Karnataka is set to copy Gujarat by making voting compulsory through a carrot-and-stick approach. It proposes to levy penalties for not voting, and incentivize voting by providing rewards. A senior official in the rural development and panchayat raj ministry said the state government has floated the idea of making voting mandatory in panchayat elections with a tentative fine of up to Rs 500 or two-day imprisonment for those who don’t vote.There will be incentives and disincentives, too. For example, while issuing ration cards or driving licences, the government may ask applicants to show certificates of voting. Those seeking government jobs and admission to higher education institutions will get preference if they have exercised their franchise for 5-15 years without a break. However, citizens who have genuine reasons for being unable to vote will be exempted. People who choose the NOTA option will get voting certificates.All these proposals are, however, still in a nascent stage and may not apply for the upcoming gram panchayat elections in May. “We are still in the process of framing rules for the new legislation which will take some time. We have decided to seek suggestions from an expert committee in implementing the new rules,” rural development and panchayat raj minister H K Patil told TOI. As of now, he said, the government is readying with voting certificates that will be issued to all voters who get their fingers inked in the gram panchayat elections.Narendar Pani, professor of School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, said: “The rule to make voting compulsory has to be severe. Otherwise, it won’t work. I assume the ruling Congress would be lenient in its rules simply because it would not want to annoy rural voters. This will defeat the whole purpose of the legislation.”He said: “The sheer number of voters postulates a large number of defaulters. Processing such numbers may overwhelm the election officer concerned. Secondly, elections have been about the voter making his or her choice known. Not to participate is as much a choice as turning up to vote. Regimenting the voter to turn up at the voting booth smacks of illiberalism.”As in Gujarat, the move to make voting compulsory had become controversial in Karnataka after governor Vajubhai R Vala returned an enabling bill twice after it was passed by the assembly. Vala said it violated freedom of expression. Patil then managed to convince the governor by citing the example of Gujarat and countries where compulsory voting has been a success. Voting is compulsory in 31 countries, such as Argentina and Australia, which usually record 97-98% polling. A dozen countries impose fine on voters who fail to turn up, officials said.
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