March 4: Political parties don’t want to discuss it, but the people’s verdict is out: they want the None option.
An overwhelming 77 per cent of the respondents interviewed as part of a TNS Mode-The Telegraph opinion poll agree with chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy’s proposal for a “none of the above” option in the electronic voting machines.
The survey also reveals that 46 per cent of those who have skipped vote at least once think the chances of exercising their franchise will increase if the option is included. As many as 60 per cent of them are women.
Despite the tepid response from politicians after the Election Commission placed the suggestion on the sounding board, the outcome of the survey suggests that NOTA (None of the above) has captured the voters’ imagination, which had of late got used to another acronym, TINA (There is no alternative). After casting their ballots in recent elections, many voters had said they chose to vote for the lesser evil instead of wasting their franchise.
But Pratap Bhanu Mehta, visiting professor of government, Harvard University, doesn’t agree with the panel’s proposal. According to him, the purpose of elections is to elect an alternative government, not just to register an abstract dissatisfaction. “Open-ended dissatisfaction is neither here nor there. That sentiment of dissatisfaction may be pervasive, but elections are about electing someone.”
What prompted the poll panel to moot such a proposal' “The Election Commission has consistently come up with proposals that reflect the urban middle-class’ unease with the messy nature of actual politics on the ground. I see this move as a further reflection of that unease,” said Delhi-based political scientist Nivedita Menon. She feels that “None of the above” can be introduced on trial in constituencies selected at random.
Figures support the voter fatigue in urban areas. Data collated by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies shows a jump in the pattern of rural voting from 60.2 per cent in 1977 to 62.8 in 1998. But in urban areas, turnout dropped from 62.1 per cent to 56.7 in the same period. In the past four general elections, the turnout oscillated between 56 and 61 per cent.
“Oddly enough, our participation rates are amongst the highest in the world, suggesting that we are not quite as alienated,” Mehta said.
Those who are alienated blame it on the system. According to the TNS Mode–The Telegraph survey, 85 per cent of those who have skipped vote at least once think the political system is faulty and elections are a waste of time.
“There is a sense that the political process has been corrupted, but that is a result of larger institutional structures like no sensible tax transparency for donors, lack of intra-party democracy and so forth. ‘None of the above’ makes it sound as if the issue of reform is about the character and qualities of particular candidates, rather than larger structural reform,” said Mehta.