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The Supreme Court has asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to include NOTA on ballot paper in a recent Rajya Sabha elections. NOTA order came in 2013 and since 2014, it became a part of several assembly election as well as Lok Sabha election. Once Art 324 is enacted and ECI takes over conduct of election, and no court interferes in process of elections.
Background: NOTA was concept which meant that any other candidate by political party was not to be acceptable to the voter and he/she may reject it as none of above.
NOTA was an issue in 2013. Till then, there was an existing rule in 49(O) of Representation of People Act- voter can go to the voting booth and give it in writing the election officer that he/she will not cast the vote and the vote gets cancelled.
There was a need to change it as there was no secrecy. The anonymity of voter is an important concept of democracies. There is nothing called as an open voting per se.
Earlier, one could exercise NOTA in different form where his identity was known to electoral officer in the booth and then by summation when he exercises it.
SC said in the direction that India has a secret ballot and there cannot be any compromise in it.
In 2001, The Election Commission of India (ECI) moved the Law Ministry for an amendment to the rules to provide for a button in electronic voting machines in order to protect the identity and secrecy of a voter who does not want to vote for any candidate. That was the equivalent of the unmarked ballot paper of the earlier era.
Later, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) an NGO had already moved the Supreme Court to have a button as ‘none of the above’. In 2013, NOTA option was made mandatory by the Supreme Court of India.
ECI clarified that if the number of electors who had utilized the NOTA (None of the above candidates) option in the EVM or Ballot paper exceeded the votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate with the highest number of votes would be declared winner.
Long way to go
There was a larger perception that this will play a role of cleansing politics. Their expectation was that if the candidates are not upto the certain standard than the large number of voters may exercise their negativity and by that put pressure in the political process. Though it was a noble idea, unfortunately till now, it did not happen in a very large scale.
SC called NOTA a fundamental right. In the context of voting right and NOTA, they have virtually equal status. Till now, NOTA averages 1.5% of votes but it is important realm of electoral reform. The voting process today has become largely fair yet nitty gritty of elections remain.
Anti-defection and NOTA
Anti defection law was enacted when the defection rate was high. It was thought to solve it. But even today, before and after the election, many defections take place. There are all kinds of contradictions involved in running a democratic system. A violation of a whip for election doesn’t amount to defection. At best, the party can expel the member for having voted against party direction, but he/she remains an unattached member of legislature. In this scenario, efficacy of NOTA is being questioned. SC said that MP can abstain and it is legal and permissible not voting or NOTA should be legally considered.
NOTA has a moral dimension but also a long term reformative aspect. Presently, it will only enable a voter not to vote in favour of any candidate. So the votes recorded against this button will have the same effect as the ‘invalid’ votes of the ballot paper time and would have no role in determining the winner. However, this may result in parties nominating better candidates which strengthens the democracy further.
The other forms of democracies like referendum, recall are yet to be exercised in India. Yet, next course of action can be raising the status of the button to that of “negative vote” wherein the political parties are made aware that electorate is no longer going to fall for tainted candidates. Declaration of assets, stopping of fake news, exit polls are monitored by ECI. The process of politics should be made as transparent as possible with time.
Connecting the dots:
Critically analyse the importance of NOTA in Indian democracy.