NOTA is not a 'paper tiger' but un-utilized policy to strengthen democracy

[हिंदी] Before Supreme Court order to the Election Commission of India to include NOTA (None Of The Above) button on electronic voting machines (EVMs) citizens who did not want to vote for any candidate had hardly any choice. Using NOTA was not an easy or hassle-free option earlier.

People like me who used NOTA earlier had to go through an ordeal to fight for our right to NOTA and make officers provide us the required register. Also it clearly meant making it publicly known we are using NOTA and causing almost an 'inconvenience' to busy poll staff on duty. So having NOTA button on EVM machines has surely changed a lot in reality and made it easier and practical for people who want to use it to exercise their right to vote in democracy.

If a citizen does not want to vote for any candidate contesting a particular election she/ he should get a choice to register NOTA vote in democracy. And not just this, if number of votes polled by winning candidate are less than NOTA votes then election should be cancelled, re-held and all the contesting candidates barred from re-contesting for a significant amount of years. But currently NOTA votes have no impact on election outcomes. "NOTA is almost akin to a 'toothless tiger' and hope authorities utilise this powerful tool to strengthen democracy soon" said Shobha Shukla, a resident of Lucknow and activist with Asha Parivar who edits CNS.

With this intent few citizens in Lucknow used NOTA in state elections of Uttar Pradesh (UP) on 19 February 2017 and submitted an appeal to UP state election commission and authorities.

These citizens felt dismayed that NOTA votes have no impact on election outcomes.

Citizens including Magsaysay Awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey appealed to authorities that "We will like to thank you for adding NOTA button on the EVMs but we need to ensure that NOTA votes have a direct strong impact on election outcomes. One way to make NOTA votes have a direct impact on election is to consider this suggestion: if number of NOTA votes polled are MORE than the number of votes polled by winning candidate, then election should be cancelled and all contesting candidates debarred from contesting from this constituency for next six years." Mudit Shukla, another citizen from Lucknow who volunteers with Asha Parivar, endorsed this appeal too.

Candidates with even criminal background are able to get elected because voters either have to choose the 'lesser evil' or refrain from voting. "Don't waste your vote" is a common argument against use of NOTA. But NOTA vote seems like wasting a vote because it is not directly impacting election outcomes. People should have a right to reject all candidates if they choose to do so and also a right to recall an elected candidate if they feel the need to do so.

If NOTA has a direct impact on election outcomes in future then candidates will have to prove their worth to get reelected otherwise risk citizens rejecting them in next elections or recall them back from corridors of power.

Bobby Ramakant, CNS (Citizen News Service)
20 February 2017