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 NOTA – an unwarranted contestant in Elections

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Krishna Baalu Iyer
Krishna Baalu Iyer
Columnist, poet, Activist-Heritage lover, Ancient Indian History, Architecture Twitter @IndusSpirit

“What is not in practice cannot be held illegal and as much, what is in practice cannot be termed as legal either”.

In the recent assembly elections held in 4 states, the reports that are coming in reveal that NOTA could have played a spoilsport. It is a very expensive loss for those candidates who lost narrowly due to the high number of NOTA. I just quote an example, instead of providing full details of NOTA statistics.

In Telangana state, there was a massive increase of 47 per cent in NOTA votes to about 2.25 lakh, compared to the 2014 polls. A total of 2,24,709 voters pressed the NOTA option on EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines), rejecting all the candidates in their respective constituencies, as against 1.52 lakh in the 2014 elections. Nota accounted for 1.1 per cent of the around 2.05 crore votes cast in the December 7 elections (source: The Deccan Chronicle).

In the Amberpet Assembly in Telangana state, NOTA votes stood at 1,462, which is more than the 1,016 votes by which BJP candidate B. Kishan Reddy lost to Kaleru Venkatesham of the TRS.

Who are those like-minded group of voters who opt for NOTA instead of choosing the best candidate among the contestants? This is a very intriguing question. By any chance, if the Psephologists who conducted the Exit Polls had it recorded the background of each NOTA Voter and the reason why they opted NOTA, then it would certainly reveal the common frustration of those voters or if they are a large group of sympathisers of other major political parties?

To elaborate this let us take a hypothesis. A strong BJP fans group or AAP, where for some reasons the respective political parties did not field its candidates, then there is every likelihood, that such fans of BJP or AAP would have opted for NOTA. This is because of the fact, that such core supporters of BJP or AAP or any other major (non-BJP non-AAP) parties, would never vote for Congress, and in a similar way the other supporters of Congress or TRS would never vote for BJP or AAP but opt for NOTA in such similar situations.

So can the trend of supporters of any political party by opting NOTA as a revenge be justified?

When Pakistan rightly rejected the proposal to include the NOTA in ballot papers, India, unfortunately, acceded to this popular demand. But NOTA in many senses is illogical entry made into the Indian Ballot Papers or EVMs. However, since NOTA was implemented as per the directions of the Supreme Court of India, it has acquired legitimacy.

Legality of NOTA.

At the outset, inclusion of NOTA is in many ways violates the underlying concept of the very electoral process, as defined in the ‘The representation of the people Act 1951″

Throughout this act, its emphasis is on the ‘candidates’, meaning living human candidates only. In referendums or other polls, people vote for options, but in elections held under the Representation of People Act, people vote for human beings.

In a stricter sense, either a Ballot Paper or an EVM button should display only the contesting “Living human persons” and their respective party or Individual poll symbols as allotted by the Election Commission. The symbol of NOTA as placed at the end of the list of contesting candidates’, is an abstract image not capable of representing physically in the Parliament or in State Assemblies.

Secondly, Elections are intended to elect a candidate to represent the constituency either in the Parliament or State Legislative Assembly or to any other functional body. The NOTA option is at the most a chance to the Citizens to express their ‘displeasure’ of all the candidate’s listed supra in the Ballot paper or EVMs. This is highly inappropriate as the Citizens valued franchise will be wasted.

The other aspect of shortcoming in the NOTA option is, the voter is expected to verify the fitness of all the candidates listed in the EVMs or Ballot Papers before exercising his or her franchise. To Illustrate this situation, if we take a constitution where 20 candidates are seeking elections, the voter is at the outset should verify the credentials of all the 20 candidates in a gentle way from Sl no 1 to 20 after entering into the Voting Table, where the EVM is placed. After this glance, he or she is expected to decide to whom to vote? Is it practically feasible? Or are the voters going through this process strictly in all the constituencies? The fallacy is 90% voters will be aware of only a couple of candidates belonging to some major political parties or a popular Individual in the constituency. Beyond this, the rest of, say 15 to 16 candidates will be simply ignored without even glancing at them. This is what mostly happening throughout India.

The above situation is real and can be witnessed in almost all the polling booths. Then the EC or many others may argue that the EC on its respective state and regional websites providing the details of the candidates and hence people will not have any difficulty in doing some homework before they walk into the polling booths. This is highly absurd. It is an open secret how many aam aadmi voters have access to the Internet to get prepared themselves to opt for NOTA. It is a sure fact that 90% of educated elite too would not have bothered to study the list of candidates contesting elections in their respective constituency. Hence let us write off this argument with ease.

The next quandary involved in NOTA option is, the voter is expected to know the competency of each and every candidate listed in the EVMs to his or her satisfaction before he or she comes to a conclusion that all the 20 candidates are “unfit”. And surprisingly such a scanning of candidates by the voter is to be taken within a couple of minutes while staring at the EVMs But in reality and practice, one can say 99% of Voters who opt to press the NOTA button, will be rejecting the candidates who represent the major and popular political parties, but not the ‘rest’.

This will mean, the NOTA voters will be knowing nothing about the rest of the candidates say, 15 or 16 candidates. What if (among the 15 or 16 candidates) a promising and well educated upright Independent candidate also appear on the EVMs and yet he too gets rejected when the voter hurries to go to the NOTA button. It will amount to gross injustice to many upright candidates. The reality is, in the majority of the instances the voters are predetermined to opt for NOTA, well before walking into the polling booth.

The very concept of NOTA is defeated in as much as the majority of voters who opted to press NOTA button were not dejected about the ‘candidates’ and their fitness, but it turned out to be an expression of general frustration of elections and its associated corrupt practices which have been troubling such voters. It is clearly evident that the high NOTA vote percentage in the recent polls has only exhibited a referendum on the functioning of our Electoral Democracy in general. However, this has defeated our very promising Prime Minister Mr Modi who worked relentlessly at an average 16-18 hours a day for 4 and half years.

It is time India voters shun cynicism and avoid the costly mistake of re-electing the UPA which has proved itself in the past as the world’s the worst corrupt political ally ever ruled India.

It is also high time that the concerned citizens and Intellectuals approach the Supreme Court with a plea to relook into its earlier order where the Hon’ble Supreme Court had ordered the EC to incorporate the NOTA in all ballot papers and EVMs.

The votes polled to NOTA is virtually nothing beneficial to the democracy but a mere ‘scrap’ votes on par with the ‘Invalid votes’ that are rejected in counting.

NOTA in a way a clever scam, thrust upon this huge Democracy by Vested Interests, who always wish their enemies get defeated. The last Sri Lankan elections should serve as an eye-opener for Indians.

It is apt here to express our displeasure against many recent verdicts which were heavily tilted towards admiring and implementing many popular utopian and idealistic jargons rather than looking into its adaptability in line with the existing constitution and its rational attainment. The Parliament and Legislative Assemblies would have to face severe pragmatic challenges in implementing such ‘utopian’ rulings. It is high time our Judiciary confine to interpreting the laws in case of ambiguity, instead of passing judgments not in conformity with the basic principles of our Constitution.

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Krishna Baalu Iyer
Krishna Baalu Iyer
Columnist, poet, Activist-Heritage lover, Ancient Indian History, Architecture Twitter @IndusSpirit
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