Indian PM Narendra Modi's allies spooked as more Indians vote 'none of the above'

Fears that various voter groups are planning to use the "None of the above" button to show their frustration with the political system has worried Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's backers.
Fears that various voter groups are planning to use the "None of the above" button to show their frustration with the political system has worried Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's backers.PHOTO: DPA

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - The right to reject political candidates has been gaining popularity among disenchanted Indian voters in recent elections, a trend that is starting to spook supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the national vote beginning April 11, voters will get to pick "None of the above", or Nota - a button at the bottom on electronic voting machines after the list of candidates. While no current polls gauge the strength of Nota, past elections indicate it could be appealing for disgruntled home buyers, distressed farmers and villagers, and jobless young people.

"The Nota is catching up,'' said Mr Anil Verma, national coordinator of the Association for Democratic Reforms, a Delhi-based organisation working on electoral and political reform.

"Over the years in elections - in general and state assemblies - the Nota share is increasing. Seeing the trend, perhaps this time there will be more Nota votes, as there is disenchantment towards politicians and political parties.''

Better employment opportunities is the top priority for India voters, while they remain dissatisfied with the performance of federal and state governments on issues like healthcare, safe drinking water, roads and public transportation, according to the association's survey of about 270,000 people released on March 25.

Fears that various voter groups are planning to use Nota to show their frustration with the political system has worried Mr Modi's backers. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has launched a campaign against Nota.

"Nota in the present form pushes people not to believe in democracy," said RSS spokesman Rajiv Tuli by phone from New Delhi. "We are doing door-to-door campaigns asking people for 100 per cent voting and no Nota."

 
 
 
 

Introduced to India's electoral system in 2013, Nota has no electoral value and cannot alter the outcome of the poll - rather, it allows voters who are not satisfied with any candidate to exercise their right to show their anger and frustration. In the 2014 elections, Nota got more than six million votes or 1.08 per cent of total share.

In closely fought elections in December there were at least 23 assembly constituencies in Madhya Pradesh and 16 in Rajasthan where Nota votes were more than the margin of victory, Mr Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said in an article. That is why political parties believe Nota can affect the outcome of some polls.

One major voting bloc - India's farmers - have been urged by their representatives to select Nota.

"We have called for farmers to vote for Nota and we are also campaigning for it,'' said Mr Lingaraj, the convener of the Paschim Odisha Krushak Sangathan Samanwaya Samiti, an umbrella body of farmers' organisations.

The BJP and the eastern state of Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal have not fulfilled farmer's demands for loan waivers and better support prices for crops, while the main opposition Congress party cannot be trusted either, said Mr Lingaraj, who uses only one name.

"All parties have betrayed the farmers."

India will vote in seven phases between April 11 and May 19, with results released on May 23 determining whether Mr Modi will retain power.