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Why NOTA? Why not a dislike button?

THE CYNIC
THE CYNICOct 17, 2014 | 12:19

Why NOTA? Why not a dislike button?

To vote or not to vote is no longer the question, says a largely enthused population of "Achhe Din" seekers. In participative democracy everyone has to vote, else the system fails. Or at least this is what a majority of conscientious democracy pushing citizens of India, tend to believe and fervently will have others believe in. As proof of the pudding are touted facts and figures, from the last general elections. More people voted; more first time voters; more total number of young voters and hence the clamour for change. According to the tribe of "Good day" believers, this is what fructified in bringing to power a majority government – the first time in 30 years and this is why India’s times will be good in the days ahead.

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Bunkum would be an appropriate un-parliamentary reaction to this belief that more voting translates to more good. Elections in 1967 saw 61 per cent voting and Indira Gandhi becoming Prime Minister was to soon set in motion the license quota Raj and would go on to impose Emergency within 8 years. Elections in 1977 saw 60.49 per cent voting and India got the mishmash Janata Government that barely lasted 3 years. 1984 saw 64.01 per cent voting and Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, only to be called a thief by the end of his 5 year term. 1998 saw 61.97 per cent voting and the first NDA government that came to power lasted a mere 13 months and had to fight Pakistan in Kargil.

So, it would be a wrong premise to hold on to, that more votes herald better days for the country. And it would also be a wrong principle to enforce, that every Indian has to vote. Firstly - If democracy is about freedom then that freedom extends to the choice of voting as it equally does to the choice of not voting. If someone is forced to vote, either through legislation - as is being mooted in some quarters or because of ever increasing societal pressure, then the idea of democratic choice stands nullified.

So enter the NOTA and a seemingly practicable option gets presented to the reluctant voters of India. But who are the people usually pushing the NOTA button. In my opinion they fall in to two categories - those displeased by the choice of candidates at hand or those belonging to a minority tribe, of bona fide citizens, who don’t want to exercise the right, either temporarily or as a matter of principle. But exercising NOTA, in essence, has the same effect as someone not voting at all.

What NOTA however ensures is that a person has to make the effort of getting out of his home, going to the polling station and then pressing the NOTA button – effectively cancelling his vote. But what purpose does this serve, other than wasting a citizen’s time to prove that he is not voting for anyone at all. There is no confusion on the issue of NOTA ever winning an election. The Election Commission has categorically clarified that if the number of NOTA votes is more than every other candidate, the candidate getting the most number of votes, still wins.

My question is why NOTA - why not outright negative voting. Every citizen has one vote and the true exercise of democracy would be, if one could cast that single vote either in favour or against a candidate. Unlike the NOTA where one does not like anybody, in this case, a voter either says that this is the best candidate or says this is the worst candidate. Like in the case of social media, here too, the final tally of a candidates popularity would be judged on the basis of ‘Likes’ and ‘Dislikes’ that he manages to get. The winning candidate would be the one who gets the maximum votes greater than the negative votes that he polled. In the Indian system, of first past the post, negative voting has the potential of levelling out the field against those who use money, muscle, caste or gimmicky propaganda to sway gullible amounts of votes in their favour.

In General Elections 2014, 31 per cent of the votes polled, that itself being 66.4 per cent of total voters, voted BJP to power with 282 seats in Parliament. 69 per cent of the voters who voted did not choose BJP, if you include the voters who did not vote at all, roughly 78 per cent of India did not choose the BJP. So, where is the democracy that is dictated by the will of the majority? With negative voting this anomaly of ‘Minority Will’ becoming the ‘Majority Will’, may get addressed to an extent. Negative voting would grant a bigger voice to marginalised elements in society, in particular, those who suffer from pessimism and ennui. Give them the negative vote and a fairly large number, of those not voting now, might come out to register their displeasure against their pet peeve of a candidate. Take the fence sitters, take those who recently changed their minds and they might also be in a state, where they feel more strongly against a candidate, than being ambivalent towards making a choice from amongst the others…. Give them the Negative vote I say.

With EVMs, negative voting is no longer a logistical or technological nightmare, so that’s one hurdle of history that need not be tackled. It’s now just a matter of having two buttons beside every candidate, a red and a green one, or keeping with the times a thumbs up or thumbs down symbol. But to the best of my knowledge that thumbs up and down business used to also work quite well in selecting Lion feed at Roman Arenas of Millenniums ago.

It is historically tried and tested…it is still in use across the virtual world, so what stops the Indian system from adopting a system of Negative Voting?

Last updated: October 17, 2014 | 12:19
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