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NOTA – The right to reject

Posted by Shreyans Jain Saturday, 28 September 2013 0 comments
From credentials and criminal antecedents of candidates to the rights of voters, the Supreme Court has triggered a massive debate by touching the crucial aspects of elections. This will not only strengthen the idea of free and fair elections but will go a long way in encouraging the exercising of the right to vote among the citizens of India. Use of money and muscle power, rigging of poll booths, nexus between the electorates and the corporate houses, candidates with criminal cases pending against them being allowed to contest elections are some of the aspects that have long induced the voters to refrain from participating in the democracy. It was therefore, imperative on the legislature as well as the judiciary to plunge into the cesspool that the politics in India has been reduced to and rid it of its malaise.

By directing the Election Commission to provide a ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) button on the electronic voting machines which can be pressed by a voter to reject all the candidates in a poll in case s/he finds them unsuitable, the Supreme Court has brought the elections in India on the brink of inspirational change. It has ushered in a key electoral reform that has found favours in the past with the Election Commission of India as well as the Law Commission. As architected by the former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy, the idea of according a negative vote the same sanctity and secrecy as a vote in favour of a particular candidate is a landmark step in the parliamentary democracy.

At a time when the elections in India have been contaminated with sleaze money and big corporate interests and many unscrupulous electorates stoop to undignified levels to exploit the cult of ethnicity by playing the communal card, the right to reject will promote free and fair elections and help in reducing bogus voting which is rampant in many parts of the country. Often politicians tend to woo the voters on the basis of material gratification rather than larger political and ideological issues. Often the expenditure incurred by the political parties on their election propaganda surpasses the limit prescribed by the Election Commission. Even after repeated efforts to ensure free and fair elections, criminals are offered tickets to contest elections from their constituencies. There is therefore, a need to bring a sharp change in the electoral dynamics of the nation. The NOTA ruling provides an opportunity to the citizens to safeguard their integrity and that of the nation by rejecting convicted legislators and rabble-rousing demagogues.

What is however uncertain is the practical impact such a provision will have on the outcome of elections. Election results have seldom shown any deviation in the twelve countries where a provision to reject candidates exist. Perhaps the Election Commission could fix a limit beyond which the percentage of NOTA votes would entail re-polling.

Whatever the outcome may be, the need of the hour is to bring transparency in the electoral process and strengthen it structurally. Other issues include but are not limited to curbing the money power and the menace of paid news. It is necessary to crack the whip on convicted legislators by disqualifying them and imposing upon them a ban on contesting elections. Equally important is to encourage voter participation through media mobilisation and awareness campaigns. Acceptance of freebies by the voters should be a big NO if they are not to become morally corrupt. It is incumbent on us to appreciate the fact that the right to elect includes the right to reject.


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