The voting rights guaranteed to the citizens of a country form the crux of “democracy” in a nation. The power bestowed upon the people of the country brings with it the responsibility to rationally decide the administrative head of this extensive institution for a limited tenure. However, certain barriers prevent citizens from freely exercising this right in India, though it has constitutional backing as per the Supreme Court of India’s decision. It is important to note that progress has been made in eliminating these barriers, for instance, by recognizing the right to reject all candidates and adding the NOTA (None of the above) option in the voting machines. Still, we are far behind from attaining this right in its absolute sense. In most cases, we even fail to realise the existence of such barriers and understand it as a normative process. This is primarily the result of society’s ignorance towards seeking a thorough analysis of its basic rights.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)1 grants us the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19. According to Aristotle, we are all political animals, we should always be granted the right to express ourselves in a free manner. The journey of this freedom struggle has, indeed, been a tough one for the developing human civilization.
If we look into the historical perspective, we find the trial of philosopher Socrates in the year 399 BCE as a perfect example regarding the curtailment of the Right to free speech and expression on a public platform. He was charged with two impious acts: Firstly, for failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledged. Secondly, for introducing strange gods into society. It was concluded that he did this to corrupt the youth of the city-state as the trial progressed.
In another case in 1633, Galileo Galilei was found guilty of heresy (controversial or unorthodox opinions held by a member of a political, religious or philosophical group) and was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment in his home where he later died in 1642. We need to understand that Galileo was sentenced just for holding the faith and belief that our planet revolves around the sun and as it was against the belief of the Catholic Church. Though, it was later found to be scientifically true.
As mentioned before, the practice of the curtailment of our basic rights was popular for a time unknown. After witnessing many such cases of stifling, we have abolished this practice to some extent. However, absolute perfection lies far ahead, maybe on an apparently utopian level.
In recent times, a new issue has augmented into the limelight. One of the most basic features of democracy is the public right to choose who they want to ascend the throne for the administration of the territory in relevance. The right to vote instills firm confidence in the conscience of individuals as the right possesses the power. Power has its own emotive value. It leads to encouragement which consequently impacts the functioning of the political system of governance in a positive sense. Unfortunately, the political system of India arises from a nation in making that attained its independent identification not more than a few decades back. This results in the obvious dilemma of chaos in the voting system. We see a reflection of it in contemporary times too. Though its blow is softer than before, the taint on this democratic exercise of election is evident enough. There are a few factors that act as impediments to the smooth flow of election-related practices and trigger the stance of almost every pertinent electoral philosophy.
Discussions regarding the same should be taken as a priority to provide the finishing touches to the making of India, that is Bharat. Here too, adherence to the constitutional provisions should be mandatorily kept in mind while the formulation is in its concluding phase. Before anything else, the main requirement is the correct observation and recognition of these obstacles in the system.
The Issue of Apparent Equality:
Article 326 of the Constitution of India2 explains the clause of adult suffrage in the process of elections. It grants every citizen of the country, who is not less than the age of eighteen years, the right to vote in direct elections. The term “every” further widens its scope and takes into account the Indian nationals without any discrimination based on colour, religion, caste, income, gender, et cetera. The Constitution specifies some entities that are disqualified from the process altogether on reasonable grounds. The voters’ age was earlier specified to be twenty-one years but the Constitution (sixty-first Amendment) Act of 19883 reduced it to the current aforementioned limit. From one perspective, this was also serving as an obstacle to the right expression of the right to vote as it further conveyed that our developed maturity bracket started from twenty-one years of age. The amendment was necessary to encourage the youth of this nation and thus, was successfully passed by the Parliament.
On a superficial level, it might appear as if we have achieved equality when voting rights are in the picture, but the reality is disappointing. The gender ratio improvement is at a slow pace. Some sub-sections of castes are not aware enough of the power they have in their hands. At times, restraints are made regarding exercising this right and no legal actions take place after that. Voices are stifled. The pooreither choke on money given by politicians to press on a certain icon or feel that the entire procedure is useless as they are not economically strong. Incorrect financial associations for voting rights are made by them as the former capitalistic scenario stays intact, making them believe that the worth of their vote is less than that of a rich person’s vote.
Equality may be present and functioning on paper but the ground reality reveals the façade established in contemporary times. Active campaigning is a way for betterment in this case. Unless people are deliberately made aware, equality cannot be completely achieved.
Fewer Facilities for the People with Disability:
When it comes to handling the problem of lack of awareness, normative measures can be put into place as a remedy. However, the administration of voting is a much more complex aspect that the authorities have to deal with. All citizens are not the same, not only in ideological terms but also in physical ability to perform the part of voting. In this case, the ambit of legitimate voters includes in itself people with disability and holds an obligation to facilitate adequate services for them to exercise their rights. Physical disability of all types should be taken into consideration while forming ballots. Braille scripts on the buttons should be present to remove all possible ambiguities that the blind citizens might face.
For handicapped people, assistance should be ensured in all electoral locations. Labours and equipment to make voting comfortable should be put in place. Moreover, the responsibility should not be restricted to a mere formality. The administration should strictly keep a check on the implementation of these services.
Due to the absence of such basic facilities, the ratio of these types of citizens has fallen on the charts. Even the smallest of improvements might help in sparking internal awareness and lead to a landslide input in booth voting.
Lack of Information about the Candidates:
It has now become a usual practice to witness politicians with a plethora of criminal records, both in conviction and pending, sitting at the top tier in the country’s political structure. The actions they perform from their seat of power are also often seen to be inclined towards a radical approach. This, in most cases, goes beyond the democratic boundaries established under the Constitution. Not only violent activities, but financial frauds also increase in the higher strata when people having unethical backgrounds get chosen as representatives via elections.
A barrier to the undisturbed flow of voting is formed in scenarios like these as a lack of information about a politician’s conduct keeps the voters behind the veil. Such a politician gets an upliftment in the power stairs based on the outer appearance, promises and influential strategies. After some time, the real image of that person comes out when the presence of evil under his desk starts to get obvious of the maladministration and the public realises all this. Unfortunately, the orthodox rule has no U-turn present any more than to wait for the end of the person’s tenure. Then too, it is nothing more than a chance to find a better replacement as in those years the obstacle rises even higher.
Escaping from this has a simple solution, but requires a tough stance from the Election Commission of India. Though it is appreciable that the said commission has been trying well in the recent past to initiate changes in the electoral system. Presenting the list of judicial cases and their status on a public platform may clear the fog vis-à-vis the confusion in the voters’ minds about the character of the politicians. On the other side too, the political heads may strive towards reducing the crimes that they entertain and are a part of. They would certainly want to escape any transparent display of the same. Furthermore, this step shall help in surging the credibility of the organizing authority and illuminate trust among the voting members.
Violation of Right to Secrecy of Vote:
With the right to vote, the right to its secrecy comes as its complementary entity. Sadly, the democratic setup of India post-independence has been a volatile one on this objective. Earlier, ballot papers were used to cast votes. The ballot boxes were often looted from the polling stations to manipulate the vote count or nullify the result in a particular locality. Understandably, security strictness was light and alternatives for a secure voting system were being explored.
Now, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are used for casting votes for a political party in direct elections as a replacement for the handwritten chit submission process. The machines are not exactly looted now but the manipulation practice is carried out by using the art of reprisal, duress, and coercion. Parties send out anonymous workers to trade votes for cash or other favours. The objective of facilitating a healthy republic procedure is derailed and the principle of voting as per personal bias and understanding factor is demolished. This entire operation covers mass eligible voters and thus creates an impactful persuasive effect on the results. The essence of this right is taken away by fear or favour, leaving no space for the element of secrecy to fit in. The sanctity of the electoral institution suffers harsh blows and leads to the injustice that has been present in society in contemporary times.
For dealing with this, legislative actions have become a necessity. Ground administrative staff may turn lethargic if instructions are not conveyed properly and strictly. Effective screening of the happenings in the locality can help in identifying the source of similar operations. Adhering to fresh legal provisions with a focused approach by the Election Commission of India predicts a positive prospectus in this paradigm. Eliminating this barrier should indeed be a priority as it is linked to unethical transactions with the poor and the not so well educated. It can have consequences far worse than one can imagine as the fire for participating again has the potential to grow bigger every time. The last thing this nation-in-making wants now is a rapidly augmenting corrupt network.
Role of Media Houses in Political Polarization:
The public’s trust in the global media houses has been downgrading since it started protecting and painting the lies of high-authority officials and presenting them as golden words of gospels. If we dig a little deeper into the not-so-recent past, we find US President Eisenhower’s lies about the U-2 spy plane, President Johnson’s lies about the war in Vietnam and President Nixon’s lies about Watergate as some very firm instances to support this point. Moreover, these shreds of evidence were extracted by scratching just the superficial level of the pit that stores the darkest secrets of history about the wrongful manipulation of media by using means of fear and favour.
Political polarization is on the rise. The strategy used by a country’s government to fund or threaten them well has been serving as a helpful tool for inclining the press and turning it into their mere puppet. Humanity is crushed under their vicious acts of spreading propaganda and half-truths.
The importance of a free and independent media is to be realized not only by the journalists but also by the people who run a democratic state which is captured in the cobweb of sectarian interests. Correspondents who try to counter the traditional practices of biasness are pressurized, terrorized and are pressed on their soft emotional spot until they finally break. The politics of “fear or favour” used by tyrants, who hide behind the façade of one of the most successful world leaders, has led to the creation of a population where more than half are brainwashed, and the rest are silenced to such an extent that even their screams cannot be heard.
The whole notion of journalism has been forcefully altered by the power-hungry forces that are converting it into a toy for the mere purpose of distraction, diversion and entertainment. This is unacceptable. This spread of misinformation and factually incorrect news leads to the creation of false biases, inclining the audience towards a specific political ideology. The right to vote does not remain free from the shackles of dirty politics and the constitutionality of this right is infringed when psychological influence comes into the picture. Thus, there is a need for people to trust reliable and credible sources than getting news from any portal just because it has established a brand value.
With the advancement of time, new technological breakthroughs are discovered. As a method to ease the path for exercising the right to vote, these technological updates can be used in the system to facilitate a better voting atmosphere for the citizens. Witnessing the plight of the polling staff, it is advisable to create a more friendly and accommodating structure in the stations. Though casting votes may seem like a short-term process, the efforts put in to reach a decision is not an easy task. Above that, when the aforementioned barriers stand in the way of the voters’ thought process, the difficulty rises to an unhealthy extent. There is a need to bring transparency and accountability in the methodology without which the democratic stance can collapse.
This blog is authored by Prabhav Tripathi, a student of Institute of Law, Nirma University.