April 7: Abdul Rahman, 41, welcomed the NOTA option on the electronic voting machine, making no bones about letting his secret out.
An importer of cement and stone chips from Bangladesh, he openly declared in front of the Gol Chakkar polling station at Akhaura under West Tripura constituency that he had opted for NOTA.
“I have pressed the NOTA button because I like none of the 13 candidates. I was thinking of voting for Congress’s Arunoday Saha (a former vice-chancellor) but he will never win, so I decided to press the NOTA button,” he said.
The Supreme Court had last year ordered that None of the Above (NOTA) option be inserted in the electronic voting machine so that electors who do not want to vote for any of the candidates can exercise their option in secrecy. It made its debut in the Lok Sabha elections that kicked off in Assam and Tripura today. Although the option was available for the Assembly elections in five states, including Mizoram, last year.
Rahman was not alone in going for NOTA. In Jorhat, Assam, septuagenarian Mrinmoyee Devi also said she had opted for NOTA. “Usually I do not vote as I do not find the candidates very good. I think the pace of development justifies my opinion about our representatives in general. But this time, at least I have the option to register my discontent.”
Assam singer and music composer Manash Robin, who cast his vote at Cherakapar in Sivasagar under Jorhat constituency, said, “Henceforth, political parties will have to think twice while choosing candidates if the NOTA option is widely used,” he said.
Ifi Ahmed, 18, a first-time voter at Cherekapar LP School polling station on the outskirts of Sivasagar, said she expects her representative to ensure all-round development of the state. Sounding a warning, she said: “I will definitely execute the NOTA option next time if he or she fails to keep his/her promises.”
Sharmistha Majumdar from Itakhola in Sootea Assembly constituency under Tezpur Lok Sabha seat in Assam said NOTA, by giving the voter the opportunity to reject, validates the concept of “conscience voting”.
Pubali Saikia and Sampriti Saikia, students and first-time voters from Hatiakhowa area in Golaghat district under Kaliabor constituency, said NOTA was a good option. If effectively used, they said, it could send a strong message to political parties to field worthy candidates as voters now have the right to reject an unworthy candidate.
Not all are impressed with NOTA, though.
“I do not see any justification in allowing this option. Those who do not want any of the candidates can refrain from voting. I feel allowing the voter to put his/her disapproval on record will not serve any purpose,” said Tilak Das, a member of the CPM’s Bardowali local committee in south Agartala.
Pankaj Lochan Borthakur, a second year Jorhat Engineering College student and a first-time voter, said he would not bother to stand in a queue just to register his protest against the selection of political candidates. “I will never go all the way to a polling booth and stand in a long queue to do so. If I was not happy with the candidates, I would not vote at all.”
Amitabh Barooah, who manages his family tea estate, said NOTA would not stop the election process. “Ultimately, someone will win and it will not affect the winner as to how many people or what percentage of people had pressed the NOTA button. In a democratic process, we have to select from among the available candidates,” he said.
Rafiquz Zaman, the vice-chancellor of Assam Rajiv Gandhi University of Cooperative Management in Sivasagar, said the NOTA option countered the democratic process. “This is not a good option to strengthen democracy. We have to choose the better candidate. If 60-70 per cent vote on NOTA, will the parties come up with better candidates? I do not think so. One will surely win. This is just trying to escape the system,” he said.
Asked about the NOTA option, Manju Brahma, a homemaker residing in Telishal area on the Assam-Nagaland border in Golaghat district, said she was not aware about it.