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Nota Bene, Nota!

Nota Bene, Nota!

N. B. Or Nota Bene, a Latin phrase, means note well or mark well. A similar phenomenon has come into our electoral politics to warn our political aspirants and vote mongers to beware of the panic button.

NOTA is becoming a game changer, even a spoiler! This ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’ button on the EVM became a good warning shot in the recent Gujarat Assembly election. 1.8% voters preferred to press the NOTA button, thereby playing spoiler in 30 seats. The dreams of the hopefuls and near hopefuls went down the drain.

As voters, let us remember that, just as we have the constitutional right to exercise our vote for a particular candidate of our choice, we also have the equal constitutional right to register our negative vote by saying: I reject the listed candidates. Hurrah!

NOTA’s history goes back to California where in 1976 a Municipal Council passed a resolution to introduce NOTA. In 1978 the State of Nevada introduced it for the first time. In India in 2009 the Election Commission asked the Supreme Court to consider the matter favourably. The government opposed it due to its own political compulsions. The NGO, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), approached the Supreme Court with a PIL on the matter. On 27 th September 2013 the Apex Court gave the verdict in favour and ordered the Election Commission to make the needed adjustments on the EVM.

The Court wished the NOTA option would usher in a ‘systemic change’ by forcing political parties to put up clean candidates. The option is also meant to empower the voters to choose the option of rejecting all listed candidates if they consider them unworthy of their vote.

In India, the 2014 general election registered close to 60 lakh NOTA votes, according to reports. Territory-wise it varied. Puducherry and Meghalaya claimed 3% NOTA votes. While the Delhi assembly elections in 2015 NOTA noted 0.4%, Bihar assembly elections in the same year showed NOTA option of 2.4% voters.

The Tamil Nadu assembly election in 2016 showed that “the number of votes for NOTA exceeded the victory margin in 25 of the 232 seats, about 11%.”

According to analysts, the NOTA performance in Gujarat indicates that there is the possibility of room for a third party or front in the state. NOTA can be a potent weapon to send a message down the spine of such power aspirants whose past non-performance or criminal records speak volumes. It may not wipe away the possibility of one of the listed candidates winning the election. Sadly so! It goes to say that in a constituency if there are 100 voters and 99 of them register their NOTA votes, still the one who gets just one vote gets declared the winner. An anomaly that needs to be tackled sooner or later.

The Election Commission was well aware that when the ballot papers were used, people used to register their displeasure or anger by scribbling nasty remarks to the extent that some would scribble: sab chor hain (all are thieves). But, all those ballot votes were rejected as invalid votes.

NOTA makes a difference. NOTA votes are counted and registered as negative votes. It is an important consideration as the citizens’ right to express their preference to reject all listed candidates. In this way they are sending a clear message to political parties that Indian politics needs a good cleanup, given the criminal record of many shady characters as vote seekers.

It is also important to note that many elected representatives climb the stage through devious means or never visit even once their constituencies. Voters are well aware that, in many instances, the grant these elected representatives get as their quota for development works gets drained into their private chambers.

In the past there were many sincere citizens who preferred to abstain from voting. Now, in future, they will surely prefer to register their negative vote as part of sending a message. Will the different political parties take note of this NOTA. All parties across the spectrum need to give a hard look into their political kitchen to see how they cook up their candidates for election. The Court’s intention in allowing this provision was to send a clear message that those candidates with unclean, immoral or criminal records or are guilty of non-performance would be sent to limbo. The voters should not be taken for ride.

In fact, what we notice today is that money power and muscle power determine the course of politics by letting the corrupt and criminal elements to climb the ladder of politics. Many come to the political arena because their family is in the political business. So, in order that the family business may prosper, sons and daughters, nephews and nieces get enamoured of power and prestige. So are others from the commercial community or the unemployed vagabonds who take advantage of the so-called ignorance of the electorate or the weakness of our political system.

It will be more beneficial and democratic if, in the process of NOTA voting, if none of them gets more than the NOTA registered votes, all should be disqualified including the one who got the normal votes more than other candidates. That will be the real panic button which should send all the parties into introspection. So far NOTA is in its infancy. More is expected of it.

(Published on 01th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 01)