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Business News/ Opinion / Is NOTA serving any purpose?

Is NOTA serving any purpose?

NOTA is not helping in serving the purpose of giving voters the right to reject all candidates

Photo: Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times Premium
Photo: Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times

One of the unique features of various phases of polling held so far for the 2014 Lok Sabha election is a high turnout. Almost all constituencies where polling has been completed have registered much higher turnout in 2014 compared with the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. It is important to note that urban constituencies, where turnout has been lower compared with rural constituencies, have seen a dramatic increase in voting turnout. The lower turnout in urban constituencies in the past has been associated with a general mood of dissatisfaction of urban voters with political parties and contesting candidates. It is generally believed that due to dissatisfaction and lack of good candidates, a large number of urban voters do not turn up at the polling station on election day.

In the current elections the quality of candidates may not have improved remarkably but the turnout has jumped drastically. Of the various explanations being offered for higher turnout, more so in urban constituencies, one explanation is the new option of choosing “none of the above (NOTA)" available to voters in case they do not like any of the candidates contesting elections in a particular constituency. Some believe this has motivated a section of voters, mainly urban, to turn up at the polling booth to cast their vote as they can effectively express their displeasure with the contesting candidates if they have any. But those who believe so seem a little mistaken. It is highly unlikely that voters would have come to the polling station with the sole motive of expressing their anger against the existing political system or expressing their dissatisfaction against all the contesting candidates.

While we would get to know in more detail how many voters opted for NOTA during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and in which constituencies, analysis of results of the assembly elections held in four states last year gives enough indication that votes polled in favour of NOTA do not mean a categorical rejection of all candidates by well-informed voters. It is more akin to wasted votes, equivalent to what used to be the rejected votes when people voted on paper ballot. One would recall when paper ballot was used, at the time of counting some votes were rejected or discarded for various reasons—stamped at more than one symbol, stamp unclear, blank ballot, etc. Ever since the electronic voting machines were introduced, there has hardly been any invalid vote. It seems NOTA has only helped to bring back invalid votes.

There is a strong relationship between vote for NOTA and level of urbanity. Analysis of NOTA votes in different constituencies suggests rural voters have opted more for NOTA compared with urban voters. Of the 630 assembly constituencies where elections were held last November (Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh), there were 401 assembly constituencies where vote for NOTA was less than 2%, and these constituencies had more than 45% urban voters. In another 194 assembly constituencies where less than 20% voters were urban voters, NOTA votes were between 2% to 4%.

In another 32 assembly constituencies, NOTA votes were in the range of 4.1% to 8% and these constituencies were largely rural, with only about 5-6% urban voters. The three assembly constituencies in Chhattisgarh where NOTA votes were more than 8%, the voters were almost entirely rural (95%).

On another parameter, in 401 assembly constituencies where NOTA votes were below 2%, about 70% voters were literate (only 30% illiterate voters), while in 194 assembly constituencies where NOTA votes were between 2% to 4%, 60% voters were literate. In another 32 assembly constituencies where NOTA votes were between 4% to 8%, only 52% voters were literate (48% illiterate voters), while in another three assembly constituencies where NOTA votes were the highest (more than 8%) only 30% voters were literate.

While it is true that it is hard to assume that all those who opted for NOTA in such constituencies were illiterate, two indicators—the urban population and the literate population—give enough indication that these NOTA votes are not a specific rejection of the candidates by urban voters dejected with the current scenario of Indian elections. These NOTA votes are more in nature of mistakes made by the voters due to low awareness.

There is hardly any evidence to suggest that the rural illiterate voters have opted for NOTA with careful consideration much more than urban educated voters. There are reasons for the Election Commission to worry about this. NOTA is hardly helping in serving the purpose for which it was introduced, giving voters the right to reject in case they dislike all the candidates. It is unlikely that rural, illiterate voters are evaluating the merit of the candidate much more than the urban educated voters.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

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Published: 24 Apr 2014, 06:16 PM IST
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