Chhattisgarh polls: Not rivals, candidates fear NOTA may emerge biggest slayer in repeat of 2013 nightmare
In 2013, NOTA was at the third position in 35 of the 90 Assembly seats of Chhattisgarh.
Raipur: In Chhattisgarh, the electorate enthusiastically voted for ‘None of the Above’ candidates, so much so that NOTA has become some kind of a threat to political parties in the fray.
Chew on this: Chhattisgarh was in the news for polling the maximum number of NOTA votes in the 2013 Assembly election, with NOTA even playing spoilsport for candidates on many seats. It was the year when the option was first introduced on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) by the Election Commission.
In 2013, NOTA was at the third position in 35 of the 90 Assembly seats. Considering that the difference in vote percentage between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress was only 0.75%, and that NOTA got 3.16% of votes which means, NOTA got four times more votes than the difference of defeat.
Looking at the data of the previous Lok Sabha election, NOTA got a thumping response in the tribal-dominated areas of Chhattisgarh, with the option securing third place in five of 11 such seats. In he Maoist-affected Bastar, for instance, 38,772 voters preferred NOTA over Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Soni Sori, who got only 16,903 votes.
Similarly in Kanker, 31,917 voters opted to press NOTA button, and in chief minister Raman Singh's home district Rajnandgaon, 32,384 people chose NOTA.
NOTA, a prime concern for political parties
The second phase of polling for the 2018 Chhattisgarh Assembly election is only a few days away. The BJP and the Congress are not the prominent parties in the poll arena this time. There is a formidable third front of former chief minister Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) is also in the fray.
Then there are the smaller or new parties in the battle, such as the AAP, the Marxist Communist Party and the Gondwana Republican Party. Yet, the concern of political parties in many areas is more closely related to NOTA.
This is because there were seven seats in the previous Assembly election where NOTA got more votes than the difference of defeat between candidates. Apart from this, there were 10 seats where NOTA got over 5,000 votes.
Yogendra Yadav, an election analyst and president of Swaraj India party, explains this by saying that “people are looking for an alternative which is not available, so they are heading towards NOTA”.
“People stood in line and did not hesitate to vote for NOTA and this shows a deep disappointment towards our politicians,” he adds.
Three years ago, during the byelection for the Assembly seat of Antagarh in Chhattisgarh, voters picked NOTA as their second choice. According to the result of the bypoll, BJP candidate Bhojraj Nag got 63,616 votes, while the number of voters who pressed NOTA was 13,506. Rupadar Poudo, the only rival of Nag, from Ambedkarite Party of India, got 12,086 votes and was at number three position.
The impact of NOTA in Chhattisgarh can be ascertained by the result on some seats.
Rampukar Singh, minister in the previous Ajit Jogi government, won the Pathalgaon seat in 2003 with a thin margin of votes against BJP's Vishnudev Sai. In the next election in 2008, Singh won again, getting 64,543 votes against Sai’s 54,627. But in 2013, NOTA played spoiler.
Singh got 67,576 votes, while BJP's Shivshankar Painkra got 71,485 votes. Singh lost by 3,909 votes while NOTA got 5,533 votes!
In Dharasinva in 2008, BJP's Devji Bhai Patel won the seat and then again in 2013, but NOTA reduced his victory margin from 6,339 to 2,390. NOTA got 3,740 votes.
Similarly in 2008, BJP's Nandkumar Sahu won Raipur Rural by 2,979 votes. He was fielded again by the BJP in 2013 but NOTA got 3,524 votes. Sahu lost to Congress candidate Satyanarayan Sharma by 1,861 votes.
On Kawardha seat, the chief minister’s home district, BJP's Siyaram Sahu won by 10,408 votes in 2008. In 2013, over fears of anti-incumbency wave, the party fielded Ashok Sahu. NOTA bagged 9,229 votes and Ashok won, but with a victory margin of just 2,558. Experts believe that if the BJP had not changed the candidate, they would have lost the seat.
In 2008, BJP's Komal Janghel won the Khairagarh seat by 19,544 votes. She was fielded again in 2013, against Girvar Janghel of the Congress. In a tough battle, NOTA got 4,643 votes and Janghel was defeated by 2,190 votes.
BJP's Kheduram Sahu won by 9,407 votes in the 2008 Assembly elections from Dongargaon seat. In 2013, Dinesh Gandhi contested on the BJP ticket and lost to Congress' Dalheshwar Sahoo by 1,698 votes. Here, NOTA had got 4,062 votes.
In Dantewada, Congress' Devati Karma had won by 5,987 votes, but there were 9,677 people who voted for NOTA. In the same way, Congress's Mohan Marakam in Kondagaon won by 5,135 votes, while 6,773 people preferred NOTA.
In Chitrakot constituency coming under the Maoist-hit Bastar, Congress's Deepak Baij got a total of 50,303 votes while the people had given 10,848 votes in the favour of NOTA.
Accident, ignorance or curiosity?
In the previous Assembly election, Congress candidate Mohammad Akbar, who lost Kawardha seat by 2,558 votes, blamed the electronic voting machine for his defeat. He believed that reversing the voting machine had confused voters, so much so that he has now requested the Election Commission to ensure that the machine is kept in an ‘upside’ position this election.
According to Akbar, his name was at the top of the voting machine, but where the machine was kept in a ‘downward’ position, his name came down, and on top was the NOTA button. The people were told that they could choose to vote for Akbar by pressing on the first top button on the machine, so they ended up pressing the NOTA option.
Yet another explanation for too many votes for NOTA was offered by CPI candidate Manish Kunjam from Konta Assembly seat.
“In tribal-dominated areas, there is little awareness about the voting machine, and the number of people who press the first or last button on the machine is high. If ballot paper is used for voting, you will not see NOTA figuring anywhere,” Kunjam says.
BJP spokesman Sanjay Srivastava says that since NOTA was added as an option for the first time in 2013, the effect was seen in the immediate election. “Out of curiosity, people pressed the NOTA button. But this time it will not happen,” he insists.
For Subrata Sahu, Chief Electoral Officer, Chhattisgarh, the matter of NOTA is of no concern. “Whichever candidate the voter chooses, or whether he or she presses the button for NOTA, it is their discretion,” he says.
The author is a freelance writer and a member of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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