The bypoll results of the election to Andheri East in Maharashtra, announced last Sunday, were a mere formality. With the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate, Murji Patel, withdrawing from the contest, the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) candidate, Rutuja Ramesh Latke, won the election comfortably. The other six candidates – four of them independent — fetched less than 2% of the votes each.
The election result is now part of the record books as 12,806 voters (14.79%) chose the None Of The Above (NOTA) option. The Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction accused the BJP of influencing voters to choose the NOTA option, which garnered the second highest vote share.
Following a Supreme Court directive, NOTA was first used during the 2013 Assembly elections in four States — Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — and Delhi. While the number of voters selecting NOTA was high in the elections held soon after the court directive, the number considerably declined in later polls.
The latest Assembly elections in every State show that the share of NOTA votes has been relatively high in areas affected by Left-Wing Extremism (LWE). Map 1 shows the vote percentage secured by NOTA in the latest Assembly election. In 13 Assembly seats, the NOTA vote share crossed the 5% mark. Four of them in Chhattisgarh — Bijapur, Narayanpur, Chitrakot and Dantewada; two in Andhra Pradesh — Araku Valley and Paderum; and Lakshmipur in Odisha were located in districts most affected by LWE.
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Map 2 depicts the 30 districts most affected by LWE, according to the Home Ministry’s reply in the Lok Sabha in March 2021. Four districts — Dantewada, Bastar, Visakhapatnam and Koraput — are part of this list and host the seven seats mentioned in Map 1.
Map 3 depicts the NOTA vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 21 Lok Sabha seats, the NOTA share crossed the 5% mark. Two of the seats were in the Kanker and Bastar districts of Chhattisgarh, one in Koraput in Odisha, one each in the Khunti and West Singhbhum districts of Jharkhand, and multiple in the Jamui and Gaya districts of Bihar, which feature in the Home Ministry’s list of districts most affected by LWE.
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Table 4 lists the top 15 Assembly seats which recorded the highest share of NOTA votes. The top three are from Maharashtra with Latur Rural and Gadchiroli seeing more than 10% NOTA votes in the 2019 and 2014 Assembly elections, respectively. Five of the 15 seats are in Chhattisgarh and two of them are in Bihar.
Table 5 lists the NOTA vote share secured in general, and in Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe reserved seats across years. In general, the NOTA vote share is higher among the ST reserved seats when compared to the SC reserved seats and general seats. However, notably, the NOTA vote share decreased across all three seat types in subsequent elections.
Chart 6 shows the change in NOTA vote share in the latest Assembly election in a State compared to the previous election. For instance, in Chhattisgarh, in 2018, 1.98% of the votes were polled for NOTA compared to 3.07% in 2013 — a fall of 1.09% points. A look at the change in NOTA vote share among 24 States/UTs in the last two Assembly polls shows that the share declined in 16 of them and increased marginally in the rest of the eight States. Red dots indicate a decrease in NOTA vote share while blue dots depict an increase.
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With inputs from Abhinay Deshpande in Maharashtra
Source: LokDhaba, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University
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