NOTA untenable in Rajya Sabha polls

The Supreme Court has done well to strike down the option of NOTA (None of the Above), which the Election Commission had wrongly introduced in the Rajya Sabha elections. The court has also criticised the commission for not realising the implications of its decision, which works against the spirit and processes of democracy. The court had in 2013 ordered introduction of NOTA in direct elections on the basis of a PIL. The commission implemented the directive in all elections from 2014. It also extended it to the Rajya Sabha elections. The idea of NOTA is useful for voters in direct elections, like those for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, to express their view that none of the candidates in the fray are acceptable to them. But its impact is very different in indirect elections like the Rajya Sabha polls. This is what the court has said and admonished the EC for not realising.

As the court pointed out, the use of NOTA in the Rajya Sabha elections aids defection and corruption and undermines democratic values. Legislators elect candidates to the Upper House through a single transferable vote, marking the order of preference among candidates. If the first preference is for NOTA, the vote becomes invalid. The Rajya Sabha vote is through open ballot and is subject to party discipline, while in direct elections the voting is secret, and the voter has free choice and is not bound by any party whip. NOTA can change the outcome of an election to the Rajya Sabha, while in a direct election the candidate who polls the highest number of votes will be elected, regardless of the NOTA number. In a direct election, the winner represents a constituency, but after the Rajya Sabha election, the winner represents a state. It is surprising that the Election Commission went in for NOTA in the Rajya Sabha elections without realising or by ignoring these differences. The court’s judgement has come on a petition filed in connection with the contentious Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat in 2017 which Congress leader Ahmed Patel won after much suspense and drama. 

The court’s observations are important as they underline the need for the best electoral processes and practices to protect the purity and integrity of democracy. The court said that the commission’s sanction for the use of NOTA, that too by way of circulars, overrode constitutional and legal provisions that provided for proportional representation. NOTA also destroys the value of a vote in the Rajya Sabha elections. The Supreme Court’s order should serve as a warning to the EC against implementing electoral ideas without careful consideration.

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NOTA untenable in Rajya Sabha polls

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