Former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi on Sunday said disappearance of names from voter lists might be “deliberate” or not and asked citizens to check electoral rolls ahead of polling day to ensure they didn’t have to return without exercising their choice.
Having a voter card, he told an event in Calcutta, does not ensure voting rights.
“When names go missing from the electoral rolls, politics is suspected sometimes. Deliberately kisi community ka naam kaat diya (the name has been struck off deliberately), in some dominant mohallas the names of Scheduled Caste people are struck off. (It) may be deliberate, may not be deliberate. But we have to be alert,” Quraishi said.
“Finally, having a voter card in your pocket does not ensure your right to vote because your name may have been cut off from the voter list. It could be oversight, it could be mischief, it could be error.”
The country’s first Muslim chief election commissioner, who held office from July 2010 to June 2012, was speaking at an event called “Mission 2019 — No Voter Left Behind” at a city hotel.
Quraishi said he didn’t initially like the tag “first Muslim chief election commissioner of India” but realised that the label portrayed the country in a good light when he saw people in countries like Jordan and Egypt speak about it. “I am proud to be a Muslim. But I am more proud to be an Indian Muslim,” he said.
Sunday’s event was the fourth advisory meeting in the country that an NGO — Centre for Research and Debate in
Development Policy, New Delhi — had convened after sessions in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Calcuttans Imran Zaki and Ashraf Shaikh hosted the event.
Quraishi said India was the “biggest democracy” in the world because of the sheer number of voters but should strive to be the “greatest democracy”, which could happen only if citizens, especially youths and people from urban areas, exercised their voting rights ethically.
The country’s adult population, he said, should have three goals before the general election due next year: get their names enrolled, step out and vote on election day and vote ethically without accepting favours or bribes.
A large section of youths and the urban population in many parts of the country don’t vote, he said, stressing that such reluctance has to end if India were to become a great democracy and elect the right leaders.
“There are some urban areas in states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where just 20 or 25 per cent of people vote. Calculations at the Election Commission has shown that some candidates from these places who win by narrow margins have not been voted for by 85 per cent of the electorate,” the former chief election commissioner said.
This tendency among a section of the population to stay away from booths, he added, was probably because a third of legislators in India had criminal records, “some of them as heinous as rape, murder and dacoity”.
Quraishi, however, said it was a good sign that the percentage of voters had increased from 59 per cent to 66.4 per cent between the 2009 and 2014 elections.
Abusaleh Sharrif, of the Centre for Research and Debate in Development Policy, also spoke at Sunday’s event.