NOTA or None Of The Above has been made one of the options for a voter in an election. Basically, if you’re not happy with any of the candidates being presented to you, you can register your protest by voting for ” none of the above”. It’s a landmark judgement, no doubt. But does it deserve the kind of applause it is getting?
But first, let me give credit where it’s due. The option to register your protest isn’t something new. We’ve always had it but for three reasons it wasn’t very effective.
1) Not everyone knew about it.
2) To exercise it, you’d have to go to the presiding election officer and register your protest vote there. An unnecessarily tedious process and, more importantly, one that compromised your right to a secret ballot.
3) It had no effect on the outcome of the election whatsoever.
Now, what makes this verdict so important is that it solves the first two problems. By putting the NOTA option on the voting machine, people will automatically see it when they stand to vote. And since no one will know what button you pressed, secrecy is preserved.
But the real issue is, that it doesn’t solve the most important problem. The thought behind a vote of protest is that if a majority of the voters in a constituency feel that all the candidates presented to them are undeserving, the parties concerned must change the candidates and present new ones for a re-election.
Hence, giving people the option to reject incompetent candidates who hope to win by calculated, divisive political tricks.
As of now, even if 80% of the voters were to press the NOTA option, the election would be decided by the remaining 20%. That gives the candidates more reason to manipulate the gullible 20% by offering money, clothes, alcohol and other incentives. That also gives the cynical bunch who rarely vote the chance to say that they’d anyway vote NOTA and so it makes no difference whether or not they actually vote.
One of the major arguments doing the rounds praising the NOTA button in it’s present form, is that if the majority of a constituency were to “register their protest” against the list of candidates, the party hotshots will have some bollywood-esque guilt trip and that’ll “shake up” the political class.
Umm. Sure. Remember how we “shook up” the political class with the Anna movement when lakhs of people gathered on the streets and registered their collective protest? I wonder in which government office that lokpal bill is currently gathering dust.
These shake ups are utterly useless. The only way to improve our electoral process is to change it. Take NOTA to its logical conclusion. Make an election in which a majority rejects all candidates, null and void. Conduct a re-election in which a new set of candidates are presented.
People aren’t stupid. If they get a chance to reject a convicted criminal from standing for the election, they will do it. NOTA in its present form won’t let them do that. The other Supreme Court judgement that disqualifies an MP if he’s convicted will help. But a modified NOTA will make sure that such criminals don’t see the corridors of power in the first place.
No punishment in the history of mankind has ever deterred anyone from committing the same crime again.
The solution to corruption lies not in punishing the corrupt but in not allowing them to engage in it at all or to take it a step further and select people who won’t engage in it.
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