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Could NOTA be the fools’ prank this April?

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As we enter the month of April, we are cautious about the prank monsters all around us. It begins with the day of jokes and pranks, and an innocent little trick played on someone never harmed anybody else! Interestingly though, during school days, some children assumed all of April to be an opportunity to make people a fool and the pranking would often go on for the entire month.

While every April is innocuous, this one is slightly different. This one has a national Indian election coming up! While it is one thing for somebody else to fool us, what could only be worse is that we fool our ownselves. And the elections provide us a device to do exactly that – it is called NOTA!

NOTA, or None of The Above, is an option given by the Election Commission to voters as an alternative to choose if one doesn’t like any candidate in their constituency. On the face of it, it is a great tool to express our dissent towards all the candidates from our area and tell them that we don’t want any of them. But, what really happens when you choose NOTA?

Let us understand this by a hypothetical scenario. Imagine a constituency where there are only 2 candidates – A and B. Let us say 1,00,000 vote in this constituency out of which 99,999 choose NOTA. Only 1 voter chooses candidate A. What happens now? Ideally since 99.999% people don’t like either candidate, one would like to believe that the election would be scrapped and a new one would be held, right? Wrong! What will happen is that candidate A will win!

So, what about 99.999% votes who voted for NOTA? Well, they expressed their dissent! But, what about their choice? IT DOESN’T MATTER! By voting NOTA in the above scenario, what 99% people have done is making a choice to not make a choice, thus leaving the final choice in the hands of the single voter who chose candidate A. Thus, for all practical reasons, voting NOTA is very similar to not voting at all as it does not give you the right to reject. The only thing a NOTA voter can derive satisfaction out of is going to the booth and getting her finger inked. Thus, your power to elect a candidate has been effectively transferred to someone who will choose a candidate. Thus, by voting for NOTA, you can never choose a government or a prime minister of your liking!

At the same time, NOTA can have further unintended consequences. If we look at the state elections in 5 major states – MP, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat and Bihar, it is possible that a swing of 7 to 30 seats could have happened if the NOTA voters had voted for a candidate of their preference in place of opting for a practical “Not Voting”. This could mean that 3 state government could possibly have been altogether different!

For instance, in the state of MP, there was 0.1% difference in vote share of Congress and BJP while 1.5% votes went to NOTA. Had the people who voted for NOTA voted for a party of their choice, it could mean a possible swing in 22 seats in a state where BJP lost by a meagre 5 seats to Congress. Similarly, in Gujarat, almost 30 seats were decided by a winning margin less than votes secured by NOTA. Had the people who voted NOTA opted for Congress, it would have been a debacle for BJP and a total change in government.

Governments in multiple states could have been different had people voted for someone instead of NOTA

The only possible purpose that NOTA could serve is expressing your dissent – something which can be done much more effectively on social media these days on different politically active family and friends Whatsapp groups, or on Twitter. Elections are not about expressing dissent, but about choosing a government of your choice. Often, one may not find any government to be perfect, but then that situation calls for choosing the best option we have. It is better to choose the better of the options than to not choose at all and throw our power away to express dissent which is not practically valued at all!

If you end up voting NOTA and then feel upset of not getting a government of your choice, well you have no right to complain. For it is nobody else but you yourself who decided to throw your choice out of the window by voting for nobody at all. It will be nobody else who pranked you this April, but you yourself! The election season in April has just begun, so beware…

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