Rituraj Borthakur

GUWAHATI, April 6: Dearth of “good” candidates left many voters in a dilemma in the State, prompting many to choose the “best among the worst” and in many cases press the NOTA (None of the Above) option. The narrative was more prominent here where some voters queued up at the booths just to fulfil a “duty”, without any zeal towards the democratic process as none of the candidates made any appeal whatsoever.

“The lack of convincing choices to choose from has become a real and frustrating predicament for many voters like me. The candidates simply do not inspire any confidence in the minds of many voters. Yet, one has to choose from those and while NOTA is an option, it, I believe, will take a long time to make the political parties believe that they need to field candidates with credentials in the real sense of the term. Still, I think one needs to press the NOTA button if one does not consider any of the candidates to be worthy of representing the people,” said Siddhartha Thakur of Panjabari.

Minangka Deka, a voter of Gauhati West constituency said he was confused till the time he finally exercised his franchise. A mime artist, Deka had himself been campaigning for voter awareness across the city.

“I was confused till the last moment. I felt that there was no good choice available for my constituency. But NOTA is not the solution to the problems. So I cast my vote in favour of a candidate hoping he will look into matters which are more relevant,” Deka said, adding that regardless of who wins, problems like pure drinking water in Guwahati city and issues related to the Ramsar site Deepor Beel should be highlighted in the coming years.

Another voter at Hatigaon told a group of TV journalists, “None of the candidates seems to be fit to get elected and represent the people. But it is my duty, that is why I have come to vote.”

“My constituency is Barhampur. One of the candidates is a former militant. His rival also has a criminal background. I won’t spend so much on fuel and travel to Barhampur just to cast my vote in NOTA,” Debajit Sahu, who works in a company in Guwahati and did not exercise his franchise this time, said.

Pranjal Bora of Dispur constituency who also did not cast his vote as no candidate was “good enough”, said, “NOTA is not an option because even if NOTA gets the highest votes, the candidate coming second will win according to rules.”

The NOTA option was offered by the Election Commission of India in 2013 and it was introduced in Assam for the first time in 2016. The reasoning behind introduction of NOTA was to make available an option to voters to reject all candidates, thereby making it necessary for political parties to only nominate clean candidates.

According to the Association of Democratic Reforms, out of 1,69,19,364 votes polled in Assam Assembly polls in 2016, 1,89,085 (1.12 per cent) were polled for NOTA. In that election, nine seats reported more NOTA votes than victory margins. For example, Praneswar Basumatary of Congress was defeated by Padma Hazarika of BJP in Sootea by 1,818 votes while 1,941 voters pressed the NOTA button.

Out of the 946 candidates in the fray, at least 138 (15 per cent) candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves, including 109 (12 per cent) facing serious criminal charges. In the last elections, it was seven per cent.

Worse, 186 candidates are Class XII pass, 157 Class X pass, 83 Class VIII pass, 12 Class V pass, while five others stated in their affidavit that they are ‘literate’ and one ‘illiterate’.

Hearing a PIL, the Supreme Court had last month asked the Centre and the ECI if it would be legally permissible to reject all candidates if NOTA votes exceeded that of the candidate securing the highest votes.