NOTA – “right to reject”, What does it mean?
Introduction of NOTA in India has been hailed by many to be a spectacular step towards capturing the true spirit of democracy. However whether NOTA can be described as an electoral renaissance still remains uncertain as NOTA is simple a right to register a negative opinion and not a right to reject. Giving citizens the right to reject will ensure the two-fold purpose of candidates with a clean background as well as inducing citizens to cast their vote. This option was introduced in the electronic voting machines in India after the landmark judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in “People‘s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India”. The right to vote in India is a statutory right. The converse of this, i.e. the right not to vote, while maintaining secrecy was claimed vide a petition to the Supreme Court by PUCL. Since the petition filed by PUCL was a Writ Petition under Article 32, the Court had to judge its maintainability, as it was contended that Right to Vote is considered a statutory right. The Court held that although Right to vote is a statutory right, the decision taken by the voter is a facet of Freedom of Expression under Art. 19(1)(a). Fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression under 19(1)(a) and statutory right under S. 79 of Representation of People Act is violated if right not to vote is denied. Thus the Court held that the Writ Petition is maintainable. However, it falls short of achieving the democratic goals that the citizens of India are entitled to. This paper however outlines the extra step that India needs to take in order to ensure that it becomes a fully functional democracy sans corruption.
The Court held that Rule 49-O and Form 17-A, which if read together allow secrecy to be violated, is ultra vires Article 19 and Section 79(d) and 128 of the RPA. Additionally, accepting the EC‟s suggestion, the Court directed the NOTA button to be included in the EVMs. The court further went on to describe that the NOTA button sought for by the petitioners was similar to the „ABSTAIN‟ button provided for in the voting machines in Parliament, the other two being „AYES‟ and NOES. For, by pressing the NOTA button, the voter would in effect say he was abstaining from voting since he did not find any of the candidates worthy of his vote. The Three Judge Bench, headed by CJ P Sathasivam unanimously stated, “Eventually, voters‟ participation explains the strength of democracy. Lesser voter participation is rejection of commitment to democracy slowly but definitely, whereas larger participation is better for democracy. But there is no yardstick to determine what the correct and right voter participation is. If introducing the NOTA button can increase participation of democracy then, in our cogent view, nothing should stop the same.” Non-participation in the elections would cause frustration and disinterest, “which is not a healthy sign of a growing democracy like India.” The most important aspects of this particular judgment of the Supreme Court are that, first – secrecy of the voting procedure (secret ballot) is an integral part of free and fair elections and second – the right to vote includes the right not to vote. (While of course, maintaining the secrecy).
NEED FOR INTRODUCING NOTA
In our country, it often happens that a voter does not support any of the candidates in the election, but they have no choice but to select a candidate. According to the judges of the Supreme Court of India, the introduction of ‘None of the above’ i.e. NOTA option to voters would lead to systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. NOTA is a good options introduced in the elections. Many a times MLA get the seat which they don’t deserve by some faulty means and then people has to choose among the false one. By introductions of NOTA if no Candidate is eligible we can simply elect NOTA and can remove them for years. NOTA enable people to use their vote to show that the current candidates, parties and politics don’t have their support. Voting BLANK is important as something citizens can do, that is always possible, even when the government doesn’t want to include ‘None of the above’ on the ballot paper.
POSITIVE POINTS OF NOTA
Although there are lots of negative points about ‘None of the above’ option in elections to voters, the positive points also cannot be ignored. The very intention of the Supreme Court of India was to force the political parties to project candidates with clean background as their candidates. Not out of compulsion should he vote for contender who he thinks isn’t good enough. If you do not vote just because there is no good candidate, at least you can show your dissent with the option of NOTA The candidates who win the election become part of the legislature, governing the country. It was, therefore, felt mandatory that candidates with criminal or immoral or unclean backgrounds are deterred from contesting the elections. If this option of ‘None of the above’ is implemented with its true intent, the whole political scenario of the country will drastically change from the present scenario.
NEGATIVE POINTS OF NOTA
Some of the countries who initially introduced such option to the voters, later discontinued or abolished the system. In countries where voting machines contain a NOTA button, there are chances of it receiving a majority of the vote and hence “winning” the election. In such a case, Election Commission may opt any of these options, a ) the second highest votes will be declared as the winner b) keep the office vacant, c) fill office by appointment, d) hold another election. Hence as there is absence of a proper mechanism, this cannot be regarded as a proper solution to the problem we are facing in the world’s largest democracy. The new provision does not mean that all candidates in a constituency stand rejected or defeated if the number of NOTA votes exceeds the number garnered by the highest vote-getter.
The scenario in India however is grossly different from other States insofar as the right to reject is concerned. The Supreme Court has expressly stated that the introduction does not involve a right to reject; it is simply a “right to register a negative opinion”. This, it is personally opined, is the greatest misgiving of NOTA in India. The entire purpose and advantage of NOTA is taken away by the fact that irrespective of the number of citizens who have pressed NOTA in the EVMs the candidate with even a marginal majority will continue to win the elections. It would only ensure the secrecy of the voter who did not want to vote for any of the voters in his constituency while also ensuring that nobody casts a bogus vote in his place. NOTA will help our country to make corruption free but at same time it will hamper our economy because as we know that a lot of money is spend on conducting a single election. So it is our responsibility to promote good people in politics. In my opinion few conditions NOTA is good and few conditions NOTA is bad because if you see them. In politics so many elected person don’t have knowledge about studying but he is an education minister. In these cases NOTA is used.