How will None Of The Above affect India poll result?
- 14 May 2014
- From the section India
While most of the attention in India's election has been focused on the fates of the major political parties and their leaders, for those voters who are fed up with them, a new candidate emerged - Nota.
In previous polls, the only options for those turned off by India's political class - often perceived as corrupt or sectarian and sometimes accused in serious criminal cases - was to stay away from the polls or to spoil their ballots.
However, the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that there should be a new choice on the ballot: None Of The Above, or Nota as it's commonly referred to.
So how much of an impact has Nota made in its general election debut? The Indian media have reported on various aggrieved communities across the country where voters have said they were planning to use the option, from sex workers in Calcutta, to civil servants in Uttar Pradesh, and villages in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh where people have lost faith in local politicians.
Aman Wadud, a lawyer in the north-eastern city of Guwahati, has previously voted for the Congress party but opted for Nota this time as he says his local Congress MLA has not improved infrastructure and there were no viable candidates from other parties."
"I cannot endorse Congress' misdeeds anymore. [The local candidate] has given me no reason why I should vote for him," Mr Wadud says.
Delhi voter Meghna Kriplani also comes from a family of Congress voters but has been unimpressed by the party's second term in office.
In Delhi's state elections in 2013, she was one of those who voted for the new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), helping propel it to a spectacular result with which it was able to form a minority government.
But like many she describes AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal's decision to resign as Delhi's chief minster after only 49 days in power as "frivolous", saying it "made a mockery" of their ideals.
"When the option [of Nota] was in front of me, it was my form of being a little rebellious," she says.
But even those who opted for that small act of rebellion admit its one key limitation - even if Nota tops the ballot in any given seat, the candidate with the most votes would still be returned.
In addition, there has been no official effort to inform voters of the new option, with the job of publicising it largely left to the media.
Activist and columnist Namita Bhandare was one of those who persuasively made the case to me for Nota - but when we asked her local grocer if he had used the option too, his reply was: "Nota? I don't understand. What's that?"
'Slap in the face'
It may be assumed that most of those voting Nota would be from among the more politically engaged electorate in India's cities.
However, poll analyst Sanjay Kumar says the results from 2013's state elections, where Nota was also on the ballot, point in a different direction.
"There was a strong correlation between how often Nota was used and how rural a constituency was. It is the more rural and tribal constituencies where Nota was used most often."
The same is true of illiteracy - the more illiterate people in a constituency, the higher the Nota vote tended to be.
In some rural districts of Chhattisgarh state, the Nota vote was more than 8%, Mr Kumar says.
He is not entirely sure why this is, but suspects it is less to do with active political protest than with people spoiling their ballots, as happened before paper ballots were replaced by electronic voting machines.
For Nota to have teeth, Mr Kumar says, legislation would be needed to force a re-election where there was a strong Nota showing - something political parties are likely to oppose.
Even many of those who used the option don't expect it to make a breakthrough at these polls. But as Ms Bhandare points out, in an electorate of India's size, even a few percent using Nota constitute tens of millions of people.
Mr Wadud says that he doesn't think many voted Nota in his seat - but a strong Nota showing in any seat would be, in his words "a slap in the face for politicians, a huge moral victory for voters".
Ms Kriplani hopes that if enough people make the effort of a trip to the polling station and voice their dissatisfaction, politicians may just take notice in future polls. "Maybe eventually they will realise that we need better candidates," she says.