Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the 2019 general elections by a huge margin. BJP won 303 out of the 542 seats while the Congress party won only 52 seats. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 353 seats while the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) managed to get only 90 seats… All these facts are known to all and sundry. The media and the BJP have made sure that no Indian is unaware of the party’s electoral feat. In fact, everybody even knows about the dismal performance of other parties like the BSP, the SP, the Left, the TMC, and the AAP vis-à-vis the BJP. However, nobody seems to be talking about one candidate that stood there on the EVM machine quietly, hoping that people would choose it and express their disappointment with the political system. Yes, I am talking about the NOTA vote.
NOTA stands for ‘None of the Above’ and about one per cent people cast their ballot in favour of this candidate. One per cent may not be a big number in terms of percentage, but it becomes a big number in absolute terms, given that around 60 crore people voted in the just concluded general elections. As a matter of fact, the vote share of NOTA becomes even more significant in constituencies where the winning candidate won by a margin lesser than the total number of NOTA votes in that constituency. Uttar Pradesh’s Machhlishahr constituency is a case in point. The candidate who won from the constituency defeated his rival by a margin of merely 181 votes. And, the number of NOTA votes in the constituency was 10,830. Shocking and unrepresentative of the voters’ mandate!
So, why did NOTA not get the attention it deserved? Well, the reason is obvious. No party would invest time and money in telling the voters that such an option exists because this option could have gone against it. Fair enough! What about the Election Commission (EC)? Should it not have made the voters aware of such an option on a large-scale? Someone should have told the electorate that they had more power than they knew. Someone should have told the disillusioned voter that there exists some hope.
In this day and age of 24×7 news channels, media houses are always looking out for some news items. Then, why are they not discussing the NOTA votes post the results? Is this issue even lesser important than a Bollywood star’s gym looks? Why are the political parties not talking about it post the results? Even the small number of candidates and parties that are analysing the NOTA votes seem to think that the voter chose NOTA because s/he did not find a candidate worthy enough in the opposing party to vote against him/her. It is not being considered as a vote against his/her candidature, but a vote not in favour of him/her. How convenient!
NOTA is a very good concept that can help a voter who is disappointed with the current political system or candidates, do something to make a difference. S/He can express his/her disapproval of the existing candidates. However, this is where the catch lies. Not many people know that NOTA does not have any bearing on the vote counting. It is merely a feedback mechanism to register a voter’s disappointment. In India, NOTA does not lead to dismissal of a winning candidate even if NOTA received the highest number of votes.
Surprisingly, this fact was not known even to some of those people who voted for NOTA in the recent elections. Some people had the impression that if the NOTA vote gets majority, the candidates would get replaced and the elections would get conducted again. Sorry folks, as much ironical as it may sound, nothing like this would happen. In India, NOTA is merely an instrument to register your disenchantment with the political system. One would not be wrong to say that not going to vote is as good or bad as voting for NOTA. Think about it. The person who did not vote knows that his/her vote did not count. However, the person who made an effort to go out and vote thinks that s/he contributed in some way, but actually did not.
One can understand that implementing NOTA and the ensuing re-elections would not be as easy as it sounds in a country as large as India. However, if something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well.
The Election Commission can take steps now to make people aware of NOTA before the next elections. Steps can be taken to make it worth the vote and not keep it merely as an academic exercise. The EC can decide a minimum threshold for NOTA votes above which a re-election can be called for. Also, if a candidate gets an ‘x’ percentage of NOTA votes against him/her, some action can be taken like barring him/her from contesting elections for the next five years. If NOTA gets the highest votes, then also a re-election can be held. Of course, given the time and cost factors, there can be an upper limit to the number of re-elections. Also, the parties who lost to NOTA can bear the cost of re-elections. Come to think of it, the long-term costs of re-election would pale in comparison to the cost of electing a wrong candidate; thereby making NOTA worth an action.
NOTA is a powerful tool at the hands of the voter. Its introduction in the political system in 2013 was a gigantic and progressive step. However, a piecemeal approach would do it no good. It has to be implemented in its true form to bring results. The Election Commission needs to step up if it really wants to be representative of the voters. Next election is not far away, and there is always a scope for improvement.
As they say, bad people are sent to form the government by people who do not vote. Similarly, by not making the NOTA vote count, the non-representative people whom the electorate does not even want to vote for, are sent to form the government by the existing system. Not fair, is it?