NOTA gives us an option to show dissent in a better way than by blocking public roads, pelting stones and bringing a city to its knees.
Background of NOTA
The Supreme Court of India gave a milestone judgment to include the option of ‘None Of the Above’ (NOTA), in the EVM’s in 2013. This permits the electorates to disregard a contesting candidate. The rationale behind enforcing it was that it will persuade voters to turn out in a grander ratio. Political parties will be coerced to choose candidates with an impeccable background. The magnitude of this whole process is a much cleaner political future for India. 1.1% of Indian voters explored the newly introduced option of NOTA in the 2014 General Election.
This landmark pronouncement was made when a writ petition was filed by the ‘People’s Union For Civil Liberties’ (PUCL), under Article 32. Though ‘Right to vote’ is a constitutional right but Sec 79 of Representation of People Act is disregarded if Right not to vote is denied. Hence the Court apprehended that this petition was justifiable. The court endorsed that the option of NOTA pursued by the petitioners is same as ‘Abstain’ option provided in the Parliament’s voting machine.
CJ P Sathasivam, head of the Three-Judge Bench, solidly stated, “Eventually, voters’ participation explains the strength of democracy. Lesser voter participation is a rejection of commitment to democracy slowly but definitely, whereas larger participation is better for democracy. But there is no yardstick to determine what the correct and right voter participation is. If introducing the NOTA button can increase participation of democracy then, in our cogent view, nothing should stop the same.” The court further emphasized, “When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates… 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.”
Being absent from voting is same as voting for an undesirable candidate. The motivating dynamism behind the verdict of the Supreme Court in PUCL vs. UOI was the belief that now political parties will field, not only, competent and eligible candidates but with spotless background. It will also encourage people to vote in larger number.
Encouraging Effect Of NOTA
It gives a chance to the common man to refuse to vote for a contestant, who he feels, is not proficient enough to manage his constituency, when he puts his finger on the option of None Of The Above. If the person is not exercising his/her Right to Vote because the candidate is not good enough, NOTA presents an option to show your disagreement. It gives food for thought to the contesting parties about their nominees. The essence of democracy is to elect a person who is believed suitable to run the electorate. It’s an incentive for the first time voters to express their view, even if they opt for NOTA, it is certainly a major stride where the choice of individuals will create transformation in the direction of an effervescent and strong democracy.
Maybe a few years later, one could see a valuable change in contestants fielded by political parties in elections. It will also force parties to ponder over the concerns of the voters.
Adverse Impact of NOTA
NOTA was included, in the context of India, not only to disgrace the candidates but to debar them and to hold a fresh election. It was made clear by the Supreme Court of India that if maximum votes are recorded in favour of NOTA, then the candidate with next maximum number of votes will be considered a winner. Re-election will not be conducted. Therefore this cannot be regarded as a solution for the issues faced by the largest democracy of the word. We lack in effective implementation. Candidate in a constituency is not declared defeated or excluded if more number of votes are gained by NOTA.
For example, if NOTA gets 99% votes and the contestant X gets 1%, he will be declared the winner as he is the next highest vote recipient. Rest votes will be labelled as void. It is like you go to a restaurant and don’t like anything from their menu. When you ask something to be prepared specially for you, the waiter, politely, shows you to the door.
The essential purpose of the option of NOTA gets dismissed because of this provision. In the current state of affairs of NOTA millions of ballots are ‘wasted’ and not mirrored in polling results. It registers voter’s displeasure but does nothing to address the challenges.
If NOTA holds a significant number of votes then the consent of that electorate should be suspended and the election should be conducted again. The Election Commission of Maharashtra was the first to comprehend the essence of the Supreme Court’s decision. It delivered a logical direction on June 13 saying, “If it is noticed while counting, that NOTA has received the highest number of valid votes, then the said election for that particular seat shall be countermanded and fresh elections shall be held for such post.”
This order was credible but it lacked that stern power court wanted for NOTA. It doesn’t stop the same contestant to contest again and the outcome could not be different.
Then the subsequent correction came from the Election Commission of Haryana. In its directive dated November 2nd, they specified that if, “all the contesting candidates individually receive lesser votes than… NOTA,” then not only would ‘none of the contesting candidates’ be declared as elected,” but “all such contesting candidates who secured fewer votes than NOTA shall not be eligible to re-file the nomination/contest the re-election.”
Both the SECs are within the realm of the Constitution and several Supreme Court judgments for passing such directions for explanations. They have the same powers as that of the Election Commission of India for polls that are conducted in their dominions. They have the complete command to pass orders in the areas of their jurisdiction where there is no explicit regulation until such lawmaking is endorsed by the Parliament or the State Assembly endorses. There is no precise legislation pertaining to NOTA.
The ECI and other SECs should follow the path shown by these two SECs. It will compel the narrow-minded political parties to propose sound nominees. It will also obligate them to admit to the will of the electorate, as the highest court anticipated.
A person who presses NOTA conveys that he made an effort to participate but parties failed him in convincing as a good option. Either they lacked in making good promises or failed to reach to the voter who preferred NOTA over them.
If the masses are not happy with the winners from the beginning of the term, winners are going to be very careful and hardworking if they want to win again. At the same time, the opposition will know to keep the pressure up. They will be aware of having a vast division of the general public whom they can convince to vote for them with their actions and promises while in opposition. This is the first step in this direction.