At the time of India’s first general election in 1952, it was feared that the largely illiterate population of the time, especially in rural areas, may not be able to mark their ballot papers properly. The misgivings proved unfounded as democracy took root and the process of voting entered the electronic age with sophisticated voting machines prescribing a time limit for pressing the preferred button. Yet, it is undeniable that even an educated person can feel a moment of nervousness at the time of voting because of the fear of making a mistake, which will be hard to rectify.
Not if one is a VIP and the voting is via ballot papers and not an electronic gadget. So, it was that when Mulayam Singh Yadav erred in voting for P A Sangma during the presidential poll, he was allowed to change his mind and mark his preference for Pranab Mukherjee, who was his party’s choice. Whether or not Sangma challenges this goof-up in a court of law, as he has threatened to do, it is in the fitness of things that the Election Commission of India has warned against a similar violation of the secrecy of the voting process during the forthcoming vice-presidential election. The caution was all the more necessary because a suspended Biju Janata Dal MLA had shown his marked ballot paper to the presiding officer. He was not allowed to put the paper in the ballot box.
It is surprising, however, that reminders about the secrecy and sanctity of the votes are necessary for MPs and MLAs who are expected to be far more familiar with the electoral process than the aam aadmi. What is more, the commission has even had to issue the threat that if any of the legislators put the ballot in the box after revealing his/her choice, it will be countermanded later with the help of the counterfoil in case he/she refuses to hand over the ballot to the presiding officer. Clearly, democracy can be a continuing educative experience.