Counting for Maharashtra elections on Thursday threw up an interesting trend in at least two assembly constituencies where NOTA or None Of The Above was the runner-up. The trend, considered to be the first-ever, could well be a landmark of sorts as it could pave way for the voting option to become more powerful than other poll candidates.

In Latur Rural where Dhiraj Vilasrao Deshmukh of Congress polled 1,35,006 votes (67.64%), NOTA garnered 27500 votes (13.87%) the second highest in the constituency. There were a total of 15 candidates in fray, excluding NOTA, out of 11 polled less than 1500 votes.

The script was replayed in another constituency of the state — Palus-Kadegaon. Kadam Vishwajeet Patangrao of Congress polled 1,71,497 votes (83.04%) in this constituency and a distant second was NOTA with 20,631 votes (9.99%). Out of the 9 candidates, other than NOTA, in the fray, 6 polled less than 1000 votes.

Interestingly, in terms of statistics, a quick analysis shows that the winning candidates in both the seats polled well over two-thirds of the votes in their respective constituencies and the closest rival candidate (other than NOTA) polled less than 7% votes, indicating that voters felt there was a lack of strong challenger to candidates who eventually won.

“I will not make any major conclusion but this is what we expected all along that it will take about two election cycles for NOTA to be fully operative. These trends just show that we are in a process where one day the NOTA option could poll maximum number of votes and then it would be interesting to see how the Election Commission (EC) takes it forward," said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of the New Delhi based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

NOTA is a tool to gauge voter behaviour which allows them to not chose any candidate in fray and expressing dissatisfaction over the choices available. It does not guarantee dismissal of a winning candidate. This in effect means that even if NOTA gets maximum number of votes in a seat, the candidate which wins second maximum number of votes will be declared a winner.

Chhokar's reference to 'two election cycles' is in context of the history of NOTA in India. In line with an order passed by Supreme Court, the EC introduced NOTA for the first time in 2013 assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram. Since then the option of NOTA has been provided for in two general elections – 2014 and 2019. For Maharashtra, NOTA was available in assembly elections for the second time now.