NOTA as a choice

In multiple-type questions, ‘None of the Above’ can be the correct answer sometimes. But in the context of elections, whether ‘None of the Above’ or NOTA can be a wise choice demands a serious debate. When some people, though insignificant in number, opt for NOTA, it does send a very clear and unmistakable message that they don’t think any of the candidates or political parties fit enough to represent them. With a considerable section of the society, particularly Meira Paibi activists, openly declaring their resolve to either stay away from the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, specifically Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency or press the NOTA button, the option NOTA, though inconsequential, is assuming greater significance. The resolve to stay away from the election process is primarily grounded on the argument that it is not the right time to hold elections in Manipur when the state has been literally burning for the past 11 months, hundreds killed and over 70,000 people rendered homeless.  At the same time, the same resolve can also mean that people no longer have any faith in any of the politicians. There may be other reasons behind the resolve to stay away from the ensuing elections. Comparatively, the resolve to press the NOTA button is grounded on certain obvious and unmistakable reasons. A large number of the electorates either don’t have any faith in their candidates or they are totally disappointed with their prospective representatives. Having said this, we are not undermining the process of election in a republic. In fact, the whole idea of republic or for that matter democracy hinges on election. To many electorates, elections are like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea or it is more about choosing a lesser evil. This was a reality until the idea of NOTA was introduced in the Indian electoral system.      
The specific symbol for NOTA, a ballot paper with a black cross across it, was first introduced on September 18, 2015. Since then it has been incorporated into Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Yet, NOTA still remains a symbolic option in the sense that any number of votes NOTA receives does not affect election results. Even if NOTA receives majority of votes, the candidate who gets the next highest votes would be declared elected. Even though NOTA does not change the final election results in any manner, it gives an option to express voters’ dissatisfaction and rejection. A voter who is disillusioned with all the contesting candidates gets a sense of gratification by opting for NOTA. Here some people may ask why should one go to polling booths and stand in long queues just to press the inconsequential NOTA button. It is this very question which merits serious introspection and debates. On the other hand, by sparing enough time and energy on the polling day to press the NOTA button, these voters are, in fact, questioning the merits of the contesting political parties and candidates. A bench of the Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam once remarked, “Negative voting will lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. If the right to vote is a statutory right, then the right to reject a candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under the Constitution.” Introduction of NOTA option is a significant chapter in the history of electoral reforms and it (NOTA) can also act as an agent of greater reforms as evident in the former Chief Justice of India’s remark.  If the citizens’ disillusionment lies in the system, the same system needs to be re-structured or overhauled. When a voter opts for NOTA, he/she is not choosing any candidate yet he/she is making a choice and sending a very clear message. No one, particularly political parties and candidates, should miss this message.