All this joy about 49-O and Elections

Elections are expensive.

If you have friends, you would by now have received some ten thousand forwards on this elusive little section in the People’s Representation Act – a fabled 49-O. Here’s what it says.

49-O. Elector deciding not to vote.-If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.

Various people have been going ga-ga over this. Apparently it lets them express some sort of political statement about how they find all the politicians completely undeserving of their vote. Well, fair enough.

In the few times that I have voted in any election, I’ve always felt I was voting for the lesser evil. It wasn’t because the candidate has me in raptures with their promises, or because I was dazzled by my admiration for them. You can hate politicians all you like, but they are necessary. If you want to go about exercising this 49-O business, you might as well say, “Sure, give me the President’s rule”. Which is a bigger mockery of democracy than than having goons in the parliament. You really want a politician who understands you? Go stand for an election.

As far as I know, even if the majority opts for 49-O, votes that are tendered are counted, and winners are announced accordingly. So in effect, you are giving up your right to vote for the lesser evil. (Yes, the counter argument is that there could be equal evils – but that sort of symmetry is rare.)

So that money – that river of money that was spent on an election, could instead be used for something else, or at the very least, to minimize public debt. Before we get all orgasmic about 49-O, we need to consider what happens when we don’t positively assert our votes. Sure, the semantics of it suggest that opting for 49-O means you are making a choice, but what it actually means is that you are giving up your right and abstaining. You are fence-sitting. And your fence-sitting, which otherwise is nobody else’s business, costs the country a lot of money.

You are better off trying to pressurizing an existing government into action, rather than prevent government formation in the first place. You can’t choose? Very well, screw democracy. We’ll just get a dictator. Saves us money spent on elections.

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12 Responses to All this joy about 49-O and Elections

  1. And, I am hoping people know that no one needs to get a minimum number/ percentage of votes to get elected. So, really, 49-O is useless.

    For instance, if there are three candidates, and five hundred voters. 100 vote for A, 50 for B and 10 for C. The remaining exercise 49-O. A still wins. The 49-O dudes might as well sit at home and watch Barkha Dutt covering the election.


  2. Shefaly says:

    I doubt this sort of analysis exists for Indian psephological data but analysis of US elections suggest that the value of each single vote really is minuscule ( It only matters in volume whether it is voting for the lesser of the two weevils (!), or exercising the 49-O privilege, or not turning up to vote. Voting really is only about a vague sense of civic duty. There need to be clear incentives for voting or at least clear punitive measures for not voting. Only then does all this have any meaning. Otherwise, charaiveti, charaiveti…


  3. Amit says:

    Neha, While I agree with the sentiments I don’t quite agree with the research behind 49-O.

    1. 49-O – also implies that if the votes for “none of the above” are more than the votes for all other candidates, the election is considered void, and the candidates are not allowed to contest again. re-election has its own huge costs. Added to it the complexity of changing candidates that people have no freaking idea about anyway. And for how many times, will you vote out the candidates by using 49-O!!!

    2. There are several changes related to “Proposed Electoral Reforms” that you can check out at election commission’s site. The government and the Supreme Court have been sitting on some of these forever. So, as you can see, our system does not like the 49-O

    3. Most importantly, Rule 49-O does not come into play with electronic voting machines. UNlike the printed ballot paper, where there is a choice for ‘none of the above’, such a choice does not exist in EVMs. So, you basically have to go to the supervisors at the center (who in more cases than less would have no idea about 49O) and tell them that you do not want to vote for anyone. This, then, nagates the premise of “secret ballot”


  4. wordjunkie says:

    Totally agree..infact, totally agreed with this post on your older post , ‘Voter’s Dilemma’. 🙂

    49 O would be a much misused instrument in our context, since it would be easier to wield for the average overly-passive citizen than active dissent,involving engaging with government on issues, and demanding to be heard.


  5. Kitchu says:

    What looks like ‘voice’ is actually ‘exit’? Hmm


  6. Nilu says:

    Oh these middle classes! Not rich enough to be self assured, not poor enough to have the numbers (or lack pride).


  7. Neha, sorry for the cross-commenting, acting like a lawyer, etc.

    “49-O – also implies that if the votes for “none of the above” are more than the votes for all other candidates, the election is considered void”

    Where does it say this?

    Also, Rule 64 on the Declaration of Results says:
    “64. Declaration of result of election and return of election.—The returning officer shall, subject to the provisions of section 65 if and so far as they apply to any particular case, then—
    (a) declare in Form 21C or Form 21D, as may be appropriate, the candidate to whom the largest number of valid votes have been given, to be elected under section 66 and send signed copies thereof to the appropriate authority, the Election Commission and the chief electoral officer;” (the rest of it is irrelevant)

    It speaks of ‘candidates’ with the most number of valid votes. ‘Candidate’ isn’t defined in the act, but ‘none of the above’ is definitely not a ‘candidate’. I don’t see any reference here, or anywhere else in the Election Rules that speaks of re-election in the context of 49-O.


  8. Kavi says:

    In times like these, i guess some hoaxes give hope ! What audacity !!


  9. Karthik says:

    @Amit, aandthirtyheights:
    The exact implications of Rule 49-O from the perspective of winner declaration are unclear. It may be, given the present state of The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, assumed that a winner will be declared irrespective of the number of ‘non-votes’. However, a note of every ‘non-vote’ will be made with the Election Officer, and the total number of non-voters will, presumably, be available under the Right to Information, Act. Please note that the availability of this information has not been confirmed as yet.

    Some recent articles and a Dedicated Website on Section 49-0 Falsely suggest that in case the number of votes recorded under Section 49-O is greater than the maximum number of votes polled in favour of any of the candidates, a repoll is held. However it is misleading since nothing to this effect is mentiond either in any of the sections of The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 or People’s Representative Act nor can it can be constured reading Section 49-0 in conjuction with any other Section/ Act. In fact Post terrorist Attacks on Mumbai on 26th November 2008 an Urban Myth is being propogated through Internet that a Re-Poll will be held in case the number of No Votes under Section 49-O is more than the Margin of Victory.

    @Neha: Ya ya, 49-O is anyways useless. You are just voiding your vote.


  10. Karthik, I might have been a bit unclear, but that is exactly what I said.


  11. Amit says:


    There is a section under Proposed Electoral Reforms which refers to amendments to the rule so that the candidature of those who are rejected by the voters can be made void. BUT, this has not yet been approved. so.. the first point is invalid.

    The other problematic thing is that the Conduct for Elections, 1961 has been amended for Electronic Voting Machines and suddenly the “none of the above” thing valid for ballot papers is no longer applicable… Instead, people have to explicitly mention that they do not want to vote..

    In any case, 49-O is a farce right now…


  12. Chappaani says:

    After the invention of the zero, another historic first for the Indian nation!
    The first to envisage the “Do Nothing But Make A Facebook Group” option in polling.


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