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2013 witnessed one of the most significant electoral reforms in India when the Supreme Court of India introduced the concept of NOTA (None of the Above) for the assembly elections held in 4 states, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and one Union Territory- Delhi. This reform saw a mixed reaction from people all over the country with some favouring it and others opposing it.

We look at the black, white and grey areas of the conundrum in respect to the Indian context.


Black

When we talk about the application of NOTA in Indian elections, the foremost disadvantage is that there is no provision for re-elections in case NOTA gets the majority of votes. The Supreme Court declined the PIL to re-hold elections in 2016 and 2017, stating that “election in our country is a serious and expensive business”. So, in an instance, when NOTA gets 85% of votes and candidate A gets the majority of the remaining 15% votes, candidate A is declared the winner. This defeats the entire purpose of presenting NOTA as an option since people’s dissent towards candidates is not taken into account. This disadvantage implies that in most cases, eligible voters do not vote since their choice of NOTA does not make a difference. Even if the Supreme Court allows re-election on account of NOTA, it is indeed debatable whether it is a justice to the honest candidates. Some people also prefer NOTA because they are not aware of the policies and manifestoes of the parties and prefer to stay on the safer side.


White

NOTA voices honest opinions of the people: that no candidate is eligible and capable to hold the position, and that they want new candidates to replace the previous ones. The number of people choosing NOTA has been increasing. It hints at the incompetence of the ruling individuals or sometimes, the unsatisfying reforms proposed by the candidates in their manifestoes. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections witnessed an average NOTA vote share of 1.06%, gathering nearly 65 lakh votes out of the total votes polled in the country. Rule 49(O) of The Conduct of Election Rules 1961 stated that if an elector’s roll number has been entered duly in Form 17A along with his signature or thumb impression and he decides not to register his vote, a remark shall be made against his name by the presiding officer. Many voters did not vote because of the fear of their identity being revealed and their privacy rights getting violated. The introduction of NOTA in the EVM machines have mitigated such fears in people’s minds, resulting in greater turnouts during elections. Also, negative voting gradually makes the political parties select “clean” people as their candidate out of fear of losing votes and has a significant change in polls. NOTA gives an opportunity to protect constitutional rights, rather than wasting a vote.


Grey

NOTA alone cannot solve the issue prevalent in electoral reforms. Surprisingly, we find that it creates more doubts. There has to be some reforms and improvements in NOTA to ensure the smooth functioning of the economy. There must be provision for re-election if NOTA gets more than 50% votes, even though it requires manpower, money and time since this shall be for the sake of democracy. In 2018, during the mayor elections in Makassar, Indonesia, NOTA received majority of votes and re-elections were announced. In India, Maharashtra and Haryana’s State Election Commission have passed an order stating there would be re-elections if NOTA gets a majority. The candidates against whom the NOTA is being passed should not be allowed to re-contest the elections. The Government needs to come up with an efficient system to provide negative votes so that re-election does not result in injustice towards the honest candidates. Since re-election involves money, the costs should be borne by the political parties. There are people who vote for only one party to show their loyalty, and this is where favouritism comes in. The campaigning, just before the elections should be banned and political awareness should be encouraged so that people form their opinion.

Thus, looking at the various aspects of NOTA, it becomes clear that in order so that NOTA becomes successful, the Government should come up with better reforms that would complement the imposition of NOTA.


By Vishal Agarwal

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