- NOTA is an option by which a voter can declare that none of the candidates in the election are to his liking and he/she does not want his/her vote to go to anyone. It was made available to voters with effect from 11 October 2013. India is the 12thcountry to introduce NOTA. Others include France, Belgium, Greece, Brazil, Bangladesh, and so forth.
- NOTA serves a number of purposes: 1. It gives the right to choose and to express dissent to the voter.
- The number of votes sends a clear message to political outfits over the choices of their candidates in the constituency.
- It does not place an obligation on the voter to choose a lesser of the two evils.
NOTA and JNU
JNUSU introduced NOTA for the first time in the 2014 elections. Though in the year of its introduction it didn’t make much significant difference in the election results, in the following year, which is in 2015, NOTA was one of the reasons for the resurgence of a Right-wing party after almost 14 years.
Let us look at the 2015–16 election data:
For the post of President, 82 out of 4372 votes were polled for NOTA, that is just 1.87 per cent.
For the post of Vice-President, 388 votes were polled for NOTA, maximum coming from SSS and SLL&CS with 126 and 110 respectively. This was 8.87 per cent
For the post of General Secretary, the NOTA count was 204 making it 4.66 per cen
For the post of Joint Secretary, the count was 414 votes, the highest among all four votes, making it 9.46 percent.
In sum, 6.25 per cent votes of the total 17,388 votes were in the share of NOTA.
According to a party person, due to 414 votes polled for NOTA for the post of Joint-Secretary last year, ABVP’s Saurabh Sharma won by a slim margin of 27 votes. The Left saw it as an alarming symbol indicating the proliferation of the Right-wing in the campus.
2016, however, brought back the Left glory with all four seats of the central panel going in favour of the AISA-SFI alliance.
Now, let us look at the role played by NOTA in this year’s elections:
For the post of President, the NOTA count was 135 out of 5138 votes, making it 2.62 percent
For the post of Vice President, the count was 437, making it 8.50 per cent of the 5158 votes.
For the post of General Secretary, the count was 296, making it 5.76 percent.
For the post of Joint Secretary, this year the count was 272, making it 5.29 percent.
In sum, this year’s elections had 5.54 per cent of 20, 552 votes in favour of NOTA.
Now, we went out in the field with the question whether NOTA is relevant in JNU politics and whether it should be an option for the voters in the elections?
We chose to further the conversations through the answers of the respondents and did not have any pre-decided set of questions.
Our fieldwork was majorly conducted during the counting of the votes. We asked a number of people about the relevance of NOTA in JNUSU elections. Out of the 25 people that we talked to, our responses fell into three major categories:
- NOTA shouldn’t be an option at all
From the two members who were jointly representing the AISA-SFI alliance, the answer to the question of whether NOTA should be an option in elections, was a clear ‘No’.
According to them, in student elections the impact of NOTA is much more than it is in national or state elections. To quote one of them, ‘Human beings are political beings. Voting for NOTA is equal to not voting at all. It is better to choose the lesser of the evils rather than not voting for anyone’.
The other member expressed how NOTA could serve as a ‘political’ instrument for defeating others as well. It is not just about expressing disappointment with the candidates. Sometimes, NOTA could be filed to ensure someone else’s defeat. It is a double-edged sword. The intra-party conflict which marred the Left last year, led to ABVP’s win. It is not serving any good purpose.
- NOTA is highly relevant
Coming majorly from the common voters and a party-person of ABVP, the response of the necessity of NOTA found a high demand. One of the voters, in fact, confessed to coming from Dwarka to press NOTA. To quote her, ‘Casting my vote is my right as well as my duty. By not voting I would not be living to the “democratic” part of these elections. NOTA gives me the option to express my dissent and disappointment. Not finding any candidate suitable for the job is also an opinion and that should be taken into account’.
On similar lines, the ABVP person supported the availability of NOTA. She said that the NOTA votes also help us to know our voter base better. Based on the statistics provided for each school, we could come up with strategies to reach out better to the students.
- It does not matter
A mix of both common voters and party people (specifically from BAPSA) opined that NOTA is yet to make an impactful dent in elections. For some, it comes from the confused voters who turned up for voting but are confused and politically de-motivated. For one BAPSA activist, it is resorted to by the elite classes—those who will not be affected by the outcome of the elections.
(Those who had no particular opinion on NOTA were also put in this category.)
Themes and Debates
*Classification on the basis of class
The BAPSA activist initiated an interesting debate by arguing that it is only the oppressed classes (by oppressed he meant those belonging to the SCs, ST, OBCs, the impoverished, and the minorities) who take interest in elections. For them, politics is the only medium of change. For the upper classes and the elite, it really does not matter as to who comes into power.
Finding a correlation between class and NOTA was something new to us as well. The following 12 respondents that we talked to, we asked if they had pressed NOTA, if yes then what was the reason, and, finally, if they thought there was a correlation between class and NOTA. We also asked which social class they would put themselves in.
- Out of those 12 respondents, 7 admitted to pressing NOTA on one or more posts. The reasons included: (a) Finding the candidates unsuitable for the post, (b) not knowing enough about them to choose, and (c) being highly confused about the whole process so going for NOTA instead.
- On the class question, three respondents said a ‘Yes’, five said ‘No, not really. There are some compelling reasons which push us to choose NOTA’, and four people said, ‘could be.’ When we analysed the data with their class status alongside their answers, two people who answered ‘yes’ considered themselves from the lower middle-class; and one ‘yes’ from a person who put himself in the middle class. Almost all our respondents chose to put themselves in the ‘middle class’ category, refraining from being categorized as elite or upper class.
- What can be inferred from the above-mentioned findings is that most of our respondents refuse to identify themselves as elites and chose to categorize their position in the middle classes thereby suggesting the all-encompassing nature of the modern middle class. Moreover, it seems that the identification of themselves as middle class also results in the categorization of the elite/upper classes as carriers of a negative sort of social baggage with which association is seen as having a negative impact.
**Ideology versus Issues
One of the voters justified going for NOTA by raising the Ideology versus Issues debate. He said that I opted for NOTA because I believe all these parties are only oriented towards promoting their ideology, rather than working on the student-related issues. Although they mention a lot in their manifestos, they hardly work on them. A student body should be inclusive in its issues as well, apart from being inclusive in the social characteristics which define their candidates.
Six of our respondents particularly talked about ‘awareness’. In 2015, Kerala became one of the topmost states to have had a great share of votes for the NOTA category, this being attributed majorly to the awareness factor. People were specifically told that they should opt for NOTA if they are not satisfied with any other candidate.
Although this is a university, assuming that all the students know about NOTA would be wrong. There are still many who are unaware about this option and hence vote for some other candidate even when they don’t want to. There should be more awareness about NOTA. Only then we would know the true mandate of the people. Even in our conversations, there were some who did not know that there is no NOTA option for the post of Councillors.
In conclusion, it seems that the introduction of NOTA in JNUSU elections can have a sizeable impact in the years to come. If one takes the 2016–17 elections as an example, NOTA puts pressure on the political parties contesting for posts, especially in the Central Panel, to field candidates that are not only politically active but are also visible to the electorate. The trend that NOTA votes seems to suggest is that most NOTA votes are cast in posts where the competition among candidates is the least, in the sense that one candidate leads the others by a long shot. This is an indication of the fact that if a particular candidate is disliked by a section of voters, they would rather cast their vote as NOTA instead of another candidate. For political parties, this can have an adverse impact on the votes cast in their favour and reduce the margins of victory, which, in a university, can mean the difference between winning and losing an election.
Written and Researched by Anamika Singh and Vidushi Gupta. They are final year MA (Sociology) students.