Sunday February 18, 2018
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An Odium towards Compulsory Voting

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By Vishakha Mathur

From the power in the hands of the people to being the very basis of democracy, voting has time and again been supported as a right instead of a privilege or a duty. However, the recent call taken by the Gujarat government to make voting compulsory (which later got struck down by the High Court) is a move indicating the changing nature of state power strangling the citizens with their own rights.

Should government force citizens to vote?

This brings us to evaluate, if at all, it is desirable for the government to argue a case for themselves in order to force voting upon people. The whole discussion and debate for compulsory voting starts with dwindling voter turnout which not only reflects on the health of democracy through contemplating the lack of interest among those who the elections directly affect, but also exaggerates the imbalance of interests. How this primarily happens is when a certain section of the citizen body votes, they vote to further their own interests and as these interests get represented in the government, they are able to take their interests way forward while neglecting the rest of the population. This majorly hurts the progress of a nation, thus calling for a greater voter turnout.

The government also seeks to argue that compulsory voting is not an infringement of the rights of the people and is, in fact a duty. How is this? This is justified by stating that even though one is dragged out of his house against his will to vote, it is beneficial to himm in the larger context and is not something that harms the individual directly. Thus, it is argued that it is not all that difficult to make it out on an election day but due to lack of motivation within people, it has come to compulsory voting.

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Complimenting this argument is to say that citizens cannot merely be freeloaders. They cannot just sit in their house waiting and commenting on elections results, waiting to earn some benefits, when they have made absolutely no effort to deserve them. Voting, thus, becomes the primary responsibility of a citizen to do good for himself and for the society.

In the lieu of recent voter turnout of 45% in the Bangalore’s BBMP elections, it is imperative for the government to figure out a way to get more citizens motivated enough to vote instead of enjoying a day off from work and compulsory voting seems the way forward. But lets look back to understand, if that really is the case.

What are the problems with compulsory voting?

Voting was given as suffrage in initial democratic years to everyone who deserved to be a part of the system and wanted to bring change for the betterment of the society. One has to understand the concept of rights here. These were given to the citizens to ensure that they still remain the decision making body and no one and nothing forces them to do something against their will, with/without a third party harm. Since voting is one of the essential rights that people have, making it compulsory is an infringement and not a small one at that.

I understand this as a direct attack on democracy. I can only imagine the kind of snowballing effect this will create. Today, arguing on the shoulder of a small infringement, the government seeks to take away the right to vote and make it a duty, in a later time we can expect them to take many such actions that won’t hurt a third person and thus are acceptable. But the truth is that like this one, all of those steps will create a major backlash because they do hurt. They hurt the very bedrock of democracy, they hit the principles on which democracy stands, thus deviating from norms that make voting a “right” and not a “duty”, simple deviating from the model of democracy.

Government can, but it should not force citizens to vote

Although, the government can force its citizens to come and vote, it has to understand that this does not yield legitimacy to the elections. The root cause of low voter turnout is not because people are not interested, it is because either people are not aware or they are for any of the contenders standing in the elections. In such a scenario, this move will almost backfire when citizens will destroy the sanctity of the ballot by simply coming out to vote but not actually giving much thought to who they want to see win. This again, defeats the purpose of elections and this is not what India needs. India needs an inspiration, a wave of awareness, much like during the 2014 General Assembly Elections which came out to be whooping 66%+. This was because people themselves wanted to participate in creating a change and not because they were forced to.

Going back to our roots, our freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Dada Dharmadhikari etc. claimed that voting is a right for the people to express themselves and select their own representatives. This means that as and when they don’t feel satisfied with what they see, there is no compulsion for them to go out and caste their opinion. Thus, instead of bulls, the government as well as the Election Commission of India should figure out another method of motivating the voters to come out instead of laying back, to develop a more proactive approach. Some have suggested NOTA (None of the above) but this raises a whole debate of what happens if NOTA is in majority and not a candidate?

There are a lot of questions that the government needs to answer in order to make the voting system more efficient and on the same path, develop models to do so but compulsory voting, definitely does not seem like a good fit for India.

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BJP Offers Christians a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Is Religious Pilgrimage A New Playground For The Political Parties?

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community

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In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented. Wikimedia Commons
  • The political parties (BJP and Congress ) are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage in the coming local elections of the eastern states of India
  • The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively
  • After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022

The Campaign promises during the elections times are quite bizarre nowadays, from “I’ll cut your taxes,” to “vote for me, and I’ll set you free.”

In the coming local elections in the Christian- majority state of Nagaland in India the agenda by the rival BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Congress parties are unique: “Vote for us and get either a free or a heavily subsidized pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

Yes, you read it right. The political parties are promising a free trip to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage. The offer has been put up by the Prime Minister Modi- led BJP for the upcoming elections. Even the local partners of the Congress party are treading up the same path.

Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons
Recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. Wikimedia Commons

The BJP has not made it clear yet if it is offering the scheme to all of India’s Christians, or only to Christians in the northeast, or only to Christians in Nagaland. The Christian population in Meghalaya and Nagaland is almost 75 percent and 88 percent respectively. Nagaland is one of smallest states of India, with the population of just under two million people.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

As per the Tourism Ministry figures, around 58,000 Indian tourists came to Israel in 2017, a 47% increase from 2015.

The elections are scheduled for the February 27 in three northeastern states – Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura – later this month.

The AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi also tweeted on the double standard of the government and lashed out at the government for its discriminatory decision, ending Haj subsidy but allowing subsidies to continue for Hindu pilgrimages like the Mansarovar Yatra.

This would not be the first time that India has bankrolled pilgrimages for the Christians. Before this, the government had subsidized the Haj pilgrimage for the Muslim community. But recently, the central government decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage. The government cited the reason for the subsidy withdrawal as they wanted to utilise the funds saved from withdrawing the subsidy for the education of minorities, particularly girls. After the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner by 2022.

Also Read: Government ends Haj subsidy as part of a new policy

The scheme is a clear cut example of hypocrisy and opportunism, especially considering the cancellation of Haj subsidies. It seems quite contrary, on the one hand, the government is cutting down the benefit scheme for one section of the society and on the other hand, some other community is been offered the same thing. Such moves bring out the double standards of the political parties just for the sake of vote bank. In a country like India, such miscalculated steps could backfire in form of communal rights and the results could be unprecedented.

In 2011, Nigeria also did something same as that of India. For many years, their government financed a trip to Mecca for Muslims, leading to some 42,000 Nigerians visiting the country. But with the change in the government, subsidies have been cut considerably and now a 12-day pilgrimage costs around 2000 dollars. The change in stance has resulted in 78% decrease from 2011.