The much-anticipated electoral battle of 2019 has begun, with the Election Commission on Sunday, 10 March, announcing the Lok Sabha poll schedule.
As the campaign pitch of political parties gets shriller by the day, some of us – perhaps disenchanted by the prevailing political scenario – might be mulling pressing that button right at the bottom of the electronic voting machine (EVM). Introduced only recently, this button gives the voter the right to express his/her negative opinion by choosing NOTA or ‘None of the Above’.
So before you head off to the polling booth, perhaps with an ‘anti all-candidate’ mindset, here’s a lowdown on the NOTA provision in India’s electoral system.
The 'None of the Above' option, simply put, gives the voter the right to express a negative opinion by not selecting any of the candidates in the fray. The Supreme Court envisaged NOTA as a way of cleansing the political system, , “Negative voting will lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates."
While it may seem that NOTA has been around for a long time, it actually came into force only in 2013. The first time it was used was during the Assembly elections held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Delhi.
This was preceded, in September 2013, by a Supreme Court directive in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India case to provide for a NOTA button in the EVMs, thereby upholding a citizen’s right to vote negatively along with the right to secrecy.
Now you may ask if citizens could exercise their right to not vote for any candidate prior to the institution of NOTA. The answer is yes, but process was tedious. The precedent existed in the form of Section 49 (O) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Here, the voter could cast a negative vote would through Form 17A, which would also have to go through the presiding officer. Considering that it did not maintain the voter’s right to secrecy, this section was invalidated with the SC ruling of 2013.