Nearly ten lakh voters across five poll-bound states didn’t like any of their local candidates and pressed the NOTA (None of the above) option in the recently concluded assembly elections in five states, according to data from the Election Commission of India (ECI). Uttar Pradesh, where the Bharatiya Janata Party won power in a landslide, witnessed over 7.4 lakh voters, or 0.9 percent of the voting age population, choosing the NOTA option. In Manipur, more voters chose the NOTA option than those who voted for veteran hunger strike activist Irom Sharmila.
In the hill state of Uttarakhand, almost a percentage of state’s voters chose NOTA. The proportion was a bit lower in the northern state of Punjab, where 0.7 percent of voting-age population pressed the NOTA button on the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).
The proportion of voters who preferred NOTA over voting for a candidate was the highest in Goa, where nearly 1.2 percent went without selecting a candidate on the EVM. Just to give an idea about what difference a 1.2 percentage of vote-share could have made to a party’s kitty, Goa Forward Party (GFP) won three seats in the coastal state after managing a 3.5 percent vote share.
Distrust of mainstream politics, or politicians, may well be a good, yet not the only reason, why more number of voters choose NOTA.
The case of Manipur, however, shows that voters are looking for more than just better quality politics. Thoubal, the constituency from where Sharmila was contesting, witnessed only 90 votes polled for her, while 143 of the constituency’s voters opted for the NOTA option. Today’s voter is perhaps more clever than ever and is looking for several qualities in the potential leader. Honesty alone doesn’t seem to be a vote-clincher anymore.
Are we reaching a tipping point as to how Indian voters judge their politicians?
The trend towards choosing NOTA has been gaining ground ever since the concept was first introduced by the Supreme Court in November 2013. In the national elections in 2014, nearly 60 lakh Indian voters didn’t choose any candidate and went with NOTA instead.
In Bihar assembly elections in 2015, as many as 2.5 percent of state’s voters, or nine lakh people, chose NOTA.
But make no mistake about it. The voters who choose NOTA can’t be dubbed as politically stupid for not exercising their franchise properly. On the other hand, by going with NOTA, these voters are sending across a strong political message to their leaders.