If you do not approve of the candidates, cast a protest vote

The refrain was heard often enough in the last few days. MiD DAY's Samarth Moray went to do just that, but returned home disappointed

In the run-up to the BMC election, I was well aware of the options of aspirants contesting in my ward. And I had decided whom my vote would go to -- nobody. Mine was going to be a protest vote.

With this resolve, I went to cast my ballot. A little before noon, I reached my designated booth in Ward 96, Mount Mary, Bandra. Before entering, I informed an election official that I wanted to cast a protest vote.

To my amazement, he told me that there would be a separate button for that on the EVM. It was surprising because I knew this to be untrue. My parents had voted earlier in the morning and told me there were only three buttons: each for the respective runners of the MNS, the Congress and the BJP.

Prior to the D-Day, I had attended a local meet-your-candidate session, and was not at all impressed with any of the nominees from my ward, which has been reserved for OBC women. Some party workers passively informed me that it was difficult to find good women candidates belonging to a backward caste in an upscale ward like mine.

What options was I left with? Unable to make up my mind about whom I should vote for up until last morning, I decided to cast a protest vote.

And here I was, inside the polling room now, to mark my remonstrance. I repeated my request to cast a protest vote to the official signing me in. Sheepishly, and misleadingly, he told me that the system for protest voting had not been implemented in this election, and would be available for the upcoming Assembly polls. Then, he dispensed some sterling advice to me, "If you didn't want to vote, you shouldn't have shown up."

I asked whether I could enter the booth and not press any button. He said, "But you are already signed in. And if the number of signatures does not tally with the number of votes we have registered, it will create a problem for us. So please vote for any of the available candidates."

At the moment, it did not strike me to ask for Form 49-O, which a protest voter can fill to voice his discontent. Remarkably, it did not strike the officer either, who had been so forthcoming with advice earlier. 

So I went in, feeling cheated, stripped of choices in this electoral democratic process, and simply voted for a candidate at a venture. I was pretty sure we would lose, but then, I shouldn't have turned up any way, right?

Several others at polling booths had a less-than-perfect experience with the protest vote. Some had to wait for an hour so they could be the ones who 'refused to vote', while others said poll officials did not know anything of the sort existed. We relate their experiences.

I asked the election officials for a Form 17 but the officials knew nothing about it. As it is, we are disheartened with the way things are in the city, and when we want to register our protest, we are denied that.
Meena Dandekar,Mount Mary resident 

People have been calling in all day asking the procedure for protest vote, as well as complaining that they weren't allowed to cast one. Many voted for any random candidate
James John, from NGO AGNI, the first one in his area to cast a protest vote

When I asked about the protest vote option, the officers looked clueless. They went on about how I had to vote, that there was no way out. So I randomly hit a button
Rohan Moolya,Khar resident

At first they were quite reluctant to help me, and told me that I shouldn't have come to vote if I did not want to. But after 15 minutes or so, they accepted my request.
Saduq Rizvi, Carter Road resident

It was a difficult task but I told them I was not going to budge from my stand. They told me that I was wasting their time but I just did not want to vote for the corrupt candidates I know would win this time again from my area.
Sayed Roshan, Hill Road resident

Officials say

An electoral officer on duty in ward number 94
We have not been given any kind of forms and the protest vote under section 49-O is not applicable for this election. So we told people to vote for anyone as there were many other voters in queue.

Aseem Gupta, dditional Municipal Commissioner (in charge)
Till evening I was not told about any negative voting registered. There are A3 size papers of Form 17 made available at every polling booth in the city. I would check if there is any negative voting reported anywhere.

Subodh Kumar, BMC Commissioner
Adequate training was given to the electoral officers about the provisions of Form 17.

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