Mainstream Politicians Wary Of NOTA Option

13 April 2014
Rising Kashmir
Manzoor-ul-Hassan

Srinagar: The None-Of-The-Above (NOTA) option introduced by Election Commission of India has come to haunt politicians in Jammu and Kashmir. Though most of the mainstream politicians have accepted the introduction of NOTA option in J&K but they believe separatists may use it against the electoral process 'to embarrass Government of India in the international forums'. Earlier, there was a stiff opposition against NOTA from various quarters, including the mainstream political parties who were apprehensive about the misuse of the option. As ECI maintained that there is no question of rolling back the option, members of various political parties believe that it may also help survey the areas influenced by boycott call of separatist leaders. 'There is no doubt that it may give a strong choice to people to use electoral process against candidates in the fray. However, it may also help identify people who are upset with the political parties and their candidates' National Conference Additional General Secretary, Sheikh Mustafa Kamal told Rising Kashmir. 'Jammu and Kashmir is atypical place as far as electoral process is concerned as it has witnessed a series of low turnouts many times in some areas, either out of fear or in protest against the Indian state. So people may use this opportunity to vent their anger. Moreover, ECI introduced this option in J&K to identify people and areas with separatist bent of mind' he said. Kamal said that NOTA option in electronic voting machines (EVMs) in sensitive areas would help reinforce poll boycott in the state. Congress leader and Minister for Medical Education, Taj Mohi-ud-Din, who was against the introduction of NOTA option in J&K from the beginning, said: 'It was not in the interest of the state to introduce the option for any election in Kashmir.' He has made his apprehension clear in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, requesting them to exclude Jammu and Kashmir from the introduction of the NOTA option. The Congress minister had also written to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi cautioning her against the implementation of the provision in the state. The party apprehends that the inclusion of the NOTA option in EVMs will give the separatists an opportunity to subvert the electoral process in the state. 'We think the provision could be misused by the separatists in Kashmir' Taj had said. State secretary of CPI (M), M Y Tarigami also said the option was not-feasible for the state. 'I don't think it is a feasible option in J&K as it has no importance. Now since it has already been introduced let us give it a chance' he said. Tarigami, however, added that NOTA will not have much impact on election process as expressed by National Conference and Congress leaders. 'It will not affect the polls. People who support elections will vote at any cost. People voted in 1996 elections when nobody dared to vote. In Panchayat elections people turned in large numbers and voted' he added. Earlier, Election Commission came out with a clarification that even if the NOTA option gets more votes than any candidate, the candidate who gets the maximum number of votes will be declared the winner. This means, if the total number of votes polled are 100 and even when NOTA gets 90, the candidate who gets the second highest votes will win. 'In such a situation, the sentiment expressed by people would mean they are against the process and candidate in the fray. As a moral responsibility candidate declared winner under such a situation should not take oath' Kamal said. A political analyst, wishing anonymity said: 'If it happens in Kashmir, it can have serious implications. In such a situation, it could become the most lethal weapon that Pakistan can have against India at the international fora, including the UN.' Earlier, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam on September 27, 2013, while granting the electorate the option of the None-of-the-Above (NOTA) in a 51-page ruling has said, 'When political parties realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systematic change and the parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity.' The ruling added, 'In a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose the NOTA button, which will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate.' The places where political parties are fearing excessive use of the NOTA option are also places where voting has been abysmal. These places include Srinagar city, Sopore, Baramulla and Shopian. In 1996, Zaidbal and Khanyar (Srinagar) had a 12 percent turnout each, while in 2002 elections Zadibal saw 4 percent turnout and Khanyar had 4.75 percent. In the 2008 Assembly elections, Khanyar saw a 17 percent turnout. In 2002, Ali Mohammed Sagar, presently a minister in Omar Abdullah government, received just 2868 votes out of 72495 (4.22 percent). He won election from Khanyar. In the same election, the winning candidate from Habbakadal constituency in Srinagar, Raman Matoo received 587 votes out of 66,782 (3.21 %). These constituencies are all separatist strongholds in Srinagar. These are some of the voter turnout figures in 2002: Lolab 46% Langate 53% Sopore 8.9 % Sangrama 22% Hazratbal 7.12% Zadibal 4.78% Eidgah 4.75% Khanyar 4.22% Amirakadal 3.6 percent Sonawar 9.96 Batamaloo :4 % Shpian 26.91% Kulgam 24% Ananag: 7.16% out of 69815 And in 2008 Zadibal: 17% Idgah 22% Khanyar 17% Habakadal 11% Amirakadal:14.9% Khansabah:74% Sopore 19 %. Mainstream leaders say if separatists manage to raise the pitch in favour of NOTA and people come in large numbers to push the new button on the EVMs, it would be an embarrassment for Government of India and could be deemed as a referendum of sorts. Those who fear NOTA button in Kashmir are also apprehensive about its impact in Naxal-hit Chhattisgarh. The Election Commission of India says the NOTA option received 4,01,058 votes in the 90 constituencies of Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh: a number which is a cause of concern, as it make up 3.15% of the total valid votes cast. The majority of these NOTA votes were polled in the worst affected Maoist areas where the Naxals had called for a boycott.