) the polling will be cancelled and the election commission will schedule a new date.The particular contestant against who the number of 49 os are received will not be held eligible.

Our election commission has never revealed this section to the general public so that people will abstain from voting a particular candidate whom they dont feel fit enough to contest from their constituency. We all feel that we have to vote for some candidate from our constituency even if we dont like to vote for them.We can save our votes and the valuable votes of many by eliminating corrupt and illiterate politicians and save our country from the clutches of such hooligans.

Use your constitutional rights against the anti-social elements in our country. If not we are dishonouring our fundamental rights and sacrificing the nation’s future.

Jai Hind!

It is easy to get swept away by such ambitious words and make a mental note to register 49-O and make sure the candidiates are ‘disqualified’ by our action. However well-intentioned this email might be, it is full of misinformation, about the rule, it’s awareness and consequences. The strong words at the end of the message that you will be ‘dishonouring’ your fundamental right and harming the nation somehow will most often stop you from doing any further research and checking on any of the information in the message. But just as it is our duty to know our right, so it is to cross check facts and verify them, apart from thinking over the validity of some points made.

Consider the following –

Right of Secrecy: The procedure of 49-O violates the basic right of the voter to maintain secrecy of his/her choice. Inserting this option into EVMs would be a solution that would clear the hesitation and fear of many people. Infact, this can be seen as one of the major reasons as to why 49-O fails to get people to vote for it even if they are aware.

Awareness: Only a fool would expect a representative of political parties to ‘inform’ the voters of the option – mentioning the fact in this message achieves nothing more than kindling up anger against politicians. Seriously, how many righteous ‘Mahatmas’ among ourselves wish to fail, even if we know we did wrong? Politicians are no different, they want to win – why else would they contest?

It is left to activists, well-meaning people and the Election Commission of India to spread awareness about it. And unlike the text given above, the EC has not been hiding this from the public. In earlier times, ballot papers could be nullified by multiple voting. Implementation of EVMs has made the 49-O concept a relatively new tool. In fact, it is the Election Commission that has put forward a proposal to include this option in EVMs in order to maintain the right of secrecy. It can be read in Page 14 of the following letter Why the proposal has not been considered by the Government is obvious.

The Result: The most dangerous hoax of all, perhaps, is this. To have such an amazing power in our hands sounds too good to be true – and it is exactly that. Please inform this to your friends too – majority of people voting for 49-O will not nullify any candidate or result in re-polls. This has most probably been included as an additional motivation by some well-meaning soul, although false, to encourage people to exercise this right.

The EC has itself issued a clarification for this. You can read it right here – A simple Google search will tell you the fallacy of this statement. The best that this right of ours can do at this point of it’s existence, is to inform the political parties of the people’s view – that most of them are disappointed with the candidates. It also prevents bogus votes. Whatever happens, the candidate with majority valid votes will win.

Of course, nothing stops people from taking initiative and seeing this law to the next stage, i.e when it really does nullify a polling on majority of neutral voting. But at it’s present form, it just does not happen.

Please spread this around. This is not a skeptical piece or a criticism of the law. I have written this down to clear the misconceptions about 49-O and my thought is that people should not go on to vote for it believing such false promises. I too sincerely wish this law would evolve more to give the people some real power instead of simply expressing displeasure. 

Happy voting 🙂

Anna Hazare and The Argumentative Indian

What started out as a small initiative by a handful of people quickly became a massive awakening gaining thousands of supporters everyday. And, in a very unlikely response, the Government of India promptly responded with offers of compromise and promise of action.

The most revealing aspect of this whole exercise has not been the reaction of the politicians – whom we can probably assume to feel threatened by a fully functional Lokpal law – but the Pandora’s box of views and opinions that it has opened up among the public or the ‘civil society’, as the public guardians of the to-be law would like to call it.

Many among us, even those who have readily given out bribes to get favours at some point in the past, have readily given out our vocal support for the campaign. If moral qualification was a criteria for the Anti-Corruption drive, I doubt Anna Hazare would have gathered a large group in such a little time. While the overwhelming support that this man has received has made us feel proud, there have been instances of equally widespread cynicism and skeptical comments. Not to disregard them, of course, but very few people against it seem to have got a hold of the real purpose behind the movement.

It is true that Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh were demanding change from the Government. They were not trying to undermine the Government in any way or go against the Constitution as some people would have us believe. All that was asked for was the people’s version of the bill be considered, and people be given equal representation on the consitution of the Lokpal Committee. As opposed to that, the Government’s version of the bill does not enourage direct public participation in the functioning of the committee. Nor does it give enough power and scope that is expected of any decent enquiry committee. As for the argument that the representatives in the Government too are elected by the public itself, Anna Hazare himself put it beautifully in an interview today (in Hindi) – “The people whom we have elected think that the are our masters, when in fact they are our servants”. MPs may be there as our representative, theoritically, but how many of us can claim that we are truly ‘represented’?

Part of the blame for the negative wave can be passed on to the media. In their eagerness to get good ratings and improve their image, they immediately presented this as a People vs Government war. With this perspective gaining popularity, the main aim of co-operation was invisible to the eyes of many. As always, it was followed by an information (opinion!) boom across different media, which further contributed to the view that each party was pitted against the other. Questions were raised about why Anna Hazare was ‘fighting against’ the Constitution. Apparently, they don’t have a problem if the Government is free to draft laws as per it’s wish, but will they think before blaming the judiciary and legal system when the same law affects them personally? Here was a man trying to bring in a law that was fair, which is also going to be brought about by the same process as any other law i.e through Parliament. So where is the question of being against the Constitutional process?

Some even accused him of ’emotional blackmail’. Blackmail – really! Gandhiji would have turned in his grave had he known what his principle of non-violent protest has become today. Needless to say, this only complicated the understanding of what the activists were really trying to do. If a fast was the only means to get those who matter to act promptly, then so be it. Those who talk of patience should know/recall the fact that this law has been in the backburner for more than 40 years. Infact, if Anna Hazare had not started his fast, I doubt if we would have even heard of this law.

The saddest and funniest comment which I came across was that Anna Hazare was threatening and bullying the Government to accept his demands. We want the Government to bend down to terrorists and Maoists threatening them with captives, even praying for their safe return… but a 72-year-old man who makes a peaceful protest for the good of the country is spoken of like a terrorist! Nothing to say about the opinion of those who put forth such accusations – their attitude speaks words.

Another social disease that reared up it’s ugly head in this scenario was the inability to tell people and ideologies apart. Once the opinion of an anti-government war gained it’s hold, another purpose of the bill which was simply to enhance the anti-corruption process against politicians, was seen as a personal attack on MPs and MLAs. Public anger helped. The ‘Mera Neta Chor Hain’ slogan would not have been missed by many. Anna Hazare himself was a victim of such generalization recently. The moment he praised Narendra Modi and Nitish for their Government’s work in bringing about development – he was accused of supporting communalism. The new hero had to clarify that he had spoken in view of developmental measures only. We too often fall into the trap of Proof by Association. Anna Hazare appreciates Modi for development – Modi is communal – so Anna Hazare must be communal. Silly as it sounds, this is how we are.

By now, you have probably formed the opinion that I’m also a supporter of Anna Hazare. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not… But one need not be a follower or supporter of someone to appreciate their actions in bringing about change. He is not doing anything for his gain, as some ‘protesters’ do. He is doing it so that you can get basic amenities, like good clean water, enough food to eat… so that your children can go to good schools and get free and equal education… so that you may live a smooth life as a citizen of this great nation… if you are still asking questions about the validity and need for the protest… and ‘interference’ in the law making process – may God bless you – believe me you need it!