NOTA was introduced in India following the 2013 Supreme Court directive in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India judgement. Thus, India became the 14th country to institute negative voting. However, NOTA in India does not provide a ‘right to reject’. The candidate with the maximum votes wins the election irrespective of the number of NOTA votes polled.
The NOTA or “None of the above” option appeared to have outperformed several political parties, including the AAP and Samajwadi Party, which contested the assembly polls in the five states. The 2016 Assembly elections and now in 2019, we have seen active canvassing for NOTA, which allows voters to express their dissent against all the contestants. A quick analysis of NOTA usage in all elections so far does suggest some interesting early pointers. First, reserved constituencies have seen a relatively larger number of NOTA votes, which points to the continued social prejudice against political reservation for SC/STs. It clearly shows that a small number of Indian voters have come to see NOTA as an instrument of protest. NOTA has been a real option for many — more than independents and also-ran parties.
In its 2013 decision, the Supreme Court agreed: Democracy is all about choice. This choice can be better expressed by giving the voters an opportunity to verbalise themselves unreservedly and by imposing least restrictions on their ability to make such a choice. By providing the NOTA button in the Electronic Voting Machines, it will accelerate the effective political participation in the present state of the democratic system and the voters, in fact, will be empowered.
It is clear that despite popular vote, the NOTA option has made the contest difficult for the BJP. This is something all the political parties must take note of. NOTA is very useful for voters to show their resentment. But it should be effective in the sense of rejection of the candidate, the candidate must have to change if NOTA voters are greater than actual votes polled in that constituency.
The vote percentage of NOTA embarks some sparking facts. The high share of NOTA in those constituencies which have seen a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP shows that people still believe in the national party rather for casting vote for the regional parties which can be seen as awareness of public considering the wider sight.
There must be awareness among the public to use the option and the power of NOTA should be used to cause some alarm in the political parties but at present, it is a useless option. It is political idealism, it is ‘taking back the moral space in politics’.
The NOTA voters reveal the fact that the people not who just stayed home with the lazy excuse saying they don’t believe in the democracy of money, muscle power, and mesmerising demagoguery. They stepped out of their homes, stood in long queues, got themselves inked and voted to register their protest. This is an active, aggressive rejection of the politics-as-usual. The NOTA voters believe in sending a gradual, personal warning to the system to clean up.
Apart from India, Bangladesh, Spain, Columbia, Greece and Ukraine have the same form of NOTA options available for voters. Both Pakistan and Russia have in recent years removed this option.
Party leaders claim that although NOTA does not have any impact on the election results, a high number of NOTA votes will certainly reflect the general disillusionment of the people towards politics in general, which is not good for democracy. Votes cast for NOTA are counted and reported separately but do not affect the outcome of the election. Thus, NOTA is quite literally a protest option. NOTA allows uninformed voters to participate without adversely accepting the election result, particularly under compulsory voting.
NOTA is an explicit option on the voting machine, and this makes it fundamentally different from simply casting an invalid vote as can be done in many countries. More awareness about NOTA should be created so that it would be an alarming signal for the looting politicians.
Vinod C. Dixit