NOTA and Option of Re-election
The Supreme Court’s directive to the Centre and the Election Commission (EC) to respond to a petition seeking to nullify an election result if NOTA (None of the above) gets more votes than any other candidate is a welcome move. Since the inclusion of the NOTA button in Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), demands have been raised from various quarters to consider it as a candidate. Their argument is that if it is not considered as a candidate then pressing the NOTA button has no impact on the election, a feat that can be achieved even by abstaining from voting. Moreover, NOTA was first introduced to ascertain the choice of the people in regard to the candidates fielded by various political parties and those contesting as independents. But, the present arrangement is not specific about the fate of the candidates if NOTA gets more votes than any of the candidates in the fray. If NOTA is considered a candidate, the political parties will be forced to select good candidates rather than impose their choice on the electorate. ‘Candidates for polls are chosen in a very undemocratic manner,’ observed the Public Interest Litigation (PIL). It further stated that candidates are virtually thrusted upon the electorate without consulting the electorate. Thus, on many occasions the electorate are left with no other option but to pick a candidate from those presented before them. The petition pleaded that in such a situation the contesting candidates should be considered as rejected and fresh elections be declared.
The demand for reforming the country’s election process is not new. Since the mid-sixties when it appeared that elections in India were being dominated by money and muscle power, demands for reforms have been raised regularly. A committee under the chairmanship of late Dinesh Goswami, former Union Law Minister in the V. P. Singh cabinet was formed to study possible reform options. The committee suggested some very important steps, including state-funding of the elections. But unfortunately till now the report has been gathering dust and not a single recommendation of the committee has been implemented. Prominent social reformer Anna Hazare also suggested various steps to cleanse the Indian election system, among the proposals the most important was the ‘right to recall.’ The step was meant to give the electorate a chance to recall their representative, if it believes that the elected representative has failed in his/her duties.
It may be mentioned here that NOTA was introduced by an order of the Supreme Court at a time when a movement was launched by noted social activists to get rid of corruption. Initial responses to NOTA were not so impressive, however things started changing and recently NOTA has been getting more votes than it initially received. Moreover, revolt within various parties over the selection of candidates in elections also points to the need to rethink the NOTA option. It is hoped that both the Centre and EC will respond positively and clear all ambiguity surrounding NOTA and provide it with the much-needed teeth to make our electoral process more meaningful and strong.