The ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option is a matter of contention when elections are discussed in India. NOTA is a provision where the voter may choose none of the given options in a ballot/electronic voting machine if they assess that none of the candidates for election meets their criteria as representatives of the people or none of the candidates has a policy that aligns with those of the voter. The voter is still casting his/her vote, but the vote does not count towards choosing a candidate. NOTA is now a provision that is backed by the Supreme Court of India since 2013, however, the Supreme Court disallowed NOTA option for the Rajya Sabha elections in 2018. The Rajya Sabha elections are held according to an indirect system of elections, unlike elections to the Lok Sabha and other lower houses of state legislatures in which voters cast their votes to choose their candidates in a direct manner. This ruling still means that voters in general elections will have the right to cast votes for NOTA. The common misunderstanding in India is that if the NOTA option receives the most number of votes in an election, the winning candidate is not dismissed. Therefore, the NOTA acts only as a system of negative feedback and cannot be used to justify re-election. The implications of NOTA for the upcoming 2019 General Elections will be discussed hereunder.
The issue of NOTA is certainly unsettling for the major political parties; however, it is not of very great concern. Political leaders fear that the NOTA would be a viable option that would eat away from their share of votes. The main reason why political parties are sceptical about the NOTA is not that it will mean that people are choosing a negative feedback mechanism, but because their vote share is being diminished. Thus, the NOTA has enabled the voters to provide negative feedback without having to choose for an alternate political party. However, the NOTA is not placed on equal standing with the choice of political parties because even if the majority of votes are cast for the NOTA option, there will be no re-election. Still, the candidate with the highest number of votes will be elected. This means that the political parties don’t fear NOTA insofar as it gives their opposing parties more votes but they fear it because it may diminish their own vote share.
The 2014 General Elections in India were a great spectacle because of the election campaigns and promises of all political parties. However, the main spectacle in this election was the rise of Narendra Modi and the BJP which formed a non- UPA, majority government. Given that BJP won 282 seats despite obtaining only 31.34% of the popular vote shows that a party need not win the majority of votes to win the majority of seats. Nonetheless, 59.97 lakh voters chose the NOTA option in the 2014 General Elections. However, this number represents only a minuscule 1.1% of the total number of votes cast. Consequently, an overwhelming majority of voters undeniably chose a political party or an independent candidate instead of choosing the NOTA.
This is a case in point to show that if voters are disenchanted with one political party they would probably choose another political party, instead of choosing to vote for the NOTA. This may also be the case in the 2019 General Elections. An incumbent politician may be able to retain his/her seat even if the developmental activities carried out in their respective constituencies have not met the expectations of the constituents in the last five years. This may be attributed to deep-rooted loyalty among the electorate who may prefer to retain their representative for various reasons such as favouritism or casteism. The politician may offer to resolve specific personal issues of constituents (such as, finding employment or granting scholarships etc.) in the constituency in return for votes. Caste-based politics are not new to Indian elections and politicians may leverage caste instead of development in their constituencies, with an intention of holding on to power. Thus, such loyal supporters of a party or a candidate may view the NOTA as just another option, among the various other parties/candidates, which they will not choose.
The question of the NOTA does not seem to bother most political commentators or political parties in India, given that the NOTA does not have the prerogative to recall an election or leave the seat vacant until a future time. It may be a proactive way in which an elector may choose to vote instead of abstaining from voting at all. The rankings of candidates with the most number of votes will remain unchanged even if the NOTA obtains the majority of votes, although such a situation is very unlikely. One concern remains, however, that an elector may choose to vote for the NOTA instead of a political party, thereby reducing the vote share of such parties. The 2019 General Elections will certainly be a magnificent display of Indian democracy. The question of whether the NOTA will follow past precedents or alter the electoral situation is to be seen.
(2014, May 17). Election Results 2014: Close to 60 Lakh Voters Chose 'None of The Above' This Time. NDTV. Retrieved from https://www.ndtv.com/elections-news/election-results-2014-close-to-60-lakh-voters-chose-none-of-the-above-this-time-562467
(2018, February 24). NOTA- The rejection or Just a negative opinion? The Election Hub. Retrieved from https://www.theelectionhub.com/featured/nota-the-rejection-or-just-a-negative-opinion/
(2018, October 28). Karnataka: Congress’ bigger worry is NOTA, BJP’s getting voters to booths. The New Indian Express. Retrieved from http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2018/oct/28/karnataka-congress-bigger-worry-is-nota-bjps-getting-voters-to-booths-1891056.html
Munshi S. (2018, October 18). Mohan Bhagwat Gives Voters Check-List for 2019 But Doesn't Want Them to Pick NOTA. News18. Retrieved from https://www.news18.com/news/politics/mohan-bhagwat-gives-voters-check-list-for-picking-right-party-in-2019-but-doesnt-want-you-to-pick-nota-1912793.html
Image credit: www.loksabhaindia.org
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