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N.O.T.A: An Armour For Defense Or A Weapon For Change

None of the above is a voting option provided for voters to indicate their dissent and disapproval towards all the candidates in an election and to choose no one out of them.It goes by different names in different democracies, like the El Blanco in Spain Kotak Kosong in Indonesia and many others proselytizing the idea of dissent along with fortifying their constitutional right of voting without even choosing anyone.

The concept of NOTA or protest vote is not very primaeval, it's a fairly new idea that is now becoming a very important tool towards saving and edifying the ideas of disapproval, freedom of speech and expression, the right to choose and other principal spirits of democracy. The protest vote was first used in the USA in 1976 in Nevada, where None of These was used as a ballot option.

In India, a NOTA like feature dates back to 2009 when, in MP polls, almost 4000 voters under Section 49(O) of the conduct of election rules decided to register their decision of not voting to any candidate but this had serious implications, on their right to privacy, as their anonymity wasn't maintained. However, the breakthrough came in 2013 when it was introduced by the Supreme court of India through a landmark judgement in the People's Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India case and India became one of the 13 countries to acknowledge protest vote and negative voting and broadened the right to choose and freedom of speech and expression.

The bench comprising of CJI P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjana Desai and Ranjan Gogoi said that "Giving right to a voter not to vote for any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy. Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties.

When the political parties realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with 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 50-page judgement was a historical step in electoral reforms with an intention to strengthen the pillars of democracy and bolster the sanctity of the festival of democracy, the elections.

Since this judgement, the NOTA has come a long way from 1.08% in 2014 to 1.09% in the 2019 general elections to almost double the number of voters choosing NOTA in the Maharashtra State elections, i.e., 7,42,134 people, opting for NOTA against 4,60,741 people choosing it in 2014, the percentages and numbers may not be impressive but are stepping stone towards the monumental change the people of our country are optimistic about.

NOTA might be a very strong tool in shaping the electoral reforms, but at present its power and scope is very limited, making it a bit not on par with the negative voting system in other countries. Some experts also believe it to be cosmetic and have also questioned whether it is even a real choice or not. According to the Clause(A) of Rule 64 of the Conduct of Election Rules,1961 and Section 65 of the RPA Act 1951 the candidate who has polled the highest number of votes according to the first past the post system will be declared the winner which means that out of 100 votes even if a candidate gets 1 vote out of 100 and rest all the votes are polled for NOTA the candidate will still be declared the WINNER.

With all this said and done, the NOTA still maintains its sanctity and is a historic achievement of the people of our country in getting our voices and opinion heard and respected, but its more of the show and less of quality nature will always be a matter of debate, which leaves us with the question which we started it with 'is it just an armor for dissent or a weapon for change?' still unanswered.


Suggested Articles on NOTA

  1. What Is The Need Of NOTA And Why It Is Implemented In India
  2. Electoral reforms in India: A desideratum
  3. Electoral Reforms Towards Decriminalizing Politics
  4. All About Vote And Voting Rights In India

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