Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

A section of voters belonging to the Athgarh Assembly Constituency in the District of Cuttack are subjected to a situation where they cannot vote for the candidate of their choice in election 2009. The Returning Officer has virtually preempted their democratic participation by rejecting the nomination papers of BJD candidate Ranendra Pratap Swain on technical ground. But the ground is very flimsy and in fact mischievous enough to render voting right of those citizens inconsequential.

The Returning Officer believes that he is right in rejecting the nomination papers of Sri Swain. He cites election guidelines in support of the action he has taken. The guidelines say that a candidate of a political party shall have to annex the party ticket to the nomination papers. In Swain’s case, at the time of scrutiny on April 6 it was found that only the Xerox copy of his party ticket was annexed, not the original. Hence, his nomination papers were rejected.

This technicality kills the spirit of democracy.

Democracy is a moving political system. It cannot be stymied with misconceived guidelines of the Election Commission or by bureaucratic blunt heads.

The EC is created under the Constitution of India to conduct the elections on which democracy stands.

The right vested in the EC to conduct the election cannot be conducted into denial of conductance of elections in respect of any section of voters in any constituency.

In Athgarh, this denial is discernible.

Admittedly Sri Swain is a candidate of a political party and the political party that has set him as the candidate is BJD.

Therefore he is admittedly the candidate of a combine of citizens who collectively have formed a political party called BJD with a common purpose and collective allegiance and committed organizational presence in all the constituencies within the limits of Orissa.

EC has registered it as a political party, which means, the EC has approved the common purpose and collective allegiance of the citizens who have constituted the political party called BJD.

It is imperative for democracy that the citizens, who form a political party, must remain loyal and committed to the decisions of the party.

Commitment and loyalty to their respective political party is so unavoidably a must for members and supporters that recognition of a party by the EC depends upon the strength of membership and support it exhibits in general elections.

This phenomenon makes it unambiguously clear that every political party shall have loyal members who should be duty-bound to vote for their party candidates in general elections.

Therefore it is clear that every member or supporter of a political party is ethically and morally required to cast his or her vote for the candidate his or her party plants in elections and not to any other.

This being the democratic duty vested in the citizens as well as their recognized responsibility, the rejection of the nomination papers of the BJD candidate for election in Athgarh constituency tantamount to denial of voting rights to those citizens who are members and supporters of BJD in that constituency.

The members and supporters of BJD cannot be forced to vote for candidates of their rival political parties. The EC cannot either expect that the citizens of Athgarh who belong to BJD by membership / allegiance would vote for candidates of their rival political parties.

So, obliteration of BJD candidate from the election scenario in Athgarh on flimsy / misconceived / misconstrued technical grounds is nothing but denial of voting rights to the voters who should, as members and supporters of BJD, have certainly voted for Sri Swain. This is nothing but a bureaucratic assault on democracy.

EC is empowered to conduct the election. He is not empowered to conduct non-election of any candidate by his party members and supporters. In rejecting Ranendra Pratap’s nomination papers the Returning Officer acting on behalf of the EC has tried to play exactly this mischief.

The EC should intervene and allow the nomination papers. The Xerox copy of BJD party ticket should be accepted as genuine as the BJD party has not disowned the ticket.

The EC must appreciate that it is its own fault that has lead to this impasse.

The BJD has issued the ticket rightly in favor of its candidate addressed to the R.O. The members and supporters of BJD have, on behalf of BJD, proposed and supported the nomination of their party candidate, in this case Ranendra Pratap Swain, mentioning that he is the BJD candidate vide ticket addressed to the R.O. to which Swain has given his consent.

It is, ethically therefore, the R.O.’s duty to collect the ticket from BJD or to ascertain the correctness of the Xeroxed ticket placed before him. Or, in honoring the spirit of democracy, to accept the nomination papers by matching the original with the Xerox copy of the ticket. But the R.O. has failed to do this and instead has created a severe dislocation in peoples’ duty to elect their preferred representative.

Rejection of party candidates not by the peoples but by a Returning Officer on technical ground would make a farce of our democracy.

The Constitution of India has defined disqualifications of voters as well as of candidates.

Whosoever is not legally disqualified to vote or to contest, is legally qualified to vote and to contest.

Members and supporters of BJD in Athgarh are not disqualified to vote. Hence they are qualified to vote. But they cannot to be compelled to vote for candidates of their rival parties. Hence they are entitled to vote for their candidate Ranendra Pratap Swain, which they are now denied to do.

On the other hand, Swain is not legally disqualified to contest as a candidate. Hence he is legally qualified to contest on political grounds that democracy entails. But he is disallowed.

The EC should appreciate that his guidelines cannot have over-riding effect over the provisions of the Constitution of India and should immediately intervene in the impasse created by the R.O. at Athgarh and allow the spirit of democracy to prevail by causing acceptance of Swain’s nomination.

If the EC fails to remove the wrong being done to democracy, the Supreme Court of India should take up the issue and ensure that the Controller of elections does no more make a farce of our democracy.

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