The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 26 , 2014
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Neta or NOTA, choice is yours

Shillong, March 25: In the 2014 expansive and expensive battle for Parliament, the wannabe Netajis will have to counter a “candidate” who is ubiquitous, but will not have a seat in the Lok Sabha.

That “candidate” is known as NOTA or “none of the above”. Across polling booths, the battle will be between Netaji and Notaji. But the adjudicator of this battle will be the voter.

In a landmark judgment passed on September 27, 2013, the Supreme Court directed that there should be a NOTA option on ballot papers and electronic voting machines (EVMs) and that the same should be implemented either in a phased manner or at a time with the assistance of the Centre.

“On the ballot units, below the name of the last candidate, there will now be a button for NOTA option so that voters who do not favour any of the candidates can exercise their option by pressing the button against NOTA,” the Election Commission has said.

For implementing the NOTA option, the commission has issued detailed instructions to the chief electoral officers of all states and Union Territories.

While Indian democracy is participative in nature as people are allowed to choose their representatives, the introduction of the NOTA button has made the election process even more attention grabbing.

Those involved in conducting the elections, are, however, in a kind of a catch-22 situation. While they have to spread awareness about the importance to enrol oneself as a voter and to cast one’s vote, they will also have to inform the public about the NOTA option. “While we have to inform them (voters) about the right to elect, we also have to disseminate the news that if you do not fancy any of the candidates, you still have the right to vote by pressing the NOTA button,” an election official said.

An argument that is doing the rounds is that if a voter has decided not to vote for any candidate, why should he/she while away his/her time in the polling booth just to press the NOTA button? However, the NOTA option provides an opportunity to articulate a voter’s democratic choice, which chooses not to abstain from the election process, within the polling booth itself.

In October last year, the commission had clarified that even if the number of electors opting for NOTA option is more than the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes has to be declared elected.

It had stated that according to the provisions of clause (a) of rule 64 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, read with Section 65 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the candidate who polled the largest number of valid votes is to be declared elected by the returning officer.

Through this clarification, it is amply clear that no matter how many votes are polled in favour of Nota-ji, a constituency is guaranteed that would have a representative in the Lok Sabha.

Nonetheless, with the commissioning of the NOTA button, one’s voice to articulate one’s disposition towards one of the largest “festivals” in the country has not been browbeaten.