The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Test for India to vote and shine
- EC opens option to elect None

New Delhi, Feb. 29: India will choose its next government over four days starting April 20 and ending May 10. April 26 and May 5 are the two other voting days.

On May 13, the victor should be known, but the Election Commission floated the tantalising idea where there could be a winner without an identity, though not in this election, perhaps.

Simultaneous Assembly elections will be held in Andhra, Karnataka, Orissa and Sikkim and bypolls in eight states. Counting may be advanced by a day from May 13 in Andhra.

Announcing the schedule today, chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy said: “I am appealing to political parties to choose the best representatives for the people. In the long run, good governance and responsibility towards voters decide the fate of candidates.”

Krishnamurthy did not say it in so many words, but the hint was: do not put up dubious candidates.

In the manner he spoke it was evident that the new boss at Nirvachan Sadan is going to be as much a stickler for the rulebook as predecessor J.M. Lyngdoh.

Krishnamurthy is not a humourless headmaster, though his crack at witticism today may not be appreciated in government.

“I hope India will shine in conducting the elections. That is the first step towards creating a flawless democracy,” Krishnamurthy said.

Immediately after taking over, when the India Shining campaign was going full blast, he had suggested that it violated the spirit — though not the letter — of the election code of conduct. The comment became the first point of conflict between Krishnamurthy and the ruling alliance. The code comes into effect today.

“We want to make it clear that the commission is not watching just as a spectator but is ready to order a repoll wherever there is a serious violation of the code of conduct,” he said.

Faced with voter fatigue in urban areas, where the poll percentage has been declining, Krishnamurthy took the wraps off a proposal to include a new category in electronic voting machines, which will display at the end of the list of candidates’ names in any constituency — “None of the above”.

If you don’t want to vote for Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Sonia Gandhi, you can vote for “None” — that seems to be the idea, creating an alternative for voters who feel bereft of choice and stay away from polling booths.

Krishnamurthy said the commission had made a suggestion — during the tenure of Lyngdoh who likened politicians to cancer — to political parties that the ballet paper should have such a category.

“We had made the suggestion quite some time ago to the political parties. They said there will have to be an all-party conference to take a decision on this.”

BJP leader Pramod Mahajan said of the proposal: “It is an academic issue. I am not aware of it and I don’t want to be drawn into a discussion at election time.”

The Congress was as cautious. “Our party had no time to discuss (the proposal) at the institutional level. The party has to apply its mind before it comes up with a considered view,” said spokesman Abhishek Singhvi.

Speaking for himself, the young Singhvi said: “My personal view is that it is a good thing. It will strengthen democracy and reinforce its working.”


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