In India, NOTA i.e., ‘None of the Above’ was introduced as a choice for the Electronic Voting Machines and Postal Ballots in the General Elections in 2014. It is widely accepted that a NOTA vote is lack of endorsement by the voter for any of the candidates contesting in a given constituency. Regarding NOTA, the Election Commission of India has clarified the following:
- Even in the extreme case when the NOTA votes in a constituency are higher than any of the candidates, the candidate securing the highest votes will be declared the winner. In other words, as per the norms of first past the post, NOTA cannot be declared the winner.
- NOTA votes will not be considered for forfeiture of deposits in an election. Please note that in an election in India, if a candidate fails to secure at least 1/6th (16.67%) of the valid votes cast, he or she forfeits the security deposit.
A lot has been talked about NOTA and political scientists have put forward different viewpoints on NOTA. I am not discussing or debating these viewpoints. In this blog, I will analyze the NOTA votes cast in 2014 and try to draw some conclusions objectively.
In the general elections in 2014, roughly 1.08% of the votes cast were NOTA. This amounts to 5.99 million votes out of a total of 547 million votes. Some of the basic statistics pertaining to NOTA votes are in the table below.
Table I: Summary Statistics of NOTA Votes by Constituency, 2014 General Elections
As we can see, the average NOTA votes in a constituency were 1.12%. In a large democracy like India which has more than 800 million voters, such NOTA votes represent a very small percentage. Therefore, there could always be an attempt to brush the NOTA votes under the carpet or to treat them as having nuisance value at best. However, we can also see from the table above that the maximum NOTA votes in a constituency were slightly higher than 5% and that the 90th percentile is 2.4%. As with any statistical analysis, it is important to look at the frequency distribution instead of just the mean. The frequency distribution of the percentage of NOTA votes in all Lok Sabha constituencies is presented below in Chart A.
Chart A: Frequency distribution of the percentage of NOTA votes in All Lok Sabha Constituencies
From the frequency distribution we can see that in the 2014 General Elections, in 417 constituencies out of a total of 543 the NOTA votes were 1.5% or lower. In addition, there are 25 constituencies in which the percentage of NOTA votes were 2.5% or higher. I decided to look at the characteristics of these constituencies which recorded much higher than average NOTA votes. Table II below shows the top ten constituencies with highest percentage of NOTA votes.
Table II: Top 10 Constituencies which recorded the highest percentage of NOTA Votes in 2014 General Elections
It is quite apparent from the table able that these top ten constituencies are all in the reserved category and 8 out of these 10 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. In addition, of the top 25 constituencies by highest percentage of NOTA votes, 17 are reserved; 3 for Scheduled Castes and 14 for Scheduled Tribes. And of the top 50, 30 are reserved; 7 for Scheduled Castes and 23 for Scheduled Tribes. One can thus draw a definite conclusion that in the constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes, the percentage of NOTA votes have been higher than the norm. It is also noteworthy to point out that the Nilgiris constituency in Tamil Nadu which recorded the second highest proportion of NOTA votes in the country is the home of the Badaga tribe. This tribe has been agitating to be recognized as a Scheduled Tribe for a long time.
I decided to go one step further and analyze the frequency distribution of NOTA Vote % for the reserved and general constituencies. The objective was to evaluate if the distribution of seats with different NOTA Vote percentages is markedly different in reserved seats versus the general category ones. From the distribution (see Chart B), it is quite evident that the NOTA Votes cast in seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes is significantly different than the general seats as well those seats reserved for Scheduled Castes.
Chart B: Frequency distribution of the percentage of NOTA votes in for General and Reserved Constituencies
Let’s take for example the constituencies where the percentage of NOTA votes were between 2.0 and 2.5%. As evident from the chart above, in less than 10% of the general constituencies and those reserved for Scheduled Castes, the proportion of NOTA votes were in the range 2.0 to 2.5%. By contrast in constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes, slightly more than 25% of them recorded NOTA votes in that range of 2.0 to 2.5%. Next, let us consider those constituencies where the percentage of NOTA votes were 0.5 to 1.0%. In the general constituencies and the ones reserved for Scheduled Castes, more than 35% of the constituencies recorded NOTA votes between 0.5 and 1.0%. By contrast in constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes, in only about 5% of the constituencies, the proportion of NOTA votes were in the range 0.5 to 1.0%.
Finally, we look at the proportion of NOTA votes in constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes in all the states where there is at least 1 seat reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. We then compare the proportion of NOTA votes in these reserved constituencies to the proportion of NOTA votes in general constituencies and the ones reserved for Scheduled Castes (see Table III below).
Table III: Comparison of NOTA vote % in constituencies reserved for ST versus other constituencies
From this table it is evident in every single state where there is more than 1 seat reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, the proportion of NOTA votes has been significantly higher as compared to the other constituencies.
In Gujarati, the elder brother is affectionately referred to as ‘Mota Bhai’. I want to borrow this phrase and make an impassioned plea not to ignore the NOTA votes in the constituencies reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. Even with a low percentage of NOTA votes, the Scheduled Tribes in India are conveying a message. It could be that they are genuinely unhappy with the candidates who are in fray and hence, decide to cast a NOTA vote. But I fear that if they casting a NOTA vote because they feel marginalized in the economy and polity of modern India, then it is unfortunate and is probably leading to an incendiary situation. Mota Bhai, the least we can do is to understand the root cause and try to address it.