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NOTA, the toothless tiger

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.

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. 

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: ashviniranjan@yahoo.com.

The post <strong>NOTA, the toothless tiger</strong> appeared first on Star of Mysore.

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