From New Delhi to New Hampshire ‘None of the Above’, but India needs ‘Not this Candidate’

NOTA reflect the disgust, hostility of voters.

By Sujeet Rajan

"Sujeet"NEW YORK: It took 37 years for the ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option to traverse from Santa  Barbara County in California – where it was introduced in 1976 – to reach India, where it was implemented for the first time in 2013, after a Supreme Court ruling, in the December Assembly elections in five states.

Now, that option, which gives voters a chance to vent at all the candidates in the fray, may come to New Hampshire. If approved by the House Election Law Committee, voters will get that option in the primaries for the Presidential elections. Under the proposal, a special election would be held if NOTA receive the most votes.

Santa Barbara County has done away with the experiment. California rejected the option for the state, in 2000. The only municipality or state in the US to have NOTA is the state of Nevada, since 1978.

There is tough opposition, though, in New Hampshire, the ‘Live Free or Die’ state.

State Rep. Douglas Ley (D-Jaffrey) opined vanity may kill the bill, introduced by fellow Democrat Charles Weed (D-Keene). Republican Rep. Bob Perry said it would “legitimize hostility” by voters.

Jon Keller, a news analyst at Boston’s WBZ-TV, worried it gave voters an easy way out: “It lets apathetic or uninformed voters off the hook by giving them a cheap way to vent,” he said on his show. The New Hampshire chapter of the League of Women Voters agreed with him.

Even in Nevada, it’s constantly under threat. The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to hear an appeal by Republicans seeking to remove the option. The GOP move may seem unreasonable considering that two years ago Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller defeated his Democratic challenger Shelley Berkley, by about 12,000 votes. But there is more to the result: more than 45,000 votes were cast for NOTA.

The US and India are not the only ones where NOTA is in place. Greece, Ukraine, Spain and Colombia too have the option. Russia, Pakistan and Bangladesh did away with it. In Canada, they have a unique way to reject candidates: voters can go to the polling station and formally opt for ‘Declining to vote’.

In India, the option started on a low note, when 11 crore voters got a chance to exercise it in December. It got only 0.63% of the votes in Delhi, 1.9% in Madhya Pradesh, followed by 1.92% in Rajasthan, with Chhattisgarh recording the highest percentage of voter dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates, at 3.07%. In Mizoram, there were a total of 1726 votes for NOTA, just 413 votes less than what all the 17 BJP candidates managed to get in the 40-seat Assembly: 2,139.

According to rules, even if votes to NOTA are the highest, the candidate with the highest votes will win the elections, the same as in Nevada.

The Supreme Court in its ruling in favor of NOTA said it would increase voter participation. That it’s different from what opponents termed as ‘right to reject’.

India should also give voters an additional option: to reject a particular candidate outright. To have a box right next to each candidate’s name where it should say ‘Not this Candidate’.

Give voters in India two options: the right to vote NOTA, or to vote for one candidate they favor plus vote also for one “Not this Candidate’. The candidate who ‘scores’ the most votes in the ‘Not this Candidate’ should not only lose his or her deposit, but also be disbarred from contesting the next election.

Why?

Because it’s one thing to be called the world’s largest democracy, and quite another to have the kind of shameful legislators who appall the world with their antics, are considered a risk to society, don’t deserve to contest elections ever, should be banned from governing.

Two prime examples this year of legislators gone bad, on the loose, in India: the pepper sprayer of Parliament L Rajagopal, MP of the Congress party, and the Khirki Extension Midnight Raider Somnath Bharti, assemblyman and former law minister of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The worst is that despite their ugly antics, which were it to be done by normal citizens, would have ended up in their being jailed for breaking a number of laws, the duo with great impunity defended their actions.

While the Congress distanced itself from the disgraceful action of Rajagopal – who continues to say he acted in ‘self-defense’ – AAP and the former chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in bizarre action defended stoutly till the end Bharti’s midnight racist rendezvous to hunt for prostitutes and drugs, his contemptuous use of new-found power to harass some Ugandan women, order the police to commit an egregious act of violation.

One can only surmise if the lawlessness and racism shown that night by Bharti led to some kind of Pandora’s box being opened in Delhi, as soon after the incident, came the horrendous report of the death of the teenager Nido Taniam from Arunachal Pradesh, beaten to death by some lumpen elements who ganged up on him for his ‘chinki’ looks in Central Market, racially abused him, pummeled him mercilessly. He later died from those injuries.

Is it too much to wish that all these disgraced legislators like Rajagopal and Bharti be forced to fight an election from one single constituency, and voters from all over the country converge to vote there? There would be no need for the ‘Not this Candidate’ box. NOTA would be sufficient in that election.

(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar) 

To contact the author, email to editor@americanbazaaronline.com

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