<strong>NOTA, the toothless tiger</strong>
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NOTA, the toothless tiger

March 9, 2023

By Ashvini Ranjan

The Abracadabra titled “Right to Recall MPs, MLAs will curb corruption” by K.B. Ganapathy in Star of Mysore dated March 7, 2023 made an interesting and timely read.

The right to recall a duly elected candidate, who is subsequently found to be corrupt, is like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.  By the time the recall is enforced, the damage is done.

Garnering sufficient numbers to qualify for a recall is a formidable task. Not to forget, there could be many ways to stall the process. 

Why not NOTA, the button that we introduced in all the EVMs in 2013 to express dissent and discourage the corrupt and criminal from contesting elections?  But ended by making it only symbolic and not enforceable tool. Should this provision be made enforceable, it can pre-empt the corrupt getting elected rather than a subsequent damage control. 

NOTA was conceived around the year 2000 to discourage political parties from fielding corrupt individuals with criminal record. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a toothless tiger.  It merely provided a platform to express dissent or one’s anger for political parties to take note and nothing more.  A brief introduction to NOTA of its early days of implementation would be pertinent. More so to the younger voters …

NOTA is an acronym for “None Of The Above.” It is a provision introduced in the Indian electoral system in 2013 in response to a PIL filed by PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties). This allowed the voter to express dissent by pressing the NOTA button on the EVM, if he or she felt that the contestants did not deserve to be elected. 

While allowing for this provision, the Supreme Court observed:

“For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country. This can be best achieved through high moral and ethical values, who win elections on a positive vote. Thus, in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose none of the above (NOTA) button, which will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate. This situation palpably tells us the dire need of negative voting.”

Though the judgement was acclaimed as an expression of a thriving democracy, the lack of enforceability of the NOTA vote ended the celebration. The judgement and the introduction of the NOTA button on the EVMs only succeeded by giving the country a false sense of hope.  Although NOTA provided a platform to voice public anger, it failed to translate into action.

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Right of choice and the right to reject is an integral part of democracy. Such an option strengthens the faith of a voter in the system and encourages active participation in the electoral process.

But in the wisdom of the Supreme Court, it felt that NOTA was prone to misuse and manipulation by political parties.  An election becoming invalid on account of  NOTA  securing more votes than the candidates contesting, the seat could remain vacant and unrepresented indefinitely.  This also meant an increased administrative costs.  But the option the Supreme Court chose in good faith by making it unenforceable, is now making a mockery of democracy as witnessed today. There is growing criminalisation of politics. Parties and individuals are manipulating election outcomes with the power of money.

ADR (Association of Democratic Reforms) is an NGO which monitors the track record of elected representatives of all major political parties.  According to its study and as reported in The Hindu in May 2018:

Karnataka shows the number of candidates with criminal cases steadily rising. From 195 in 2008 to 334 in 2013 and 391 in 2018. Nearly half of the newly-elected Lok Sabha members have criminal charges against them. A  26% increase as compared to 2014.  Of the 539 winning candidates analysed by the ADR, as many as 233 MPs have criminal charges.  BJP has 116 MPs with criminal cases, followed by 29 MPs from the Congress, 13 from the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), 10 from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and nine from the Trinamool Congress (TMC). There is an increase of 109% [in 2019] in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009.

No party makes morality of its candidates an issue for debate as all parties are equally guilty of this crime ! 

The Election Commission has laid down limits for spending on the State elections ranging from Rs. 28 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh depending on the size of the State.  It appears like a joke when compared to the actual amounts spent by the candidates. All parties fudge their accounts. As the rumour mill goes, each candidate of a State Legislative Assembly spends anywhere between five to ten crores of rupees.  The amounts spent for a Lok Sabha seat, less said the better !  This explains why there is a frenzy to get plum Ministerial posts or Chairmanship in various State Corporations. It is without doubt to recover the monies invested in the elections and the monies required for the subsequent elections. Matters relating to the welfare of the people is not the immediate priority. This should explain why the level of corruption in the government machinery is on the rise. 

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Almost all government functionaries are forced to become collection centres for their respective political bosses ! 

This is not to say all elected representatives are corrupt. There are good and well meaning individuals. But sadly they are an exception.

No party can take a ‘holier-than-thou’ position.  All are sinners as per the findings of ADR (Association of Democratic Reforms) !

That being the case, focus has to be on electing good individuals with good track record than a party as a whole. 

There are 960 million registered voters in India.  Of them only 600 million cast their votes.  Approximately 38% of registered voters across the country do not participate in the electoral process. Many shy away either out of frustration or a feeling of disgust. This does not augur well for a democracy. If the said citizens who do not vote for one reason or the other, decide to vote to NOTA, this will shame the political parties. NOTA could eventually be made enforceable. This will compel parties to field individuals with integrity to contest in the subsequent elections. Mysuru city should take the lead towards this change.  This may be the first step in the thousand mile journey ! 

Active NGOs can make this a single point agenda instead of fighting innumerable battles and achieving little at the end of the day.  This could pave way for good people to get elected and making way for good governance. Should we fail to do so, we will have none to blame but ourselves !

note: There is a growing belief among politicians that political positions and office are family’s inheritance and money can win elections. Good individuals with character and integrity cannot even imagine participating in the present political process. To stop this unhealthy trend, citizens should actively participate and vote to deserving individuals only or go for NOTA.

As the author of this article points out, Mysuru should take the initiative to set a new trend of cleansing politics. NOTA may be a toothless tiger but it gives the voter a choice for negative voting.

The reasoning that NOTA may lead to invalidation of an election and leave the seat unrepresented is not logical. After all, there is provision for a by-election.

As for cost, it is too negligible for the government considering the enhanced ethical value of the seat following the by-election. — Ed

e-mail: [email protected].

9 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “NOTA, the toothless tiger

  1. Joseph Mundassery says:

    This article seems to have written when the author was suffering from hallucinations.
    NOTA, requires for a start, the voter needing a good education, and have a good grasp of politics prevailing in the country and ofcourse a good knowledge of the candidates whose name appear on the ballot list.
    Despite the boast of Politicians like Modi of India with brilliant scientists and technologists, which is crap any way, a large mass of people who are voters are not literate. How many IT Techies who do the mundane software coding of outsourced work, are politically well informed or even have good brains? These IT techies post in the SOM, and what they can hardly string two sentences together and analyse any issue properly.
    I took that example to show that even among the so called educated, one could see a spread of ignorance, thanks to the poor education standards in India.
    Indian voters are swayed by personalities. No voter questions Modi, when he is preaching about ancient Indian culture, why he deserted his wife?
    No voter ridicules Modi, when he ridicules the Gandhis of dynastic influence, that his own family of brothers like Prahlad Modi demands special treatment, and that the Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah is the real ruler of Gujarat although he is not even a MLA!
    Ofcourse, the same questions need to be asked when Rahul Gandhi and Congress present themselves as honest citizens.
    Indian politics has been mired in corruption soon after independence, when Kengal Hanumanthaiah made crores by awarding contracts o his friends in the construction of Vidhana Soudh. Since then all CMs of Karnataka have been corrupt. Indian institutions, and the society are corrupt to the core.
    Hence, there will be enough voters bribed by the political parties, who would come and press to vote for one of the candidates, outnumbering who press to vote NOTA. These voters who vote for candidates , impersonate those who have stayed home, forget the indelible ink, which can be washed with known solvents. Most vote rigging in those days of ballot papers, was done AFTER the ballot boxes were stored in so called a secure place, where they were replaced with those ballot boxes with rigged votes. It is even easier in electronic voting system where a remote data base of votes cast against candidates is involved.
    India is not fit to be democracy.

  2. Arun says:

    Looking at Karnataka politicians and the current political situation, I feel NOTA is the right option.

  3. Rahul says:

    Joseph Mundassery, so what is your solution? Should we invite Bristish and hand over india to them and apologize to BBc that Gandhi was wrong? Indians need your direction sir! We are a country of 1.4 Billion idiots with a few exceptions like you and Rahul Gandhi!

  4. swamy says:

    Whoever take notes to vote will not understand NOTA.

  5. Raampur Ka Laxman!! says:

    Hello @Rahul
    Your name suggests that you are an idiot like Rahul Gandhi. Why do you quote him, knowing well, posters will laugh at you having the same name of his!
    If some one like @Joseph comments, you come with a nonsensical reply. You need to improve your English by the way.
    As for the BBC programme, it was well researched and was true, which explained what your wonderful Modi did in Guajarat in hs time as CM.
    This is corrupt India, with people like you do not think much about corruption and probably given a chance you toom will receive the ‘mamuls’;but you are a small brained uneducated fool, in a low level job.
    For the NOTa to work, the country has to be alert about corruption, know the candidates well, and above all, the voters must be well edcuate, not the illiterates one finds in India.

  6. Mann Ki Baat! says:

    Hey Rahul
    You sound as stupid as your namesake Rahul Gandhi!

  7. Howdy, Modi! says:

    The poster @Rahul , is such an idiot that he did not realise that mentioning Rahul Gandhi, indicates what a dim wit he is, because of the similar name!
    But he is brainwashed by the BJP and Modi crowd, hence he does not trust the BBC Programme, and thinks BBC is like the worthless Indian media controlled by Modi. Indian media did not report the recent clashges with China along the Himachal Pradesh corridor, in which India lost yet more territories, and Modi clamped the leaking of this news, which the BBC and other Western media reported.

  8. Suresh says:

    @ Rahul…… Raampur Ka Laxman!!, Mann Ki Baat! and howdy, Modi! the same Bastard SOB who is posting with different names. This scoundrel has no real name because his parents were so ashamed that they dumped in a garbage near the brothel where this person was born, before this person was given a name. So, please ignore his comments just like everybody does.

  9. koppal boregowda says:

    Hey Suresh
    What a wastrel and worthless human being you are! Your parents should be ashamed of you.
    The posters you have mentioned, you seem to be on drugs, as they did not use foul language as you have done, have every right to post.
    Go back to your drug den.

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