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NOTA

Candidates standing for elections canvass with their symbols and seek peoples mandate by asking to vote for a particular symbol – whether party symbol or symbols for independents. But, the Supreme Court in its judgement Peoples Union of Civil liberties vs union of India, 2013, directed the EC to provide NOTA (None Of The Above) button in all EVMs/ ballot papers etc. ( wikipedia). It made its first debut in elections hel in Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Delhi,etc. Across the elections , the number of NOTA polled way larger than winning margins in 261 assembly constituencies in 2013 ( NOTA and the Indian voter, published on February 28, 2017 the hindu.com). Many countries like UK, Canada and Greece and in Russia, it was abolished in 2006 ( wikipedia). Right to vote and right not to vote are supplemented with right to ‘ disapprove ‘ the candidates mentioned in ballot papers.

Scope

Introduction of NOTA in the voting system is a welcome development as it provides the voter with alternative choice. It is a form of expressing dissent on the present political system as well as candidates in the fray. In rural areas, people are forced to vote and this choice can serve a part of the purpose of expressing dislike. It has immense potential to curb tainted politicians and those candidates with criminal record to enter the fray as NOTA.

The votes polled for NOTA symbol can also indicate the extent of disapproval of parties and their policies. The votes may serve as a caution to governments and alert them against formulating anti- people policies and programs.

Limitations

At present, NOTA remains a toothless weapon. Even if the votes are more than any candidate, they will not be considered. The next highest votes polled candidate will be declared winner. Moreover, these votes are very ‘ vulnerable’ because no party protects these votes.

Reform

If NOTA is given more importance, it can add to strengthening electoral system. As the former EC S M Quraishi said, NOTA has just given the ‘ right to register a negative opinion’ ( October 3, 2013, indiatoday indiatoday.in). Hence, NOTA should be given more value to influence elections. A petition has been filed to declare elections if maximum NOTA votes are polled and right to reject recognised ( November22, 2017, www.livelaw.in). Peoples verdict should be honoured.
While civil liberties activists have achieved a lot by bringing NOTA into the electoral system, their struggle is by no means over. The option should not go invalid. These votes are expression of people who desire clean, corruption – less and honest politics. They desire good leadership. In 2014, close to 60 lakh voters chose NOTA ( May 17 , 2014, www.ndtv.com ). This indicates people are alert and awakening.

Rights activists must educate people of the nation, specially those in rural areas, to note the NoTA button and if they feel that no candidate is worthy electing, they can press the option.

NOTA has the potential to change political system if it is used properly and sufficient value is attached to the votes polled using this option
The Gujarat elections may have sizeable votes on NOTA option. It would be very interesting to analyse the effect on the outcome in many constituencies.

Sheshu Babu is a writer from anywhere and everywhere

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