October 23, 2022
CPI(M) Demands Scrapping of Unconstitutional MoUs

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, has written a letter to the chief election commissioner, Election Commission of India, on October 19, 2022, demanding scrapping of MoUs signed by Gujarat Election Commissioner with industrial units to monitor electoral participation of the workforce. Below we publish the text of the letter.

THIS is to draw you attention to the extremely shocking news report (Indian Express, October 19, 2022) that "for the first time, over 1,000 corporate houses in Gujarat have signed agreements with the Election Commission (EC), undertaking to monitor 'electoral participation of their workforce' and publish the names of those who don’t vote on their websites or office notice boards...The MoUs have been signed with individual units as well as industry bodies, and the attempt to get more on board will continue till polling day. Assembly elections are due in the state later this year". 

We strongly feel that this is nothing short of being outrageous. The EC has claimed that it is an attempt to address voter apathy, but the fact is that the move to name and shame those who do not vote is a coercive step towards compulsory voting. The report actually quotes Gujarat chief electoral officer –“We have signed 233 MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) that will help us enforce the guidelines of the Election Commission. For the first time in Gujarat, we will be monitoring the electoral participation of the workforce belonging to 1,017 industrial units.”

It is unfortunate that we have to remind you that right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 326.

Let us also remind you that in dealing with the mandatory voting right, the Supreme Court had asked the centre to file a response. Response filed in 2015 by the union minister for law and justice had stated that if a regime of compulsory voting is introduced, it could result in the creation of an undemocratic environment in the country. The union government also contended that right to vote also included the right to not to vote. In its submission, the union government had also quoted the Law Commission report on electoral reforms stating that the commission had noted that the right to vote cannot be imposed as a fundamental duty.

The current move by the EC of involving corporates in enforcing the right to vote as a fundamental duty is outright unconstitutional. Apart from this it further involves the corporates in the conduct of the elections in an already controversial background of anonymous corporate funding through electoral bonds. Further, in the current EVM machine counting process the earlier practice of mixing the ballot papers no longer exists in practice. EVM counting gives transparently the counting pattern of each booth. This makes the workers being verified by this process of corporate supervision very vulnerable to intimidation and vindictive action. This makes a mockery of the secret ballot.

We would, therefore, urge the Election Commission to set all controversy to rest by scrapping this reported move.