New Delhi: If you thought an additional button was the only change in the voting in Delhi, think again. On, September 27, 2013, when the Supreme Court of India ruled in favor of citizens exercising their fundamental democratic right to register a “None of the Above” or “NOTA” vote in elections, India joined a select group of 12 nations including France, Brazil and Spain. This sent rumor mills into overdrive, with each half-baked political news reader questioning the impact, if at all any, this would have on upcoming elections.
The Delhi elections, which are to be held on December 4, 2013, have been the breeding ground for all sorts of speculative politics. With the results of the ABP News-Nielsen survey, conducted from October 9 to 12, the predicted winner is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which will win an estimated 28 seats. The 15 year bastion of the Congress will be lost with the party only garnering a probable 22 seats. The biggest surprise is the inroads made the AAP, which has emerged king-maker with a projected 18 seats.
The reaction of the political parties to the inclusion of the NOTA was not hard to gauge, keeping the newly released data in mind. Dr. Sambit Patra, spokesperson for the Delhi BJP said, “The inclusion of the NOTA is a welcome act. After a long time, something positive has been added to the electoral purview.” The AAP, which has eaten into both the Congress and BJP vote share, was also of the same view. Ashwini Muralitharan, Media cell coordinator of the AAP, said, “We welcome the NOTA and the Supreme Court has once again given a good judgment.” Meem Afzal, spokesperson for the Congress, said, “Earlier, a similar option was included but people were not interested in filling out a long form to express the same view. As a NOTA form, it has become secret ballot, but it is nothing new.”
Two primary factors are implicit in the inclusion of the NOTA in future elections.
Firstly, this would lead to an increased participation in the percentage of voting citizens, a fact which the Supreme Court pointed out as well.
Secondly, large amount of NOTA votes would hypothetically serve as an ideological reminder to the political parties to field sound candidates.
People’s reaction to NOTA and its immediate electoral impact varied. Retired Brig. NK Sharma, 85, a resident of Som Vihar, Central Delhi, said, “After a long time in India’s voting history, we can see changes in the electoral reforms. The NOTA will definitely marshal a new era of voting as will be evident in the Delhi elections.” Amay Yadav, first year student at Faculty of Law, Delhi University, counterpoised, “The NOTA is a good first step, but it will not get instant results. It needs time to creep into the system, down to the grassroots. It has to get ingrained into people’s minds.”
The biggest problem with the NOTA is the outcome of the so-called “negative voting”. The votes recorded against this button will have the same fate as the ‘invalid’ votes of the ballot paper era and would have no role in determining the winner. The judgment is ground-breaking, as recognition of “negative voting” as a constitutional right is by all means a giant step forward for the voter. However, it will not have much of an impact on the actual election results since negative voting will only be recorded, not counted. Therefore, the button is not actually “negative” in nature at all.
Dr. Patra cited the same argument, “Until NOTA comes up as another counted option in itself, there is no point even if 60 percent of voters use this option. It will be an effective means provide people have the second option of ‘Right to Reject’ ”.
Nakul Varma, 20, a resident of Vasant Kunj, South Delhi, said, “The solution is to make people more aware. The NOTA is an easy way out. Instead, there should be an improvement and sharing of information of nominated candidates and their achievements. Tools like the conventional media coupled with the use of Facebook and Twitter will result in increased cognizance.”
Yadav also pointed out, “The presence of the NOTA will have a larger impact in states where there are two major parties like in Madhya Pradesh. In Delhi, there is a big alternative in the AAP. The NOTA is new and needs time to take effect, and the changes will take time to be visible and might not be so in the upcoming elections.”
Clearly, the NOTA in its current form is an ineffective tool to bring about any radical change in electoral reforms. However, for those people in a dilemma over vote choice in the upcoming elections, does the inclusion of NOTA mean that having no choice is still a question?