May 7, 2024


Does NOTA make sense for Indian elections?

Recently, the result of the Lok Sabha seat in Surat was declared even before a single vote was cast. The BJP candidate was declared the winner after the nomination papers of the opposition were rejected. Sounds strange but simple enough. However, what if None of the Above (NOTA) had more votes than the BJP candidate?

The NOTA option is relatively new in the Indian electoral landscape. The Supreme Court recently asked for a response from the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a plea to nullify results and hold fresh polls if NOTA gets the maximum number of voters. As of now, if NOTA wins, the candidate with the second-highest votes is the winner. Has NOTA, in any way, changed the Indian electoral system for the better?


A few basics out of the way first. Voting in India isn’t compulsory. Every eligible citizen obviously has the right to vote, but they also have the right to not. If you’re in the latter camp, there’s an option called NOTA. It signifies that a voter has decided not to back any particular candidate or party.

In September 2013, the Supreme Court directed the ECI to introduce NOTA on all Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The bench said, “Negative voting will lead to systematic changes, and political parties will be forced to protect clean candidates”. The court’s rationale was that a person has the fundamental right to reject candidates. It also cited the fact that MPs have the right to abstain from voting in Parliament.

The introduction of NOTA has always sparked discussion on whether it affects the outcome. The answer to that isn’t straightforward. On the one hand, it presents people with a way to exercise a fundamental right. On the other, people have argued it’s of no use.

NOTA was first used in the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and New Delhi in 2013. In the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, NOTA was something of a spoilsport for the Congress and the ruling BJP. It secured the fourth-largest vote share. Across 30 seats, NOTA secured more votes than the margin of victory.

In the 2018 Karnataka Assembly elections, NOTA got more votes than six parties, including the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It accounted for 0.9% of the total votes polled.

On the national stage, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, NOTA got 1.04% of all votes. Bihar and Assam led the way, with NOTA voters making up 2.08%. In the national capital, less than 1% chose NOTA. Maharashtra saw over 4.86 lakh NOTA votes, a marginal increase from 2014’s 4.83 lakh.

After every election, it has become common practice to tabulate and analyse NOTA votes to see if and how the results were affected. Should it continue to be on the EVMs?

VIEW: It’s an important option

People have the right to peaceful protest. Peaceful protests can happen in many ways, and NOTA is one of them. In the 2017 round of Assembly elections, some local organisations in Punjab, like the Bharatiya Kisan Union and Naujawan Bharat Sabha, urged people to vote NOTA as part of their “raj badlo, samaj badlo” (change the system, change the society) campaign.

NOTA might not have weight on the national stage, but it’s a different scenario at the state level. For panchayat and urban civic elections, some state election commissions recognised the spirit of the Supreme Court’s 2013 verdict to introduce NOTA. If NOTA wins, that’s a clear signal to the parties by the voters, and elections should be conducted again.

The idea of a protest vote is obviously controversial. Depending on the candidate and the party you’re a part of or support, the NOTA option can be the spoilsport or a saviour. That being said, people should be given this option to send a message to the political class. Parties could be forced to look at their roster of candidates and past performance to reflect and do better for the people.

COUNTERVIEW: It’s of no use

People can wax poetic about the intricacies of the Indian electoral and democratic landscape, and they have. At the end of the day, not voting doesn’t accomplish anything. NOTA is just a scapegoat. Protest voting can be useful as a messaging tool, but the NOTA approach is wrong. One can protest against a particular party or candidate by voting against them. Registering a protest by voting for no one doesn’t amount to anything.

The Supreme Court said the NOTA option will deter parties from fielding bad candidates or ones who have dubious or criminal pasts. Safe to say that hasn’t happened and is unlikely to happen. On the outcome side of things, if NOTA gets the highest number of votes, then the candidate with the second-highest votes is the winner. In this case, what’s the use of NOTA?

There’s also some data to suggest that NOTA is becoming increasingly unpopular. In the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t affected the outcomes all that much. NOTA doesn’t represent any drastic reform of the electoral system or hold any electoral value. We obviously need electoral reform in India. Parties and candidates need to clean up their act. The only way that can happen is from within. Even if one has the right to choose NOTA, it doesn’t resolve the issues it’s supposed to solve.

Reference Links:

  • Supreme Court’s notice to Election Commission on NOTA: Understanding voters’ right to reject – Firstpost
  • What is NOTA and when was it introduced? – India Today
  • Take note of NOTA – The New Indian Express
  • A Decade of NOTA: Make it effective – Deccan Herald
  • Is NOTA Enough? Exploring Options for Amplifying Voter Dissatisfaction in India Elections – Jurist News
  • Is NOTA losing sheen? Data says ‘Yes’ – Factly

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) NOTA makes sense for Indian elections.

b) NOTA doesn’t make sense for Indian elections.


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