On paper, the Right to Reject is a good idea. In theory, it would empower voters to discard all candidates on offer. This, in turn, would make parties consider the candidates they pick with some seriousness. With better candidates around, politics would be a lot saner than what it is now. People would get proper attention and their world would be a much better place.
Mind you, this is on paper. It does not translate exactly the way it is perceived when it is put into practice. When it comes to voting behaviour in the country, nothing follows a fixed script, except in exceptional situations such as communal polarisation. To state that the right to reject would usher in perfect electoral politics is a simplistic of understanding a complex issue. Team Anna seems to be barking up the wrong tree again.
How? It presumes several things. First, it assumes that voters would come to polling booths just to reject candidates. They are aware of candidates on offer beforehand. If they don’t like any of them, they might as well stay put at home and refuse to come out to vote. Many voters are exercising this option. In some areas they boycott voting. All this is equal to rejecting candidates and parties.
Second, voters don’t decide their candidates at the polling booth. The decision is made much earlier — either during campaigning by parties or at the time of personal canvassing by candidates. If they come out, they will come out to vote for some candidate. When voters turn out in huge numbers, like it is the case in Uttar Pradesh now, it is a clear indicator that they have decided whom to vote for. They value their vote and won’t like to waste it.
Third, with so many people actually coming out to vote either for one candidate or the other, the number of voters rejecting the candidates would be insignificant. Since all parties have their loyal voters and decisions at the community level come into the picture too, the combined strength of people voting for candidates would certainly be far bigger than the people rejecting them. Why would someone make one’s vote inconsequential? Team Anna overestimates the number of disenchanted people.
Fourth, people vote for parties, the candidate is always secondary. This is not how elections should be, but it is the bitter reality of elections in India. This is the reason why so many bad candidates get elected to our representative bodies. If a party’s ideology is communal, its candidates will have a communal mindset as well; if the party is Leftist, its candidates will also have a Left-orientation. If voters do not like the ideological orientation of a candidate, do they have a choice? They can either vote for the party or not vote for it.
Team Anna’s idea is best suited for elections at the lower representative bodies, like the multi-tired Panchayati Raj institutions. It would fail in the assembly or parliamentary elections. If Team Anna is really serious about bringing about changes in the electoral system, it should plan long-term and reach out to the grassroots organisations. It would be interesting to watch whether its enthusiasm lasts beyond the current elections.
Further, it should put the responsibility of selecting good candidates on parties rather than on voters. But taking on parties is a far more tougher task than coaxing the latter to do something positive. Would it be bold enough to put pressure on parties to select good candidates with impeccable credentials? It is trying to take the easier route now. This strategy, obviously, is going to fail.
The Right to Reject, the way it is now, is an empty exercise. If Team Anna is not looking for some publicity points, it must think better.