No one will disagree that dispensing one’s civic duties by voting in elections is paramount. But should it be compulsory, too, with a penalty for failing to do so? The Gujarat government has pushed through a new law that makes voting compulsory, albeit in just civic elections. The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws Bill 2009 has received governor OP Kohli’s nod, after having been returned twice by his predecessor, Kamala Beniwal. The new law doesn’t yet specify the penalty for the violation of its mandate, but the government is free to notify any measures whenever it chooses.
It is indeed desirable that governments try and inculcate the sense of civic responsibility among citizens, but they can’t do this yielding the threat of legal repercussions. As pointed out by Beniwal while returning the Bill, the law violates the spirit of individual liberty that is safeguarded by Article 21 of the Constitution. There are other ways in an electoral democracy of getting the voter to participate. The ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) option, for example, spurs many, who would have otherwise abstained from voting, to register their choice. It is in the best interest of voters to cast their vote in the civic elections, given these shape the most direct interface of governance. But it shouldn’t be forcibly extracted.