Akriti Anand

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: The NOTA option is under the scrutiny after a BJP candidate was elected unopposed in the Surat Lok Sabha constituency and a Congress candidate withdrew his nomination at the last minute and joined the BJP in Indore.

NOTA – short for 'None of The Above' – is a much-debated option available to voters during elections. Those who support the idea of NOTA say it at least helps one to exercise his/her right to vote when they don't wish to vote for any candidate. Those against it call it a "waste" of vote.

The NOTA option is under the scrutiny after a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate was elected unopposed in the Surat Lok Sabha constituency and Congress candidate Akshay Kanti Bam withdrew his nomination at the last minute and joined the BJP in Indore.

So what is this NOTA, why was it implemented and what are the arguments in favour and against it? Here's all you need to know about NOTA:

What is this NOTA?

The Election Commission of India introduced the option of NOTA or 'None of The Above' on ballot paper and electronic voting machines (EVMs) in 2013. Since then, voters have been given the option of choosing NOTA in case they don't prefer to vote for any of the candidates contesting any elections in the country.

The NOTA symbol appears in the panel on all EVMs and other ballot papers.

NOTA was introduced in September 2013 after a Supreme Court order that year directed the Election Commission "to provide necessary provision in ballot papers/EVMs, and another button called “None of the Above" (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs".

Who designed the NOTA symbol?

The NOTA symbol was designed by the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad.

What's the objective of NOTA?

The Elections Commission said the main objective of the NOTA option is to enable "electors, who do not wish to vote for any candidate, to exercise their right not to vote for any candidate without violating the secrecy of their decision".

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had noted in its 2013 verdict that the "right to vote also includes a right not to vote, i.e. right to reject".

It said the NOTA option was provided "so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote, while maintaining their right of secrecy – Representation of the People Act, 1951 – ss. 79(d) and 128 – Constitution of India, 1950 – Art.19(1)(a)."

What happens when NOTA get the maximum votes?

As per the existing law, there is no legal consequence if NOTA gets the majority of the votes. In such a situation, the next candidate will be declared as the winner, Live Law reported.

What are the arguments in favour of NOTA?

The idea of NOTA primarily relates to the importance of a voter’s participation in a democracy – to choose not to vote for any candidate and express dissent/disapproval against the contesting candidates.

This option may also help in reducing bogus voting. Moreover, the need to introduce NOTA was felt to discourage the parties from fielding tainted candidates.

The Association for Democratic Reforms, an apolitical NGO, explained the importance of NOTA in a few points.

The ADR first argued that introducing a NOTA button can increase public participation in an electoral process. In its second point, it said the NOTA option provides a voter "the right to express his/her disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties".

"When the political parties will realise that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval of the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity," the ADR said.

In its third point, the ADR highlighted "the dire need for negative voting" to sustain democracy in a country. It is believed that choosing the NOTA option will "compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate".

What are the arguments against NOTA?

Many experts have questioned the implementation of NOTA in the electoral process, claiming that the purpose for which the option was introduced was not fulfilled. They called NOTA a "toothless tiger" with no implications on the results.

One of the main reasons is that if, in elections, NOTA gets 99 votes out of 100 votes and a candidate gets one vote, even then the candidate will be declared the winner.

Major General (Retd) Anil Verma, Head of the ADR, told news PTI that NOTA should be made legally powerful. He said the concept of NOTA was that some pressure would be on the parties not to field tainted candidates. However, this has not happened.

"NOTA has made no difference as far as criminality is concerned; in fact, the number of candidates with criminal cases has increased," the head of ADR said.

"Unfortunately, it turned out to be a toothless tiger," Maj Gen Verma (Retd) added, saying that this option merely provided a platform to express dissent or one's anger for political parties to take note and nothing more.

He, however, noted that in the reserved constituencies, the percentage of NOTA votes has been higher. "Perhaps the tribals and SCs have more grievances so they go in larger numbers for NOTA," he was quoted as saying.

What can be done to make NOTA effective?

Former Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said NOTA could be effective only if it gets more than 50 percent votes in a seat.

"More than 50 percent of electors will have to once opt for NOTA in a seat to show the political community that they do not consider candidates with criminal backgrounds or other undeserving ones worthy of their votes. Only after this, pressure on Parliament and the Election Commission will increase and they will have to think about changing laws to make NOTA effective on the election results," OP Rawat told PTI.

Meanwhile, a plea recently was filed in the Supreme Court that sought a direction that an election must be declared as "null and void" if maximum votes from the constituency are polled for "None of The Above" (NOTA) and a fresh election should be held for the constituency.

Weighing in on the issue further, Axis India chairman Pradeep Gupta said he believes that candidates who have lost against NOTA should not get a chance to contest again. "...if a rule is brought in barring the rejected candidates from contesting again, I believe the number will go up like anything," he told PTI.

"...Since there is no such rule, many voters think what is the point of choosing NOTA," Gupta said.

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