To NOTA, or not to NOTA, that is the proverbial billion ballots question. And the question has existed ever since the Supreme Court in September 2013 upheld the existence of this option on the EVMs. This is in itself interesting, as the option came more as a judicial pronouncement, rather than as a result of any detailed deliberation in the parliament.
But NOTA is here to stay for now, and we must work with its reality. I grappled with the question “What makes someone vote NOTA?” while discussing this issue with some of its advocates. We now know that it has no direct real-world ramifications. The hoax suggesting that if NOTA gathers a certain amount of votes in the state assembly polls, all parties have to recall their candidates and fresh elections are held, has been comprehensively debunked, most recently in this article.
E.g. Assume that there are two candidates in the state assembly election Mr. A, and Mr. B. If Mr. A gets just 1 vote, Mr. B gets 2 votes, and the NOTA option gets 100 votes, it makes no difference to the result. Mr. B still wins by virtue of getting the highest number of votes among the contesting candidates.
But does it have indirect adverse implications for the election process? It is my view that it does.
Pragmatically, the basic premise of elections is very simple. You vote for the party that you believe is relatively better, or for the cynics amongst us, relatively less bad than the others. The BJP government had a certain manifesto before the last elections. They have acted on virtually every single item promised. In some cases, there was a higher level of success than others, just like everything else in life.
Based on my interactions, albeit limited as they are, I surmise that several NOTA voters are BJP supporters who have some specific dissatisfaction. Whether it is not liking their local candidate, or not agreeing with a policy decision, or not wanting to vote for an alliance party’s (Shiv Sena, in this case) candidate.
While I do not discount their grievances one iota, one must also remember that in an Indian election we are in-effect voting for the leadership. We have all seen how good candidates underperform under bad leadership, and we have seen even ordinary candidates deliver under able leadership. Both Narendra Modi in Delhi and Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra have exhibited this able leadership, thus encouraging everyone to do their best. You don’t have to agree in entirety with the person you vote for, that is impossible. You must agree with them just enough to ensure that the country is taken forward in the right direction.
For example, my logic for voting for BJP in Maharashtra is straightforward,
- Maharashtra is a rich state with large allocations for infrastructure. I do not want it to fall into hands that may have a chequered history of delaying such projects and making them more expensive. CM Fadnavis has done a spectacular job so far, and you don’t change your pilot in the middle of a flight.
- I want to strengthen the hands of Narendra Modi in Delhi by bolstering/ supporting his numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Article 370 was removed in just five months of Modi 2.0 paving the way for true integration of India despite the current composition of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. I am enthused with what all PM Modi could accomplish with enhanced numbers in the Rajya Sabha, and four-and-a-half years to spare.
It is worth noting that the Narendra Modi led BJP is the only political party that has unabashedly stuck to its development agenda. It has not played to any vote-bank gallery, whether It is region, religion, caste, or language. It has thus not cultivated a “vote bank” as the opposition parties like Congress, NCP, MIM, etc. may have.
India has been lifted from this morass of vote-bank politics only recently, and virtually singlehandedly by PM Modi who is instilling a higher loyalty among politicians and people. The fiscal-breaking, and society-dividing hand-out era is slowly and surely coming to end. If you agree with what PM Modi is trying to achieve, or what CM Fadnavis is working tirelessly on, then don’t do yourself a disservice by voting for NOTA. It will be like cutting your nose, to spite your face.
Allow me to elaborate. The Congress vote bank, for example, will vote for Congress irrespective of the work done by its elected representatives. This is the nature of vote bank politics, because the chosen population segment is pampered and has little sarokaar with the overall development of the country. In fact, this is the exact disease that has ailed India for the decades since Independence. PM Modi encapsulated this type of politics superbly as “mera kya, mujhe kya rajneeti”.
But if the BJP alliance voters split their votes with NOTA, even if based on some genuine issue, then it will result in BJP perhaps not being able to form a strong government in Maharashtra. BJP is contesting on ~146 seats in Maharashtra (purely on its own), almost same as the majority mark in the assembly. It is unlikely that BJP will win all the seats that it contests on. Recall that in 2014 BJP contested the elections without its biggest alliance partner and got ~120 seats after contesting ~260. So, it will likely require an alliance after the polls. Now if NOTA causes a decline in the seats of the alliance, the obvious beneficiaries are parties like Congress, NCP, MIM etc. In which case there may be a very real possibility that enough space is vacated for a hotch-potch combination of parties to come to power while BJP becomes the opposition. With so much money being spent for infra projects, do we want to risk this happening?
For those NOTA advocates who believe that their vote doesn’t matter, and won’t change the outcome of polls, I would like to cite the example of Madhya Pradesh. It was a safe state for the BJP, and had seen immense development under the able leadership of then CM Shivraj Chouhan. Just last year, BJP lost the majority in that state by just 7-8 seats. In about twelve seats, NOTA votes contributed to BJP’s loss, as per this article. Of these twelve, in about eight seats the margin of defeat was 300-3000 votes only. As such, the indirect result of NOTA votes is a loss for BJP!
I am not advocating for people to vote for this party, or that. I am simply suggesting that a vote for NOTA is in effect voting against the BJP. It is nothing but actively punishing PM Modi for elevating Indian politics from its “mera kya, mujhe kya” mindset. It should not happen that in the quest to teach BJP “a lesson”, we end up learning a hard one ourselves. And if that happens, time will tell us that was a pyrrhic victory for the NOTA advocates.
Author: Anirudha Limaye