Recently the Gujarat government made voting compulsory in all local self government bodies. This contentious move, the first in the country, has led to an extensive debate with many supporters and sceptics battling around the constitutional and democratic nature of such a decision.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of Centre for Policy Research in his op-ed Acts of Choice points to choice, legitimacy, equality and participation as the core parameters to judge the ruling. He rightly suggests that compulsory voting which in effect criminalizes non-voting reeks of the sentiment that people need to be saved from themselves (in this case of their own apathy) even if we have to do this by coercion and fear of penalties. This he says is ‘undemocratic paternalism’ besides also being grounds for harassment.
Since the government wants citizens to exercise their civic duty of voting, shouldn’t the citizens also hold the elected representatives responsible for fulfilling their duties? If we consider attendance in the assembly and parliament then what do we do with 75% MPs attending less than 16 days of a whole session in the parliament? Attendance is one thing but participation and performance is more important.
If the elected representatives do their work then we suspect voters would also be interested in active participation.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.