The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction has made allegations that voters were being “paid” to choose NOTA, or the ‘none of the above”, option for the Andheri bypoll, polling for which commenced on Thursday. A senior poll official soon followed this up by declaring that it will be “illegal” for any party or candidate to run a such a “NOTA campaign”, especially since campaigning for the bypoll had ended.
But, with the BJP having withdrawn its candidate, will NOTA play spoilsport in the Andheri bypoll? The Thackeray Sena’s candidate Rutuja Latke, who is the widow of late MLA Ramesh Latke, has an easy road ahead but will she win the complete confidence of the electorate?
What are the allegations by the Thackeray-led Sena?
Anil Parab, a leader of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction, had alleged that some rivals of the party’s candidate in the Andheri bypoll, Rutuja Latke, were asking voters to press the NOTA button. On Tuesday, the party alleged that voters were being paid to choose NOTA option on the day of voting.
Parab said the party had raised this issue with the Election Commission as well as police. He said this will have ramifications in the coming BMC elections, too, as for the first time it will see the combined strength of MVA allies (Thackeray-led Sena, NCP and Congress).
“Some people are being paid money to choose NOTA,” the former Maharashtra minister alleged. His party has video clips showing purported workers of the Republican Party of India (RPI) indulging in such acts, he added. The RPI (Athawale faction) is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The Thackeray Sena has fielded Rutuja Latke, the wife of incumbent Sena MLA Ramesh Latke whose death necessitated the election. The BJP fielded Murji Patel, who later withdrew his candidature after the party decided not to contest.
“On the one hand, the BJP withdrew its candidate saying it respects the tradition of not fielding a candidate against family members of deceased lawmakers. On the other hand, people are being asked to cast their vote for NOTA,” Parab said.
Parab, however, said he was confident that Latke will bag 98 to 99 per cent votes and will complete the works that remained incomplete due to her husband’s death.
What did the Election Commission say?
Soon after Parab’s allegations surfaced, the Election Commission of India on Wednesday said it will be illegal for any party or candidate to ask people to use the NOTA option, especially once the election campaign had ended. The campaigning for the byelection came to an end at 5 pm on Tuesday.
Maharashtra chief electoral officer Shreekant Deshpande said since the campaign for the bypoll has officially ended, a candidate or political party asking people to use NOTA will be considered part of an election campaign.
“If a candidate or political party asks people to use NOTA, it will be considered as a campaign, and it will be illegal (as campaigning for the bypoll has officially ended),” Deshpande said, when asked about Parab’s claims and the Thackeray Sena’s allegations over a “NOTA campaign”.
He added: “If a third party or individual asks voters to opt for NOTA, it will not be considered a campaign.”
Deshpande further said the EC will take action only after it looks into complaints against a candidate or party asking people to use NOTA, after campaigning had ended.
What is NOTA?
In September 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates in an electoral contest by introducing the NOTA, or the ‘none of the above’ option. Simply put as the voter’s ‘right to reject’, the NOTA is an option on the electronic voting machine (EVM) or the ballot papers for people to choose if they do not want to opt for any other political party.
Earlier, if a voter wanted to exercise the option of not choosing, they had to inform the presiding officer at the polling booth. This, in a way, violated the right to secrecy of an individual that is an integral part of a free and fair election.
How does NOTA work and does it have an impact on poll results?
While there have been calls to make NOTA more potent, it has no effect on the results of the elections as crafted by the EC. Often, questions have been raised in this regard. When introducing NOTA, however, the EC said although these votes are counted, it will not have an impact on the poll results. So, whether NOTA gets most or least number of votes, it has no impact on the total valid votes.
There have been calls from political experts as well as those looking at stringent reforms in the electoral system to make NOTA count. Many have said if NOTA gets more votes than political candidates in an electoral contest, there should be a re-election, and that NOTA must be treated as a “fictional electoral candidate”.
(With PTI inputs)
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