“None of the Above (NOTA)” proved the giant killer in the recently concluded Assembly elections in Maharashtra upsetting the apple cart of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena (SS) combine though the voters reposed their faith in this combination by giving them 161 seats together.
The state Assembly elections were held on October 21 and results were declared on Oct 24, 2019. During the campaign the BJP and SS leaders were boasting of capturing 200 plus or 220 seats. But the as the results were announced, the BJP-SS election war cry of ‘Ab ki baar 220 paar’ remained a far-fetched dream. The combine had to satisfy itself to a total of 161 seats.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by octogenarian Sharad Pawar resurfaced with a relatively better performance with 54 seats in its kitty while the Congress party that was totally in loser’s mood surprisingly bagged 44 seats staging a comeback. The NCP had won 41 seats in 2014 while the Congress was just one seat ahead by winning 42.
Vote share and mood of voters: The vote share of these major parties also reflected the resolute mood of the electorate to bring back the BJP-SS combine to power based on their past term’s experience. The BJP polled 1.41 crore votes this time i.e. 25.74% of the total votes polled. It is true that this figure is less than the 1.47 crore votes polled by the party in 2014 thus resulting in a drop of 2 percentage points in in its vote share in 2019. But the BJP contested 260 seats in 2014 and won 122 with 27.8% votes.
The SS contested 288 seats and won 63 with 1.02 crore votes i.e. 19.3 % votes in 2014. There was no pre-poll alliance between the two saffron parties then. This time with alliance the SS contested 124 seats and won 56 with 90 lakh i.e. 16.4 % votes resulting in drop of 3 percentage points.
The NCP too had suffered a loss of votes this time as compared to 2014. It polled 91.22 lakh votes i.e. 16.7 % as compared to 92 lakh votes i.e. 17.2 % in 2014 though it has increased its tally from 41 to 54 in 2019.
Same is the case with Congress party. The party polled 87 lakh votes in 2019 as against the 95 lakh votes it bagged in 2014 resulting a fall in its vote share percentage. The party secured 15.83% votes in 2019 but improved its tally to 44 from 42.
During the Lok Sabha elections held in April-May this year the BJP had registered a lead in over 200 assembly segments with a highest vote share of 27.59% which was closer to its 2014 performance. Based on this position, the party exuded confidence of wining over 200 seats in the assembly polls.
The Shiv Sena too polled 23.29% votes in the Lok Sabha poll which was higher by 6.5% than it polled in the Assembly elections. The Congress remained at the same level with 16.27 % votes in Lok Sabha. The NCP got 15.52% votes in Lok Sabha polls but improved its percentage to 16.7% in assembly polls.
One remarkable feature is that these four major parties had contested the 2014 assembly elections separately and tried their strength. BJP-SS formed an alliance after the elections while NCP-Congress preferred to retain their independent identity. This might have helped them to increase their vote share individually.
In 2019 BJP-SS formed the pre-poll alliance and after many deliberations agreed to share the seats amongst them under the formula of 162-124 seats. Out of these the BJP contested 150 and gave 12 seats to its other smaller allies while the SS did not share any of its 124 seats. Out of these, the BJP won 105 and SS 56 taking the tally of the combine to 161 far ahead of the midway 144 mark in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly.
The Palus-Kadegaon constituency in Sangli district also recorded for 20631 NOTA votes while in Panvel 12399 voters chose NOTA.
The NOTA votes in this election have increased with 7.43 lakh voters choosing to register their protest for selecting ‘wrong’ candidates by various political parties. To cite an example, let us take a look at two prestigious constituencies of Nagpur and Pune. Nagpur being the home turf of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Pune being the stronghold of NCP and secondly, the state BJP president and Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil chose to contest from Kothrud in Pune.
In Nagpur district, there are 12 assembly segments – six in the city known as ‘Second Capital’ of the State, and six in the rural area. Out of these 12, in 2014, the BJP had bagged 11 seats. But this time the tally has come down to 6 – four in the city and two in rural areas.
Nagpur West which happens to be stronghold of the BJP for last over two decades has returned the Congress candidate this time defeating the BJP contestant, two time MLA Sudhakar Deshmukh by a margin of 6367 votes. Here the NOTA votes accounted for 3717. This is more than the 1143 NOTA votes polled in 2014.
In Nagpur South-West from where chief minister Devendra Fadnavis contested and won by 49,344 votes the number of NOTA votes has increased to 3064 from 1017 polled in 2014. Nagpur East which returned BJP sitting MLA Krishna Khopde by a margin of 24,017 votes registered 3460 NOTA votes. In 2014 the NOTA votes in this constituency were 1051.
Nagpur South which again returned a BJP MLA Mohan Mate by a margin of 4183 votes, polled 2353 NOTA votes as against 1276 polled in 2014. Nagpur Central also elected BJP’s Vikas Kumbhare by 4008 votes. Here 2149 voters pushed the NOTA button as against 930 in 2014. In Nagpur North 1988 voters opted for NOTA as against 734 in 2014.
In Nagpur district where the BJP has created a very formidable base in last some years destabilizing the Congress from its bastion 120,106 voters have opted for NOTA this time. District-wise NOTA figures in Vidarbha reveal a very worrisome trend. Bhandara (5947), Wardha (6911), Gadchiroli (11088), Chandrapur (10304), Gondia (7627), Buldana (11939), Yavatmal (11526), Washim (4167), Akola (8833), Amravati (12668), and Nagpur (28496) are the district-wise NOTA votes polled in this assembly elections. What is noteworthy is that these votes are more than the votes polled by 428 contestants in these districts of Vidarbha region.
In all other constituencies of Pune the NOTA votes polled ranged between 2388 (lowest) to 4028 (highest) with Wadgaonsheri (2417), Shivajinagar (2390), Kothrud (4028), Khadakwasla (3561), Parvati (3668), Hadapsar (2474), Pune Cantt (2388), and Kasba Peth (2532).
The PUCL move: Arguments set in favour of NOTA are many. But the growing numbers of NOTA voters is alarming and each and every political party, especially the BJP must take a serious note of this phenomenon. It was the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) that moved the Supreme Court for directing the Election Commission of India to include NOTA option. The Supreme Court accordingly gave the judgement directing the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called “None of the Above” (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy."
The Supreme Court also observed that it is essential that people of high moral and ethical values are chosen as people's representatives for proper governance of the country, and NOTA button can compel political parties to nominate a sound candidate.
NOTA was first used in Chhattisgarh in 2009 election in the local government bodies. In 2013, the NOTA button was pressed by the voters in four states – Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and Delhi NCR assembly elections. Since then the NOTA votes are silently on the increase, securing more votes than the victory margins. This was evident in the assembly elections of Gujarat (2017), Karnataka, MP, and Rajasthan (2018) and now Maharashtra and Haryana (2019) where the voters have expressed their dislike for the fielded candidates.
The PUCL that moved the SC for inclusion of NOTA is a known leftist organization whose aim is to destabilize the internal peace and harmony in the country. People like Dr Binayak Sen, a known urban Maoist and self-styled human rights champion are members of this organization. The inclusion of NOTA happened during the UPA II rule.
NOTA a weapon against the BJP: The NOTA weapon is used by the opponents against the BJP and it is more than evident from the results of last year’s MP Assembly elections. Here the NOTA votes polled were more than the winning margin of the BJP opponents. The figures in Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections also have sent a warning signal to the BJP strategists.
The RSS has often appealed to the voters to vote to the ‘available best’ candidates and refrain from using NOTA because that tantamount to almost not exercising the constitutional right. But in spite of that appeal, the NOTA votes have increased. Majority of NOTA voters are actually the supporters or committed voters of the BJP. That is why, increasing number of NOTA votes is a serious phenomenon and the nationalist forces must take cognizance of it and immediately think of corrective measures to nullify its impact.