This year’s BMC Election saw the largest voter turnout in Mumbai ever – 55% of the city’s people who are eligible to voter cast their ballots. The results are telling of a shift in the political scene, with the Shiv Sena winning the race with 84 seats and the BJP exceeding expectations by accumulating a whopping 81 seats.
As someone who stood in line for over an hour to vote, I saw as many as 10 people walk away from the booth because their names did not feature on the voter list or because officials could not find their names. There also seems to be a significant number of voters who have used the ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) option. Bayside Journal spoke to five people who are in support of NOTA.
Almost all of these people learnt about this option right before the 2014 General Elections, that is, a year after it was introduced. In 2009, the Election Commission asked the Supreme Court to offer this option, but the government rejected this suggestion. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that NOTA should apply. Chintan M, 31, learnt about it because of the Free A Billion initiative, while 21-year-old Suyash K read about it in the newspapers.
Suyash is a first-time voter and he learnt about NOTA before he was eligible to vote. He says, “What is the point of voting for candidates who won’t work for your constituency? What is the point in voting for corrupt, dishonest and cruel politicians?” Chintan says that he exercised the option because he wanted to vote as a citizen in a democracy, but found no worthy candidates.
NOTA is a mechanism that allow voters to tell parties that they should choose better candidates. “I am for NOTA because I believe it is necessary to register dissent. Political parties need to realise there are certain votes that swing NOTA and they could change that if they would care to find out why we vote NOTA,” says Milloni D, 21. She says that it is a way for her to exercise her democratic rights, and 21-year-old Krisstina R echoes this sentiment. “I do believe that the freedom to vote should come with the freedom to refrain or withhold one’s vote,” she says.
Would these voters have made their way to the booths if NOTA was not an option? There seem to be varying opinions. While Suyash and Chintan say that they would have reconsidered the whole decision to vote, Milloni, Krisstina, and Avanti P, 22, assert that they would have still voted. “I believe in voting; it would have been a dissatisfactory vote, but a vote nonetheless,” explains Milloni. Krisstina says that she would have voted for the candidate who was “the best of the lot’.
Despite the increased awareness about NOTA, Avanti highlights that there is a problem with respect to the way that NOTA is perceived and what its consequences are. “NOTA tends to be seen as an escapist choice, and hence a lot of people shy away from it. The pressure of making an informed political choice tends to weigh heavily on those who might have chosen it, since choosing NOTA doesn’t in any way ensure that a certain political party doesn’t get chosen,” she explains.
All five voters believe that NOTA should have a larger implication on the electoral process. Suyash says, “The percentage of NOTA votes might be low, however, it is an important option that should be respected. It is a citizen’s silent and democratic protest against the other candidates.”
According to existing rules, even if the percentage of NOTA votes is high, if one particular party earns an adequate number of votes, it can still come to power. “I see NOTA creating curiosity through media but I don’t see it holding much bearing currently through electoral processes. Yes, there should be certain rights/laws for NOTA,” says Milloni. Krisstina adds to this point, expressing that NOTA votes are seen as “going to waste”.
“When the proportion of NOTA votes increases over the years, it should shout back to the government that people are losing faith in you and there’s less worth in casting one’s vote than voting for a candidate. It could be a mechanism to make the electoral process more refined- to decide who can and cannot be represented on the ballot,” Krisstina says. In her opinion, it should be taken more seriously as a feedback mechanism and its implications should be popularised.