Pressure of a button
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The NOTA option is not a right to reject, but it will let disillusioned voters be heard.
The Supreme Court judgment on the long-pending demand from a section of the people for the right to reject has created a stir. But it seems that the meaning of the order has not been correctly appreciated. Most people appear to think that the right to reject has been granted. They will be disappointed to learn that their celebrations have been premature.
What are the facts, then? The Supreme Court has asserted that just as people have the right to express their preference for a candidate, they also have a right to register a negative opinion. This can be exercised through an extra button on the EVM which says "none of the above" or NOTA. The apex court has directed the Election Commission to introduce this button.
The order came after a writ petition filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in 2004, under Article 32 of the Constitution, questioned the constitutional validity of the Conduct of Election Rules 41 (2 and 3) and 49-O, as these violate the secrecy of a vote. It also requested the court to direct the EC to introduce the NOTA option on EVMs (and ballot papers). Interestingly, the EC itself had demanded the provision of this option through an amendment of the Conduct of Election Rules as early as 2001. Irked by the government's inaction, the PUCL chose to go to the apex court.
What will the effect of this innovation be? Will it mean that all the candidates in a constituency stand rejected or defeated if the number of NOTA votes exceeds the number garnered by the highest vote-getter? The answer is a clear no. Even if there are 99 NOTA votes out of a total of 100, and candidate X gets just one vote, X is the winner, having obtained the only valid vote. The rest will be treated as invalid or "no votes".
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