A right to elect neither a fundamental right nor a common law right, is pure and simple a statutory right

In Jyoti Basu v. Debi Ghosal [1982] 3 SCR 318 this Court again pointed out in no uncertain terms that:

8 “a right to elect, fundamental though it is to democracy, is, anomalously enough, neither a fundamental right nor a common law right. It is pure and simple a statutory right.”
With great reverence to the eminent Judges, I would like to clarify that the right to vote, if not a fundamental right, is certainly a constitutional right. The right originates from the Constitution and in accordance with the constitutional mandate contained in Article 326, the right has been shaped by the statute, namely, R.P. act. That, in my understanding, is the correct legal position as regards the nature of the right to vote in elections to the House of the People and Legislative Assemblies. It is not very accurate to describe it as a statutory right, pure and simple. Even with this clarification, the argument of the learned Solicitor General that the right to vote not being a fundamental right, the information which at best facilitates meaningful exercise of that right cannot be read as an integral part of any fundamental right, remains to be squarely met….” Similarly, in para 123, point No. 2 Reddi, J., held as under:-
“(2) The right to vote at the elections to the House of the People or Legislative Assembly is a constitutional right but not merely a statutory right; freedom of voting as distinct from right to vote is a facet of the fundamental right enshrined in Article 19(1)(a). The casting of vote in favour of one or the other candidate marks the accomplishment of freedom of expression of the voter.” Except the above two paragraphs, this aspect has nowhere been discussed or elaborated wherein all the three Judges, in their separate but concurring judgments, have taken the pains to specifically distinguish between right to vote and freedom of voting as a species of freedom of expression. In succinct, the ratio of the judgment was that though the right to vote is a statutory right but the decision taken by a voter after verifying the credentials of the candidate either to vote or not is his right of expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

As a result, the judgments in Association for Democratic Reforms (supra) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra) have not disturbed the position that right to vote is a statutory right. Both the judgments have only added that the right to know the background of a candidate is a fundamental right of a voter so that he can take a rational decision of expressing himself while exercising the statutory right to vote. In People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra), Shah J., in para 78D, held as under:-
“…However, voters’ fundamental right to know the antecedents of a candidate is independent of statutory rights under the election law. A voter is first citizen of this country and apart from statutory rights, he is having fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution…” P. Venkatrama Reddi, J., in Para 97, held as under:-
“…Though the initial right cannot be placed on the pedestal of a fundamental right, but, at the stage when the voter goes to the polling booth and casts his vote, his freedom to express arises. The casting of vote in favour of one or the other candidate tantamounts to expression of his opinion and preference and that final stage in the exercise of voting right marks the accomplishment of freedom of expression of the voter. That is where Article 19(1)(a) is attracted.
Freedom of voting as distinct from right to vote is thus a species of freedom of expression and therefore carries with it the auxiliary and complementary rights such as right to secure information about the candidate which are conducive to the freedom…” Dharmadhikari, J., in para 127, held as under:-
“…This freedom of a citizen to participate and choose a candidate at an election is distinct from exercise of his right as a voter which is to be regulated by statutory law on the election like the RP Act…” In view of the above, Para 362 in Kuldip Nayar (supra) does not hold to the contrary, which reads as under:-
“We do not agree with the above submission. It is clear that a fine distinction was drawn between the right to vote and the freedom of voting as a species of freedom of expression, while reiterating the view in Jyoti Basu v. Debi Ghosal that a right to elect, fundamental though it is to democracy, is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right, but pure and simple, a statutory right”.