While disposing a petition pertaining to the visibility of a party’s symbol on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the Kerala High Court in a latest, learned, laudable and landmark judgment titled Twenty 20 Party vs The Election Commission Of India and 5 Others in WP(C) No. 8672 of 2021 (H) delivered as recently as on March 31, 2021, has emphasized upon the importance of being able to see the name, photograph and symbol with clarity. It is only then that the voter will be able to know that for whom they are voting and to which party he/she belongs which is indispensable also for the smooth functioning of a healthy democracy. If elections are not free and fair then how can our democracy be termed as “healthy and vibrant” and how can it ever run smoothly?
While underscoring the necessity for clear symbols/photographs in the election process, a Bench of Justice N Nagaresh remarked that, “It is important and essential that citizens, who are to cast vote, are able to see the name, photograph and symbol of all candidates with sufficient clarity. This is essential for any free and fair elections.” Who can deny or dispute this? The Court was hearing a petition by Twenty20 which is a registered unrecognized political party.
To start with, a Single Judge Bench of Justice N Nagaresh of Kerala High Court who delivered this brief, brilliant, blunt and balanced judgment sets the ball rolling by first and foremost pointing out in para 1 that, “The petitioner is a registered unrecognised political party under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The petitioner is before this Court aggrieved by the conduct of the respondents by which the name, photograph and symbol of the candidates of Twenty 20 Party is not clear and visible on the electronic voting machine in Kothamangalam, Thrikkakkara and Vypin Assembly Constituencies to the election scheduled to be conducted on 06.04.2021 to the Kerala Legislative Assembly.”
To say the least, the Bench then points out in para 2 that, “The petitioner would submit that every citizen has a valuable constitutional right to make a valid choice in the matter of election to the Legislative Assembly, after properly seeing and understanding the candidate, name and symbol.”
While spelling out the petitioner’s contention, the Bench then observes in para 3 that, “It is the contention of the petitioner that the respondents have not treated all candidates with equal importance. The petitioner therefore prayed that there be a direction to the respondents to ensure that the name, photograph and symbol of the candidates of Twenty 20 Party are clear, prominent and as visible as all other candidates on the electronic voting machine to the election to the Kerala Legislative Assembly to be held on 06.04.2021 in the constituencies of Kothamangalam, Thrikkakkara and Vypin.”
As we see, it is then stated in para 4 that, “The learned Standing Counsel for the 1st respondent stated that all efforts have been made for conduct of free and fair election to all the Assembly Constituencies in Kerala and any interference of this Court at this stage would affect the free flow of electoral process. The Hon’ble Apex Court has time and again held that the High Courts shall not pass any orders in exercise of the powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India which would cause obstruction to the free flow of electoral process.”
Furthermore, it is then stated in para 5 that, “The Standing Counsel for the 2nd respondent submitted that in Ext.P3 photograph of electronic voting machine, the photograph and symbol of the candidate belonging to the petitioner-Party are clearly visible. The sharpness of pictorial symbol may vary slightly depending upon the symbol. The petitioner has no reason to feel aggrieved.”
Going ahead, the Bench then states in para 6 that, “I have heard the learned counsel for the petitioner, learned Standing Counsel for the 1st respondent, the learned Standing Counsel appearing for the 2nd respondent and learned State Attorney appearing for the 3rd respondent.”
Needless to state, the Bench then goes on to add in para 7 that, “I have perused the pleadings in the writ petition. The election is scheduled to be held on 06.04.2021. Any direction that may be given to the respondents at this stage is likely to slow down the election process. The Ballot Papers for postal votes are already printed and postal votes are already polled. Materials including photographs, name and symbol of the candidates for EVM are also in place. Therefore, there is no question of giving any direction to the respondents to make any substitution at this stage.”
Finally and far most significantly, the Bench then stipulates in para 8 that, “However, it is important and essential that citizens, who are to caste vote, are able to see the name, photograph and symbol of all candidates with sufficient clarity. This is essential for any free and fair election. In the circumstances, the writ petition is disposed of directing the respondents to ensure that the name, photograph and symbol of the candidates belonging to the petitioner-Party are sufficiently clear so that voters can make an easy and informed choice.”
In conclusion, there is no valid reason as to why a voter should not be able to see the name, photograph and symbol with clarity. This is exactly what the Single Judge Bench of Justice N Nagaresh of Kerala High Court has very commendably pinpointed also in its cogent, convincing and composed judgment as we have already discussed in detail above. It must be implemented at the earliest not just in Kerala where it is bound to be implemented but also needs to be implemented in other remaining states also so that the people have an informed choice on whom to vote with full knowledge of the candidate which is an imperative also in the current context. It must be earnestly hoped that this is done in all the other states as well apart from Kerala as it will benefit the people at large and our democratic system as a whole!