Chouhan disagrees with Modi, says no to compulsory voting

January 4, 2009: The Indian Express

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Sunday came out in the open against the idea of compulsory voting — an idea mooted by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi — and argued that the political class should discharge their responsibilities dutifully, which would ensure that the faith of the poor in the political class grows stronger, thereby encouraging them to vote in large numbers.

Chouhan added that an awareness drive could also help ensure a better turnout in elections. ¶I would prefer these two measures, instead of the idea of compulsory voting,¶ Chouhan told The Indian Express.

The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, a brainchild of Modi, has set off a huge debate in the country. While the Election Commission (EC) has described it as ¶impractical¶, former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami has welcomed it, and K J Rao, former adviser to the Election Commission, has said ¶it is a welcome idea, but it remains to be seen how it is implemented¶.

The compulsory voting idea has divided the political class too. The Congress and the Left had initially dubbed the idea anti-democratic, but a section of the Congress, like Sri Prakash Jaiswal, later welcomed it. Among non-BJP parties, Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad gave the move his unequivocal go-ahead. The idea had by and large been welcomed by the BJP, with its party president Nitin Gadkari suggesting that he would like the Congress to move a Bill in this respect in Parliament.

However, with his assertion, Chouhan has become the first big BJP leader to come out in the open, suggesting an alternative mechanism instead of compulsory voting. ¶Kai baar garibon ke liye vote se zyada mahatvapurna roti hoti hai. Is liye hamein aisi vyavastha karni chahiye ki logon ki aastha hum mein zyada gehri ho. (Quite often, it’s bread and butter that is more important for the poor. We should, therefore, work to ensure that the faith of the poor in the political class grows stronger),¶ he said, suggesting an awareness drive for increasing voter participation during elections.

After the Gujarat Bill was passed by the Assembly, Modi wrote on his blog ( ¶Our goal should be to achieve 100 per cent voting. (This initiative) is a revolutionary step in the history of Independent India… Higher the voting, more the accountability of the government….¶

The state of Madhya Pradesh has traditionally seen high voting in local bodies elections (up to 80 per cent), followed by Assembly elections (up to 70 per cent). Chouhan said the turnout in Lok Sabha elections in the state, however, is much lower when compared to the two figures, adding that ¶awareness could be one reason for higher turnouts in local polls¶ while ¶big size of constituencies (thereby implying lesser involvement of electors and candidates) could be one reason for less turnout in parliamentary polls on the seats falling in the state of MP¶.

Chouhan, however, made light of a question on the oft-discussed comparisons of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh (and thereby its Chief Ministers too). ¶Narendra Modiji ek behtarin mukhyamantri hain aur unka har jagah samman hota hai. (He’s an excellent Chief Minister who’s respected by one and all). Gujarat’s condition is good, and he has made it better many times over. I’m trying to create an infrastructure for development in the state of Madhya Pradesh,¶ he added.


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