The Flip Side of the NOTA Option

Game changer Separatists, who boycotted elections, are warming up to NOTA
Game changer Separatists, who boycotted elections, are warming up to NOTA. Photo: AFP

Even as the chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Mirwaiz Umar Farooq mulls the use of Supreme Court granted Right to Reject to enter the electoral arena in the state, the J&K Congress has 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 None Of The Above (NOTA) option in Electronic Voting Machines (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,” says senior Congress leader and the minister for medical education Taj Mohiudin. He said the letter to Sonia Gandhi highlights these fears. “We sought her attention to the potential use of the NOTA option by the secessionist elements to assert their own political position.”

When contacted, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the NOTA option presented an “interesting opportunity” to separatists. “I think the Right to Reject merits a serious consideration. We need to deliberate on it,” he says. “If people have the choice to reject contesting candidates, it gives the people of Kashmir a chance to tell the world where we stand.”

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court in September granted the voters the right to reject all the candidates in the polls. The court directed the Election Commission (EC) to provide NOTA option in EVMs and ballot papers to allow voters to reject those contesting polls.

In the past secessionist groups, including the Hurriyat factions led by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, have abstained from taking part in elections, arguing that the exercise didn’t include the option to opt out of India, nor the choice to reject the exercise itself. But NOTA option has presented itself as an opportunity, which some of them are slowly warming to.

“We are waiting for the elections to come around and also for the implementation of this provision in J&K,” says Mirwaiz. “ I hope they don’t make an exception for J&K. And if they do, it will be our victory. It will expose the sham democratic process in the J&K to the world.”

Though the idea has yet to resonate with the people in the state with elections still some distance away, there has been some discussion of the provision and its gamechanging potential for J&K.

However, hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani sees little promise in the option, calling for the boycott of the election in any case. “The polls have no sanctity. We are asking people to completely boycott the polls. People should desist from approaching the polling booths,” Geelani says. “NOTA is not an option.”

The state government, however, has yet to decide on implementing the NOTA option in the state before next year’s Assembly polls. After the SC’s verdict on introduction of NOTA, the EC has issued instructions to the chief electoral officers of all states and union territories to introduce the same.

The EC has decided to introduce NOTA option in the upcoming Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram. While the voters of the five state will exercise their right to reject, experts feel the NOTA option has no electoral value, as the candidate who gathers the maximum number of votes will be declared winner, irrespective of the votes polled under NOTA.

But, Umang Narula, Chief Electoral Officer Jammu and Kashmir, says that there are some “legal issues” involved, so far as the implementation of the NOTA option in J&K is concerned.

“The J&K is governed by a separate Act. So there are some legal issues. I have to seek the opinion of the Election Commission, which is the final arbiter in the matter,” Narula says. “ We have been told to implement the provision in Parliamentary polls. We will know what to do as Assembly elections come around”.


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