Role of NOTA in the 17th Lok Sabha Elections

The country is gearing up to participate in the 2019 General Elections and it is estimated that about 900 million people are eligible to vote under the universal adult franchise this time. The elections this year have reached a whole new level of excitement with the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan locking antlers in the fight to be the next ruling party of India. A lot lies in the hands of the voters, particularly the youth who constitute nearly 30% of the country. These are also the same pool of voters who are exposed to social media campaigning. The votes they cast play a significant role in the elections. Another interesting trend among the youth is their growing inclination to opt for NOTA. NOTA or “None of the Above” is an option provided by the Election Commission in the EVMs to the voters in India.

It came into existence after a 2013 Supreme Court Judgment where the Bench directed the Election Commission to make available such an option in light of every voter having the democratic right of choice to say no. The Court believed the “when the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity”. Since its introduction, NOTA has received a lot of campaigning. According to a study by The Hindu, nearly 5.5 lakh people voted NOTA during the 16th Lok Sabha election which is nearly 10,000 NOTA votes in each constituency. Very recently, a group of people from Noida and Greater Noida started a drive titled “No home, No Vote”.

They are pledging to go for NOTA in a move to show their dissatisfaction with the elected representatives who assured the buyers flats. However, Udupi Deputy Commissioner stated that campaigning for NOTA is also a form of violation of the election code of conduct. Instead, what is needed is sensitizing the voters and educating them about the voting system which includes the relevance and significance of NOTA. On the other hand, the RSS has begun campaigning against NOTA, going door-to-door and asking people to forget the existence of NOTA and to cast their votes instead for candidates. They believe that NOTA is an attempt to divert valuable votes and hence undemocratic.

The large number of NOTA supporters has posed a problem to political parties who are unable to garner easy majority with ease due to the loss of a large number of votes that have gone to NOTA. It is a merit to NOTA that it has brought out more citizens to participate in the democratic process rather than having them boycott the elections by not casting a vote. According to an article by The Hindu, NOTA votes were relatively higher in constituencies where the fight was mainly between the Congress and the BJP. This could possibly be because of people’s dissatisfaction with the two mainstream political parties and their need for a change or alternative. However, the problem with NOTA is that it does not provide for a “right to reject”. In spite of the number of NOTA votes being cast, the candidate with the maximum votes will win the election.

This relegated NOTA to being a mere symbol of dissent and rejection of the candidates and not an effective tool to ensure good candidates are being elected. The expected change in the quality of candidates as anticipated by the Supreme Court so far has not been realized. This brings us to the dilemma of the voters: of either picking the NOTA way or settling to vote for the lesser of the two evils. While many believe NOTA to be a weapon in the hands of a citizen, there is a large population that is convinced that going NOTA is akin to not participating in the elections at all. There is some truth in both stands. However, the vision that the Supreme Court saw for the object of NOTA cannot be fully realized until it is given teeth.

The State Election Commission of Haryana in a move to uphold the spirit of NOTA passed an order that stated that if the candidates contesting individually receive lesser votes than NOTA then they would not be elected and also made ineligible from contesting the re-election. Similarly in 2018, the Maharashtra State Election Commission announced that NOTA will be considered a “fictional electoral candidate” and of it garners the maximum number of votes then none of the candidates will be declared elected and fresh elections will be conducted. This, however, would not apply in the re-election and the candidate with the highest votes will be considered elected irrespective of the NOTA votes. This is a positive move in the direction where the true spirit of NOTA will be upheld and the voice of the people will be given due respect.

Picture Courtesy- Newslaundry

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