What Is NOTA?
NOTA is an acronym for None of the Above. It is the option of exercising a scratch vote or a mandate against all the candidates in the running. The NOTA option was offered to the Indian voter after a Supreme Court verdict in 2013. The Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) of the country are programmed to register a NOTA vote in the state assembly and in the general elections in which these are used. A new symbol representing the NOTA option was introduced in 2015. Prior to the NOTA, the Indian electoral system allowed for negative voting in a separate registry under Section 49 (O). This, however, did not preserve the anonymity of the voter and was discontinued. A number of other countries also allow for NOTA votes.
NOTA IN Gujarat & Himachal
The recent Gujarat state legislative assembly elections held earlier this month witnessed the second highest use of NOTA since 2015. About 1.8 percent of the voters refused to pick one of the electoral candidates fielded by the parties. This means that some 5.5 lakh voters chose to cast their mandate but decided that none of the candidates were worth electing. According to news reports, in at least 100 of the 182 constituencies over 3000 NOTA votes were recorded and in at least 16 constituencies over 5000 NOTA entries were registered. NOTA seem to have determined the victory of candidates in about 30 constituencies of Gujarat. This is about a sixth of all the constituencies that went to polls – a rather high number. 6,461 NOTA entries were registered from the constituency of Danta 6,155 NOTA votes were cast from Jetpur.
In the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, also held this month, some 34,232 voters (about 0.9 percent of votes cast) chose the NOTA option.
NOTA in Previous Legislative Assembly Polls
The highest recorded NOTA entries were registered in the 2015 Bihar state legislative assembly polls. 2.48 percent of the votes cast were NOTA entries. Some 37 million voters had cast their mandate in these state polls. Later in 2016, about 8 lakh voters (1.67 percent of total votes cast) were NOTA entries. In 2016, 54 million voters (1.53 percent of votes cast) were NOTA votes and Tamil Nadu returned 1.3 percent NOTA entries in the state legislative assembly elections last year.
In the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, NOTA accounted for 1.1 percent of the votes polled adding up to some 6,000,000 votes.
Is NOTA Self Defeating?
The idea behind the introduction of the NOTA was to encourage more people to come out and vote. Earlier on when the average voter was dissatisfied with the candidates put forth by the parties contesting the polls, he or she would not go out to vote. The Supreme Court said that the introduction of NOTA would encourage the political parties to project clean and popular candidates. It is the equivalent of “abstinence from voting” exercised by MPs in the parliament.
The NOTA as a part of our electoral process, however, becomes self-defeating. It is considered the same as an invalid vote by the counting authorities (according to Election Commission guidelines). This means that in spite of all the NOTA votes in a constituency, only the candidate with the maximum number of votes is elected. This also means that if some day all the voters except a handful select NOTA, despite being in the majority, their mandate will be disregarded in favour of the candidate who gains maximum votes (from among the few who picked a candidate). This in turn takes away the incentive of the political parties to put forth a well-considered representative.
Need For A Third Front
The one fact that clearly emerges from the analysis of the use of NOTA is the fact that the country is in need for better candidates from the existing parties. The strong but silent need for a strong third front can also not be ignored. The Congress and the history of scams during its administration led to the voters of India overwhelmingly electing BJP to the centre in 2014. The popularity of the BJP has been on the wane, though. Though the party has managed to win a number of state elections since 2014, the recent elections in Gujarat are proof that the party no longer holds sway like it did. The increase in use of the NOTA only indicates that India is ready for the emergence of a committed and motivated third front that will uphold the true spirit of democracy.