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The NOTA is an investment in democracy

If pressing the NOTA button were a cop-out, and if a large number of voters were to do so, it should hurt democracy.

ht view Updated: Apr 30, 2014 00:17 IST

In a recent column, A NOTA vote is a cop-out (Beyond the Bite, April 18), Rajdeep Sardesai disclosed the reasons why after a lot of procrastination, he did not press the ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) button. While personal choice and its disclosure must be respected, it must also be recognised that there may well be another view.

For the other view, let us go to the source, the Supreme Court (SC) judgment of September 27, 2013, which says, “One of the ways of such expression may be to abstain from voting, which is not an ideal option for a conscientious and responsible citizen”. The voter who does not want to vote for any of the candidates on offer is not copping out but is exercising a valid option, for which abstention is not the ideal way.

If pressing the NOTA button were a cop-out, and if a large number of voters were to do so, it should hurt democracy. The SC seems to think otherwise as the judgment reads, “Thus in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given a 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.” That the need for ‘compelling’ political parties to nominate sound candidates is highlighted by the fact that in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, there were 183 ‘red alert’ constituencies, ie those which had three or more candidates with criminal cases pending against them. In this election, of the 349 constituencies, for which the data are in, 149, or 42.69%, are in the ‘red alert’ category.

Of a total of 62,847 candidates who have contested either parliamentary or assembly elections since 2004, 11,063 or 18% had criminal cases pending against them, of those 5,253 (8%) were serious cases. Since 2004, of the 8,790 MPs/MLAs, 2,575 (29%) had criminal cases, of those 1,187 (14%) were serious charges.

Why and how did these people find their way into the temples of our democracy? A plausible sequence of events is: (a) all political parties give tickets to tainted politicians under the misplaced assessment of their ‘winnability.’ (b) with almost all fielded candidates having dubious records, the voters become ‘choiceless’ not by choice, but because of the choices made by a majority of the political parties.

The NOTA option is there to correct this ‘choiceless-ness’. This is why it is an investment in democracy.

(Jagdeep S Chhokar is a former professor, dean, and director in-charge of IIM-Ahmedabad. The views expressed by the author are personal)