Thursday, 21 May 2009

A lame Rule 49(0)

The recent reports from our Tamil Nadu bureau stating the difficulties voters faced on election day at polling booths should have the Election Commission concerned given that it is considered that the five-phase general elections was relatively peaceful. The issue in mention is the widespread intimidation and harassment voters faced at polling booths for opting Rule 49(0). In a case where a voter does not favour any of the candidates contesting from a constituency and would want to exercise his/her franchise Rule 49(0) can be used where the vote would be recorded, but in favour of none.
If in Uthapuram, infamous for the caste divide, more than 500 women shied from voting zero, more than 5,000 victims of the airport expansion drive in Sriperumbudur backed out from voting --- in both cases fearing thugs hovering around the polling booths. Reports also said that voters, overcoming fear, who opted Rule 49(0) were left to the mercy of ill-informed polling officers who made them wait for hours, mocked at them and chided voters for their preference.
For all the pride we take in our democracy and elaborate voting mechanism such instances pose serious questions about the rate of inclusiveness and fairness of the system followed. The thugs at polling booths, in spite of the presence of paramilitary forces, were not local boys flexing their muscles but, in all probability, mercenaries hired by political parties to alter the tide in their favour.
The level of protocol awareness of the polling officers should also be of unease for the Election Commission. It should be agreed that while there are awareness drives to familiarise the EVM, not much is done when it comes to Rule 49(0). It is a matter of concern that the PIL filed in the Supreme Court by Peoples Union for Civil Liberties in 2004 seeking a ‘None Of The Above’ option in EVMs seems to be in limbo.
There seems to be an unfair bias that the franchise is secret only if the choice is against a name in the EVM and not while opting for Rule 49(0). This being the case, it is little surprise that large sections of the society refuse to ink their finger, in many cases mass poll boycott being reported. An option on the lines of Rule 49(0) in the EVM can prevent people abstaining from participating in democracy. With an increase in voter percentage it would also prompt political parties to introspect, field better candidates and discuss people’s issues. This is a win-win situation.

Let there be a pet in Race Course

What’s common in Fellar, Checkers, Billy, Macaroni, Drunkard, Tipler, Tipsy, White Tips, Millie, Socks…? While this election season it could be mistaken for the list of the people who have hurled a footwear at a leader, the list has nothing to do with the hustings or India. They are the names of the First Pets in the White House in America to which the latest addition is Bo, a Portuguese water dog. Perhaps the most talked about issue during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, after his religious leaning and multi-cultural upbringing, must have been the promised presidential pet. Since the time of its announcement all sorts of speculations have been made about the pedigree and type of canine the Obamas would opt for. All the talk about a dog would seem weird to many but for anyone with a fair smattering of the history of US presidency, knows only too well the importance of a pet in the White House. Pets have known to make and break presidencies. If Richard Nixon’s ‘Checkers Speech’, named after his cocker spaniel, saved him his bid for presidency, it was Fellar, another cocker spaniel, which tarnished President Truman’s image after he decided to do away with the dog.

The point we would like to stress over here and encourage is the idea of inculcating the practise of a first pet for 7, Race Course Road. Not that it would be mimicking the United States but it might bring a certain character and command of respect which, many argue, at present is wanting.

Rumour mills touted that Obama, who breezed through Pennsylvania Avenue with the promise for change, would use the choice of a pet for furthering diplomatic relations. In the same vein it was suggested that Fidel Castro present Obama a Havanese or Felipe Calderón present a Chihuahua or a Xolo, given the preference for a furless breed.

Similarly, the next prime minister of India, who would be decided after the May 16, could further the bilateral relations with our neighbours by adopting a Bully Kutta from Pakistan, a Black Hill from Nepal, a Lhasa Apso from Tibet or a Chow Chow from China.

Pet power is not just a feature that is confined to the US. Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s poodles, Pakistani dictator-president General Pervez Musharraf’s Whisky, are only a few of the celebrity First Pets.
Our word of advise for the next incumbent in South Block would be give the nation a first pet and the news-craving media would make it a celebrity. On the brighter side, it could also bark at any opposition whenever required.