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Compulsory voting: Gujarat activists at PUCL meet "undecided" on legal option against 'curb' of free expression

By Our Representative
Even as news came in that a Rs 100 fine would be imposed on defaulting voters who fail to turn up on the polling booth, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has strongly protesting against the Gujarat government move to go ahead with compulsory voting, calling it a violation of the “rights of liberty and freedom of expression”. But, it did to make public  what concrete legal steps it proposes against it.
If an official communique issued by the PUCL is any indication, senior activists participating in a PUCL meet in Ahmedabad on the issue, in fact, kept mum on the exact legal steps they propose to take to fight against the alleged curb on “liberty and free expression” through compulsory voting.
The PUCL communiqué said, it was “unanimously" agreed to publicize pamphlets for creating awareness among the citizens even as adding, it was decided to “initiate" legal steps "if found necessary”. It regretted, “While framing rules of such new laws, views and suggestions of representatives of Voluntary Organizations should also be included or incorporated therein.”
Local body polls in municipal corporations, including that of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat, where the compulsory voting law would be applied, are proposed in October 2015. Among those who participated in the meeting included Gujarat’s ex-BJP chief minister Suresh Mehta, veteran High Court advocate and human rights champion Girish Patel, PUCL general secretary Gautam Thaker, well-known activist attached with  Swaraj Samvad Manishi Jani, among others.
Mehta told the meeting that there were “many technical flaws” in the compulsory voting law, and that it “must be understood that within the liberty of voting, is also included the liberty of not voting.” Patel said, if 10 per cent of the voters do not cast their votes, it may involve penalty and punitive action against about 40 lakh of persons, “hence the law is “impracticable and will encourage corruption”. 
“If we think of its consequences then, especially the poor people will be badly hit. It seems that intention of this compulsory voting is to establish the rule or regime of Hindu majority. This matter is contrary to the spirit of democracy. Voting is the fundamental right of the citizens and not the fundamental duty”, Patel said.
Agreeing with Patel’s view, Jani said it was indeed a matter of “self-introspection as to what the intention of the government is in slaying or subtracting the rights of the citizens”, adding, “By framing such different types of Acts and creating an atmosphere of fear among the people, Gujarat has been reduced to an experimentation laboratory of Hinduism.”
Thaker said, “Large number of people of Adivasi regions of South and Central Gujarat, who migrate to different parts of Gujarat for employment and livelihood, fishermen, shepherds, salt workers, farm laborers and migrant workers will face great hardships. They will be unnecessarily harassed.”
Prahlad Avasthi of Nagrik Sangathan said, “No law can be enacted which affects conscience of the people. This is not a battle for political issue but is for constitutional issue.”
Senior economist Rohit Shukla said as of today this is the matter of elections to the local self-governing bodies. But as time passes “a question arises if there is liberty in the country, how can there be any kind of compulsion? The law does not at all appear to be a logical or rational”, he added.
Another economist Hemantkumar Shah said, “It is more important to know as to what is the intention of the government. This Act strikes at the very fundamental right of a citizen to cast his vote. The constitution has given liberty of views and to act in accordance with the voice of one’s conscience.”
Dwarikanath Rath of the Movement for Secular Democracy wondered if Gujarat was being projected as a nation within the nation. “If this is the beginning of compulsion, then what shall be the fate of other rights of the citizens in the future?”, he asked.

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